The Foundation Experts Weigh In

After we discovered that we had foundation woes, I called out three foundation experts to evaluate our house and offer bids to fix the problem. I received three very different bids. Very different. How is a homeowner supposed to know which contractor to hire when they have different ideas on what’s even wrong with our house?

I spent time perusing articles on different problems and solutions for common foundation problems. In doing so, I started to panic. The horror stories on the internet are alarming, let alone the thought that some foundations are so unsalvageable that you need to raise the entire house on beams and pour a new foundation to the tune of 40k. Please, no!

Luckily for us, none of the contractors thought we were in quite so dire straits. The bids did range, however, from 3,200 to 17,280. That’s quite the large swing in prices. I thought it might be helpful to share some of what we learned through the process and break down the bids that we received in case others are staring at their floors feeling as perplexed and anxious as we were.

The first contractor who visited our house was definitely a salesman. I didn’t particularly like him, and I felt like he’d rather have been talking to my husband than me. He also teased me for coming prepared with a list of questions that I wanted to ask him about his business. He once even literally waved his hand in front of my face because I was staring at him patiently waiting for him to answer my question. Umm, really? He constantly said, don’t trust people who, or, you can trust me. He repeatedly mentioned that he was disappointed to be the first contractor, not the last. He wandered around the exterior of the house and took a look at the foundation issues I pointed out in the house. He blamed water and poor drainage on our foundation issues.

Contractor 1 Remedies:

  • Install piers to support the footing of the foundation around the exterior of the house (9,900)
  • Redo guttering and downspouts around the house (1,500-1,800)
  • Add concrete leveling over the top of the sunken foundation inside the home (1,200-1500)
  • Total Price:  12,600 to 13,200

Thoughts on Contractor 1:  Personality quirks aside, it seemed weird to us that he wanted to raise our footing when the footing is essentially the perimeter of the foundation, and it’s our slab inside the footing that has broken away and sunk. Adding concrete leveling on top of the sunken foundation seemed weird. Better yet, he sent a somewhat snide email when I politely informed him that we’d gone a different route. Bye, Felicia!

The second contractor who visited our house came recommended by a friend and a flooring agency who had recently done work with the company. This contractor took several measurements not only of the floor of my house but also the ceiling. He informed me that the footing was in fine shape and did not need piers and that the framing of my house was very level for its age. He even mentioned that his company sold piers too and still wasn’t recommending them. The slab inside the footing had sunken, broken off, and cracked. He believed that this breakage was due to having the HVAC running through the slab. Since the HVAC had been put in the ceiling and was no longer functional, he recommended using a type of plastic foam to fill old ductwork and the void under the house; this foam would also lift the broken slab back into alignment with the flooring of the house. The contractor’s manner was professional, brisk, and quite to the point. He never took a seat when I offered him one, and I kind of wish he had. I don’t always like sitting when the person I’m speaking with is standing. Minor detail.

Contractor 2 Remedies:

  • Use a kind of durable plastic foam to lift our house’s slab back into shape, similar to mud jacking but, well, more permanent (2,500)
  • Have a plumber scope and mark the drains for our house to ensure they’re good to go (about 700… unless the plumber discovers a problem)
  • Total Price:  3,200

Thoughts on Contractor 2: This contractor came recommended by two different people. His company was large and has done extensive work across the country for both residential, commercial, and government contracts. He was professional, and he didn’t send up any skeezy alarm bells. The foam work only has a three year warranty on it, but his fail rate was so low that I don’t think that should be too much of an issue. The price can’t be beat either.

The third contract who visited our house was probably my favorite. I felt most comfortable talking to him, and he seemed fairly honest and straightforward. He had a real customer focus in how he addressed me and talked about his company. I appreciated those things. He took measurements of my floor and walked the perimeter of the house. He thought we had three different problems:  (1) water drainage around the house, (2), sunken footing, and (3) sunken slab. His proposal was to fix the drainage problems in the yard, install piers under the footing, and in a year to install piers under the cement slab. The year would allow the ground under the foundation to kind of return to status quo before the cement piers were installed. Our foundation sits on expansive clay, and, well, expansive clay expands. If we keep the ground under the foundation on a more even keel, there will be less movement on the foundation. The steel piers would all be warrantied for life.

Contractor 3 Remedies:

  • Install swell with an area drain in the backyard (3,480)
  • Install piers under the footing of the house (9,000)
  • Install piers under the cement (4,800)
  • Total price:  17,280

Thoughts on Contractor 3:  If we had bucketloads more money, I probably would have wanted to go with this contractor. I feel like this may be a bit of overkill on the house, but I also kind of want to never go through this foundation mess again, and all the piers would have been covered by a lifetime transferable warranty. That’s a lot of peace of mind, but it’s also a lot to pay for that peace of mind.

In the end, we decided to go with the second contractor. He thinks he can get the floor within tolerance so we can have engineered hardwood put down in the living area and hallway(yay!) but also thinks we should have carpet in the bedrooms for easier access just in case (boo!). We’re in the process of scheduling the plumbing work (here’s hoping he finds nada!) and the foam work for the house. It will absolutely not be fun to empty most of our house of its furnishings to do the foam jacking and then again later to lay new flooring. With the foster kiddos we currently have in our house, scheduling for spring break seemed the least disruptive timeframe.

Questions that I more or less asked the contractors:

  1. Are you paid on a commission?
  2. What are your licenses and certifications? What training do you and your team receive?
  3. What standards do you use to evaluate our home’s foundation?
  4. Have you done any work in Lawrence/my neighborhood? What familiarity do you have with the type of soil here?
  5. Can you tell me about your insurance and bond coverage? (Workman’s comp/liability)
  6. What warranty would your foundation work include?
  7. How is foundation settlement defined in the warranty? Is the warranty transferable? How long have you been in business?
  8. Do we need to use a professional licensed engineer?
  9. What is the failure rate of your piers? How often do you have to readjust one?
  10. Do we need a building permit?
  11. Do you anticipate any problems with the large trees in the neighborhood?
  12. How long will the work take? What do we need to do to prepare our home for the work?
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