Earlier this week a home inspector looked at our seller’s home and and recommended a piering company come out and take a look at the home for the buyer. The piering company comes out and what do you think they recommended? Yep. Twelve new piers at about $1,000 per pier, on a 1,500 square foot home. You would think the house was falling apart and sinking into the ocean! Of course, asking a piering company if a house needs piers is like asking a roofer if a house needs a new roof, or a stockbroker if you should buy stocks. They don’t make any money if they tell you “no”.
Our seller and the buyer were all worried. The house seemed fine and didn’t need piers when the current owner purchased the home 3 years prior. There were a couple of cracks in the bricks in this 1980 home, and a few cracks in sidewalks and one crack in the slab floor of the garage. I have been on a LOT of home inspections and these cracks didn’t look out of the ordinary for a home of this age, but I am not a trained structural engineer so our recommendation was to hire a structural engineer – NOT a piering company – to inspect the home. The original home inspector was NOT a structural engineer and was unsure of what the cracks meant and had just recommended the buyer get a piering company out for free to look at the home.
Our seller hired Jim Gindell with Anasazi Home Inspections to come out and take a look and write up a report. Jim is a licensed structural engineer as well as a licensed home inspector – the perfect person for the job. Jim spent an hour looking closely at the foundation, studying all the walls in the house, climbing up in the attic, looking at the brick, the walls for signs of stress. He took dozens of pictures and wrote a lot of notes. His determination? The house was fine and the foundation was in excellent shape. He said the concrete slap had a few minor cracks but that was not unusual at all in Oklahoma and was NOT a sign of structural problems. The minor cracks in the bricks were caused by wind loads and the design of the house, not by a shifting foundation.
Jim explained about how foundations and slabs are built in Oklahoma. “Builders here use floating slabs. They pour the foundation first, which is a stem-wall with piers going into the ground down to hard clay or subsoil. Reinforcing steel is laced throughout the foundation and concrete is then poured around this steel into the forms of the foundation. Inside the foundation where the floors are at is left with dirt. Here the plumbing and HVAC lines are installed, then the concrete slab is poured on a layer of sand inside the foundation and over the plumbing. The slab is NOT tied to the foundation but floats inside the foundation. The slab is subject to minor movement and even cracking, but this is quite normal and is not an issue unless we notice severe movement, upwards of 1-2 inches vertical, in the slab.”
When inspecting a foundation, Jim looks for cracks in the foundation itself, not in the bricks or concrete around the foundation. The foundation is what the exterior walls are built in and it is important that the foundation be solid without cracking. If he notices major cracks or movement in the foundation itself, or major vertical movement in the free floating slab floor, then he calls for piering to support the structure.
So the next time you encounter someone recommending piering of a home, be sure and contact a licensed structural engineer to look at the home, NOT a piering company. If the engineer recommends piering, then call the piering companies and get a quote on who can do the best job.