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HomeAdvisor's Guide to Hiring a Foundation Contractor

No structure, no matter how humble or grand, won’t last very long if it isn’t built on a good, solid foundation. The foundation is the platform on which your home stands, and without a healthy foundation, even the most beautiful of homes will soon fall to the ground or become unlivable.

Fortunately, foundation inspections are something that most people think about when shopping for a new home. Some signs of trouble are obvious: cracks in walls, doors that begin to stick or swing open on their own, and sagging floors to name a few. Others are not quite so obvious. The hidden red flags include musty smells coming from the basement or an uncomfortable indoor humidity level.

A foundation serves multiple purposes. These are:

  • To transfer the building load to the ground
  • To anchor your home against the wind and seismic loads
  • To isolate your home from frost and expansive soils
  • To hold your home up away from ground moisture
  • To house some of your home’s mechanical systems (pipes, lines, etc.)

Remember that without a good, solid foundation, nothing beautiful, from dreams to homes, can stand for very long.

7 Questions to Ask Your Foundation Contractor

Before hiring a contractor to repair your foundation, you will want to ask some questions. These questions will help you determine the experience level of the contractor and their suitability to your job:

  1. How long have you been in business? – While everybody has to start somewhere, you want to be sure the person working on your foundation has the experience to do the job right. Three to five years is about right for a length of time in business.
  2. Are you licensed and insured for my state? – No contractor who is not licensed and insured for your state or municipality should be allowed to touch your job. If they aren’t willing to adhere to the regulations of their profession, who says they’re going to adhere to the regulations for your job?
  3. Do you have a warranty? – While this is often the case, don’t assume. Ask outright about this and be sure of what is covered under the warranty.
  4. What credentials do you have? – Ask about what special training or certifications the contractor may have. You want to be sure that the team you’re hiring knows about your foundation and other aspects of the job.
  5. Do you have references? – A good contractor should be happy to provide you with references to attest to the quality of his work. Follow up on these references to see the actual results and talk to former clients.
  6. Do you use more than one repair method? – A contractor who only uses one repair method might not be as experienced as you’d like. Knowledge and use of more than one method indicates a contractor with greater experience.
  7. Can you tell me how the problem started? – Repairing your foundation is only part of the problem. Your contractor should be able to tell you how the problem started so that you can remedy the situation (if possible). If they can’t (or won’t) tell you how the problem began, you might be calling on them again in a few years to do it all over again.

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Why Hire a Foundations Expert?

When buying or selling a home, a home inspector will most likely be involved. He or she may notice an unusually musty smell in the basement or some other red flag. They should notify their client in their report. At this point a foundation engineer may be called in to hone in on the foundation and determine the cause of the red flag. It’s not unlike healthcare when you see a General Practitioner and then a specialist.

Foundation experts are about more than making sure your existing foundation is fine. In new construction, you must be sure that the foundation is strong enough to support the proposed construction. Other reasons include:

  • Building on uneven terrain
  • Building in a flood zone or earthquake prone area
  • Adding a second floor to a house, especially if it has a full basement
  • Adding onto your house (this constitutes “new construction”)
  • Building on hillsides
  • Building on poorly draining or soft soils

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What Causes Home Foundation Problems?

In order to perform its functions, your foundation must be in good repair. However, there are many forces at work against your foundation. Some of them you can’t do much about. Others, however, can be resolved or at least mitigated with the help and advice of a professional.


Some soil expands and contracts greatly with temperature fluctuations. This causes repeated pressure against your foundation that can weaken it and cause it to crack.

Some soil is made up of “fill,” soil that has been brought in to level or otherwise adjust the ground the home is built on. If it wasn’t compacted well enough, there will be some settling under the weight of the house. This will put stresses on the foundation. If the soil compacts evenly, this usually isn’t a major problem. However, soil tends to settle unevenly, which can lead to part of your house sagging while the rest remains intact.


The number one cause of water damage to a foundation comes from improper drainage. Water should be able to flow away from a house, but failing gutters can leak and allow rainwater to pool up at your foundation. Gutters should be kept in good condition and cleaned, and downspouts should direct water away from your house.

Plumbing leaks are another source of water damage. If they’re not directly hitting your foundation, they can over-saturate the ground and cause the soil to expand against your foundation. Tree roots often crack sewage pipes, and if they’re close to your house this can cause damaging expansion. A plumber should be able to locate the source and cause of the leak.

Soil shrinkage can also cause water problems. Your soil should drain away from your house at a rate of ¼ inch every foot. However, as the soil contracts, the weight of your house could push it down. This will cause your land to slope towards your house instead of away from it.

Finally, an improperly water-proofed foundation allows moisture into the foundation itself as well as leaking into your basement or crawlspace. This can lead to dangerous molds forming in your walls, floors, and framework. It can also weaken your foundation and cause it to crack, allowing more water in and severely compromising your home’s ability to remain standing.

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Foundation Repairs - What You Need to Know

Any of the above situations calls for a professional foundation inspector to determine how bad the damage is and what should be done about it. However, since we don’t look at our foundations every day, it can be difficult to tell quickly if there’s something wrong until it’s too late. The good news is that there are signs you can look for throughout your house to tell you if something might be wrong:

  • Uneven floors
  • Moldings that are cracking or popping away from the wall
  • Cracks in the interior and/or exterior walls
  • Windows and doors that don’t function correctly (they stick or swing)
  • Separation of walls from the floor or ceiling

If spotted and acted upon early, a foundation problem is not the end of your home. A licensed inspector can look at your home and tell you what needs to be done. They will look at cracks and uneven floors, and note the geology around your home, the construction method and materials, soils, drainage, flooring, sub-flooring, retaining walls, and the foundation walls themselves.

There are different ways to remedy your foundation, and your inspector should be able to recommend which one to use. Soil recompacting can help a home that is sinking, while drainage correction can send the water safely away from your home.

Common repair methods include:

  • Mudjacking/Slabjacking – This involves pumping concrete underneath the sagging part of your house to raise it level. This is the most common method used for smaller jobs and situations that are caught in time.
  • Structural Foam Leveling – This involves injecting strong foam beneath the concrete. The foam is filled with air bubbles that expand as they are injected, lifting the concrete and leveling it. It has the advantage of forming a barrier against moisture.
  • Raising – Raising your house lifts it off of the foundation, sometimes as slowly as 1/8 inch per day. All utilities must be disconnected and the insurance carried for this job is very high indeed. Crews can then work under your house doing whatever repairs are needed, including replacing the entire foundation.
  • Wall Anchors – Some repairs to basement walls use wall anchors. These are driven through the walls and deep into the soil to keep the walls from bowing in.
  • Helical Piles – These are essentially giant screws that are drilled into the ground and provide solid support for your home above.
  • Piering – This is the method of driving steel posts into unstable soil and using hydraulic jacks to level your house. Piering is most often used for very large foundation jobs.

What Is Slabjacking?

Slabjacking, also known as mudjacking, is a technique for lifting a foundation by injecting a concrete paste (“mud”) beneath the sagging part of a foundation. Holes are drilled into the slab and a grout mixture is pumped into the hole. This gets under the slab and raises it, filling the void as it goes.

Slabjacking is most often used to lift parts of driveways, patios, and sidewalks, as well as other relatively small jobs. It can also be used for repairs on slab foundations.

What Is Piering?

Piering, or “hydraulic piling” is a process for lifting a foundation by driving steel posts into the soil. Hydraulic jacks are then attached that raise your foundation so that it is level. The piers can go as deep as 30 feet or more to reach a stable layer, but be sure of how deep your contractor will drill. If they have to go deeper, it may cost more.

Piering is most often used on very large jobs. It is also used where stable soil is not near the surface.

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Licensing & Certifications

Before hiring anyone to handle your foundation problems, you need to be sure that they know what they’re doing. Ideally, they will have state licenses both in civil and general engineering. Also, they will have their repair methods evaluated by the International Code Council Evaluation Services. Your foundation contractor must be licensed to work in the state where the jobsite is located. They should also know how to read blueprints and carry liability and worker’s compensation insurance.

Finally, look for certifications. Commercial and residential foundations are not alike. Be sure your contractor is certified to work on your particular job. Membership in an organization shows an adherence to a certain standard. Also look for continued education in the trade, such as the Foundation Repair Association “Certified Foundation Repair Specialist” program. This shows an interest in learning new techniques and standards.

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In Conclusion

Remember that without a good foundation, no house, no matter how well-built otherwise, will stand for very long. The sooner you act on foundation problems, the less expensive the repair will be, and the safer you and your family will be.

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