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The Hidden Risks of Foundation Reinforcement Without Engineers

Introduction (Foundation Reinforcement gone wrong):

Homeownership brings with it a myriad of challenges, and foundation problems often top the list of homeowner nightmares. In our experience, we have encountered numerous cases where homeowners, during the buying process, are advised to contact foundation repair companies based on deficiency notes from home inspectors. While seeking estimates from these companies may serve negotiation purposes, it doesn't always guarantee an effective solution to the underlying problem.

In this blog, we explore into a specific case where a seemingly reinforced foundation turned out to be a costly mistake for homeowners. This cautionary tale highlights the importance of involving structural engineers in the process to ensure a comprehensive and effective solution.


Cantilevered leaning Reinforcement
Cantilevered leaning Reinforcement

The Problematic Reinforcement:

Many homeowners, eager to address foundation concerns, opt for reinforcement solutions without consulting structural engineers. One such case involved a home where foundation reinforcement was done years ago, and the problem was temporarily concealed by cabinets and stored materials in the garage.

Upon closer inspection, the homeowners noticed the foundation wall didn't look right, prompting them to seek professional advice. Several foundation repair companies were contacted, but it was only after consulting with a structural engineer that the real issues came to light.


Measurement at Base of the Reinforcement Beam
Measurement at Base of the Reinforcement Beam


The Ineffectiveness Unveiled:

Upon arrival at the site, we discovered that the reinforced wall, which had initially shown a 1.5-inch bow during the home inspection, had now bulged to 3.5 inches. The homeowner's surprise was further compounded when it was revealed that the wall not only bulged more but also began shearing at its base.

The root cause of the deficiency was traced back to the improper installation of a steel beam acting as a cantilevered structure. The beam, crucial for reinforcement, was not attached at the top to the framing of the house. This lack of understanding of structural principles or the absence of guidance from design professionals, such as structural engineers, proved to be a costly mistake.


Bulging wall measurement
Bulging wall measurement

Base shear movement
Base shear movement

Base shear movement- Picture taken from ground up
Base shear movement- Picture taken from ground up


The Costly Consequences:

The consequences of the ineffective reinforcement became apparent as the steel beam, not properly anchored, moved 2.5 inches out of its plumb position. The lack of proper attachment at both ends meant it provided no additional stiffness to brace the wall, rendering the entire reinforcement ineffective. Please note that attaching the beam at the top of the framing requires calculations to verify that the joists can handle the compression forces and not end up cracking, which then you would have solved a problem but created another problem.



The Way Forward:

This cautionary story underscores the importance of involving structural engineers in any foundation repair or reinforcement project. While many foundation repair companies possess significant experience, without a structural engineer on staff with relevant expertise and licensure, there's a risk of inadequate solutions.


Conclusion:

Foundation problems are indeed a homeowner's headache, but hastily opting for reinforcement without the input of a structural engineer can exacerbate the issue. As illustrated in this case, the cost of correcting an improperly reinforced wall far exceeds the initial expense. Homeowners are strongly advised to consult with structural engineers before investing in any foundation reinforcement option to ensure a durable and effective outcome.


Looking at the wall and reinforcement together
Looking at the wall and reinforcement together


Written by Firas Abdelahad, P.E.

Firas Abdelahad has been a practicing structural engineer since 2005, collaborating with a diverse range of professionals, including consultants, architects, investors, homeowners, contractors, and subcontractors. Together, they tackle the various challenges that can arise during the design and construction phases of projects.

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