Most people who I do estimates for me tell me the same story. They have talked to a bunch of Contractors about their structural repair project and they all have different ideas about how to do the work …. and their pricing is all over the board.
There are a variety of reasons for this, and once you understand them it may make your path to finding the right person for your job a bit easier.
Most Structural Repair Contractors Are Inexperienced
This means they’re unable to properly evaluate your job!
The average Contractor stays in business for around 2 years. I have been doing this work for over 35 years, and I feel I really didn’t feel confident in evaluating structural jobs until about 15-20 years into my career. Most of this confidence came after completing hundreds of jobs and learning how to analyze the various differences and commonalities between projects so that most solutions seemed straightforward.
Very few Contractors specialize in structural work. Most are General Contractors, and as the term implies, they handle a wide variety of Home Improvement projects, most of which are remodeling jobs. And most contractors that do structural repair tend to focus on either foundations, drainage, or retrofitting and lack knowledge in the other areas of structural repair and how they interact.
Because they are inexperienced, Contractors will often defer to engineers to come up with a plan, or they will suggest partial or incomplete solutions based upon guesses or which reflect work they have more experience with or which they view to be most profitable. Clearly not the right answer for homeowners looking for a long-term solution.
Most Contractors and Homeowners Fail to See “The Big Picture”
Because most contractors in this field are either specialists or generalists, they fail to see how foundations, drainage, settlement, retrofitting, termite and dry-rot repairs, retaining walls, and structural framing problems are all interrelated.
Just like in the healthcare world, homeowners often look at the symptom of their problems and not the cause. They see cracks inside their homes, for example, and worry they have a foundation problem, or a seismic issue that needs to be corrected.
What I know from experience is that most foundation problems and settlement issues come from improper drainage and abnormal structural conditions under you home.
This in turn leads to foundation damage and deterioration.
So if you hire a foundation guy to fix your foundation but fail to correct the drainage problem or other issues that led to that condition, you may find yourself having to redo the work sooner rather than later.
Most Homeowners Already Have Bad Information from Their home Purchase
New homeowners are often the victims of home sale disclosure information. Termite reports and home inspections are often the primary sources of information related to the condition of a home at purchase, which can give incomplete, inaccurate or vague structural advice.
Sellers reports tend to minimize problems, with buyers reports often doing the reverse, causing homeowners to have an inconclusive view of what needs to be done.
In all honesty, I view home sale information to be primarily garbage, generated mostly for negotiation purposes. But this unfortunately is the starting point for a lot of homeowners and is their only reference point for the problems they are experiencing, or for the work they were told needs to be done. And even if they are lucky enough to get an engineering evaluation, engineers tend to have a poor understanding of how to design residential drainage solutions, which is often the crux of the problem.
Let's Face It: Nobody Wants to Spend Big Money on Structural Work
The cost to do the right repairs can be expensive. And there is nothing a homeowner likes less than to have to spend a bunch of money on a drainage system that can’t be seen … especially when you’re deciding between a kitchen remodel or other work you’d much rather do!
This is the most obvious with drainage jobs, as proper French Drains need to be below the lowest floor grades and can be very deep and sometimes require the removal of stairs and other hardscape that are along the border of your home, or require drainage in your crawlspace.
Old foundations can’t be fixed. They have unreinforced concrete, which is usually near the end of its lifespan after 100 years or so when exposed to water which leads to its deterioration.
The bottom line is that there are not a lot of simple or even intermediate solutions once foundations and drainage systems reach the point of no return, and selecting a solution based upon price rather than on sound information can be a big mistake. But like any good investor, you have to think about what’s best for your home long-term.
Bottom Line: Do Your Homework When Choosing a Structural Repair Contractor!
That means picking the right contractor who can determine the proper scope of work and who has the experience to execute it.
I can count on one hand the number of local contractors that have the experience we have in this field, though there are hundreds that will be willing to bid on your project. You may get a variety of opinions, approaches, and costs but most of them will be incomplete or short-sighted.
I am only interested in long-term solutions, as I have no interest in returning (in my lifetime) to re-do work that should’ve been done right the first time. I like to try to understand a customer’s budget, but ultimately my solution is not budget-driven unless I feel there are different options that will both have a high probability of success in the long term.
If you are looking for a quick fix, that is certainly your call.
But some quick fixes, particularly in drainage work, can lead to bigger problems that the ones you started out with and we avoid these at all costs.
Look closely at the solution when evaluating the price. We may be suggesting something that is twice the cost of a competitor, but it involves 5 times as much work and it is what is actually required to solve your problem. The job may be more complex and more expensive than you anticipated, but if you solve the problem correctly the first time through that is generally the best approach because it saves you money down the road.