How Do I Know If I Need A New Foundation? – Some Key Indicators

Berkeley, Oakland and Alameda Foundation Repair – Signs of a Problem

As seen in the Piedmont Post

When I am evaluating whether or not there are foundation problems in your home in Alameda, Berkeley, Oakland, or other areas of the Bay Area there are several key indicators I am looking at. Some are more important than others, but taken as a whole they paint a fairly good picture as to the current and future health of the material that is holding up your home.

#1- Condition of the Foundation Concrete-

Concrete is a mixture of cement, sand and rock. Many of the older homes we work on were built in the 1920’s, when it was common to use sand from the Bay, and the salts tend to react with moisture in the soil which accelerates deterioration of the concrete. If you see a lot of the whitish powder on the concrete (efflorescence) or your crawlspace soil is damp, water in the soil may be an issue.

The proportion of these three components varies, but I find that foundations with a higher proportion of cement and sand vs. rock are often weaker and more susceptible to moisture related deterioration. When I can dig into a foundation with my fingers this is when I become highly concerned- I liken this to beach sand that was just mixed in a bucket and then turned upside down- it seems firm until you push on it and it collapses. When you consider that this material is holding up more than a hundred tons of house, and how it might get affected when subjected to shaking in an earthquake, this is usually my number one reason for recommending a new foundation. Ironically some of the worst looking concrete has a higher rock percentage and is often stronger than the better looking but weaker material. If you want to check this out yourself you can poke at your foundation with a screwdriver. If you can dig into it or pieces fall off it’s time to call Jim Gardner Construction.

piedmont foundation
It’s time for a new foundation

#2- Lack of Reinforcement (aka Rebar)-

We are generally not seeing rebar in most concrete until around the 30’s or 40’s. This counts out most of our older homes, which have no reinforcement. When older foundations settle over time they can develop cracks. In newer foundations the rebar will keep foundation cracks from growing, as the rebar holds the concrete together. Without rebar, cracks can move and get bigger over time, and the foundation on either side can move up or down, leading to movement in walls and floors.

berkeley foundation
Typical settlement crack in a shallow footing

#3- Grade issues and problems with the depth or size of the footings-

There are minimum dimensions for the size of your foundation and how deep it needs to be buried and how far above the ground it should go. The soil level around buildings tends to get higher over time due to erosion and landscaping, and the top of the foundation can get close to the ground level rather than the current requirement of 8” above grade. This can be compounded by the fact that in older buildings they ran the stucco down to the ground, and there was wood behind it that got saturated with ground water. The mudsill and framing at the point where they connect to your foundation can then experience dry-rot or possible termite problems, and old steel foundation bolts (if any) can rust. If the foundation is not deep enough into the underlying soil, or if it does not have a properly designed footing, it is more susceptible to settlement or rotation, especially in the wet soils of the Bay Area. We also have a lot of clay soils in the East Bay, which expand and contract seasonally and can more of an impact on the older foundations than on the newer reinforced foundations installed at a deeper depth.

oakland foundation
This portion of the foundation is at ground level and is badly deteriorated. The newer section at the right is what we would like to see.

#4- It’s all about the Drainage-

The common theme here is groundwater or surface water issues- AKA French Drains and downspout drainage. Most people suspect foundation or structural problems when they see cracks inside the house, sloping floors or sticking doors, but these are just reflections of what is going on underneath or around your home. Foundations that are historically dry are rare in this area, but they look much newer and are in generally much better condition. When our older homes were built, even when they did have drainage systems they were typically old clay pipes that filled up with soil over time and no longer function. With the exception of occasional earthquake damage, most of the foundation problems described above were initiated or accelerated by water issues. If the drainage is addressed early enough or if the water problems are minor, we can sometimes extend the lifespan of your foundation if the material is still in reasonable condition. If not, then a new foundation and proper drainage are the solutions to preserve the long-term structural integrity of you home.

 foundation contractor albany
Water in the crawlspace flowing under shallow foundation footings, causing deterioration of the foundation over time.

Berkeley, Oakland and Alameda Foundation Repair – Jim Gardner Construction

Throughout the Bay Area there are many older homes built on foundations that leave much to be desired and often we find that foundation repair is necessary. Foundation repair is not something to take lightly or a job for an inexperienced contractor. Jim Gardner has over 30 years of experience planning and executing long-lasting solutions to common Bay Area and  Alameda foundation problems, drainage issues, as well as structural repairs and earthquake retrofitting. If you think your home may need repair call us today at (510) 655-3409 to schedule an estimate or fill out our online estimate request form

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