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Interpreting Foundation Cracks For Home Owners and Real Estate Professionals

interpreting foundation cracks kansas city

Announcer:
Live from the KC Property Guys and KC Pier studio in beautiful Kansas City. Home to over 200 fountains and more barbecue restaurants per capita than anywhere in the nation. It’s the Kansas City real estate industry leaders show. A show about industry leaders from the local Kansas City metro market for Kansas City real estate related professionals and enthusiasts like you. And now here’s your host, Eric and Lucas Shaley to discuss interpreting foundation cracks.

Erik:
Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to another edition of the Kansas City real estate industry leaders podcast. Today in the studio we have Eric Lancaster with KC Pier. You know, as we talked about before, we have three different channels of our podcasting. We have the real estate industry leaders and Eric, you can get to know this as well. We also do a series with KC property guys. And then of course, Brian Dufour, KC Pier, comes in the studio every once in a while and we do specifically KC Pier and Kansas City foundations.

Interpreting Foundation Cracks

Erik:
So today we’re happy to have you as the sales consultant, one of the four KC Pier. And we’re going to talk specifically about why Kansas City foundations fail, right? And we actually just spent some time with some ReeceNichols realtors yesterday talking about the exact same subject interpreting foundation cracks.

Eric:
Yeah.

Erik:
And it’s something that obviously you do every single day, right? So maybe to start us off, maybe talk about a little bit of your background and experience. And then we’re going to jump right into our Kansas City foundations.

Eric:
Okay. Yeah, man. I mean, really for me, I’ve been around houses my entire life, right? So my dad’s a home builder, I grew up watching foundations being built.

Erik:
Right on.

Eric:
And now on the, on the back end, I’m fixing them.

Erik:
That’s right.

Eric:
So I’ve seen it all start to finish and that really helps me.

Erik:
And you’ve even sold them.

Eric:
I’ve sold them too. I did, I sold them for about five years. So I ran into a lot of that up close and personal. So, glad to be on this side.

Erik:
Yeah, you bet. So KC Pier, we do a lot of work with realtors throughout the Metro area and having Eric on board as that construction experience, realtor experience, and obviously the foundation experience, really helps him. To all those listening realtors out there, here’s a great resource for you that can actually see and understand the pressures of close and resolutions and all those things that are tied to it when it comes to foundation fixes and interpreting foundation cracks.

Eric:
Yeah.

Why are these foundations even failing in the first place?

Erik:
Right? So let’s back that up. So why are these foundations even failing in the first place? Because of our location.

Eric:
Ah, good old clay, don’t you love it. I’m sure all those gardeners out there and everything know exactly what we’re talking about, right? The clay, it’s, it’s very reactive to water and then, lack of water, right? So it’s very expansive and contractive depending on what season we have. And being in the Midwest, we get all the seasons, right?

Eric:
So you get a lot of water that clay’s going to expand. It’s going to put pressure foundations. You go through a drought like we had what, two or three years ago here, it’s going to shrink. And then, what’s that foundation sitting on? Nothing. So that’s why we have a lot of issues here.

Erik:
Right, right. So it’s the water inside of our clay that’s expanding and contracting, basically like a sponge. But with a lot of pressure behind it. And then what types of issues are, generally speaking, is that expansion… during the expansion time? Like we’re seeing right now. We’ve got a really wet summer, a record rainfall throughout this year, right? Yeah. And now we have a bunch of snow. It’s January in Kansas City. So we got snow and saturated soil. So what types of issues are we seeing in the homes right now when that soil is in its expanded mode?

Eric:
So when it’s expanded, it’s going to put a lot of pressure on those full basement walls, right? That’s where we see most of the problems. You’ve got an eight foot wall here and you’ve got all that soil pushing on it. You’re going to see a lot of horizontal cracks in those walls. Because it’s going to pressure there in the middle where the weakest part is. And so it’s going to start bowing in, it’s going to crack right there, and then you’re going to see deflection. So a wall that would be straight, it’s going to start to bow in, right?

Erik:
yeah .

Eric:
You know, you see these houses a lot of times at the bottom of a subdivision there, the last house in a row of houses and getting all the water from everybody else. So that’s what you’re really going to see right now in interpreting foundation cracks, is those horizontal cracks and walls pushing in.

Erik:
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So the middle of the wall being the weakest point is taking on all the soil pressure that’s in its expanded point. It’s sitting there for an extremely long time and it’s almost like the pressure that breaks the back of the weakest point

Eric:
Correct. And you see these house, some of these houses that were built in ’60s and ’70s that supposed to have drain tile down there, after all those years, that doesn’t work anymore. The clay affects those too, right? All the pressure, it’s going to squash those drain tiles, so the water has nowhere to escape. So it just sits there for, like you said, a long period of time. So that coupled with the clay, clay can’t soak all that up. So it just, both of those compound [crosstalk 00:04:58] wall.

Erik:
You bring up a really good point. So for a lot of realtors that aren’t necessarily really familiar with pre-construction and construction techniques and specifically, homeowners that are in the ’50s and ’60s homes, ’70s homes that you mentioned. When these houses are built and that foundation is poured, on the outside of that foundation should be sitting drain tile.

Eric:
Correct.

Erik:
Specifically there to take in the water as it filtrates down. So it doesn’t go into the basement, it goes out into the drain tile and away from the home.

Eric:
Correct.

Erik:
And you’re saying, in those houses built in the ’60s and ’70s, it’s not existent or are they broken down?

Eric:
Either one. Yeah, it could be nonexistent. But even if there is some, say in the ’80s they started doing it. I mean, that’s, what are we talking about, 40 years now?

Erik:
Right.

Eric:
Those things, they don’t survive that long.

Erik:
They don’t survive. And a lot of times they’re meant to go right against the footer. They’re meant to be covered in gravel. But when you’re dealing with new construction, if you’ve ever been around a new construction site, you know you got three, four or five, sometimes a dozen crews coming in and out and walking around that foundation, disturbing the strata and the gravel that’s supposed to be embedding and holding that drain tile on.

Erik:
A lot of times that stuff… and you’re exposed to the elements. We see a lot of times that that stuff actually gets washed away in the pre construction. And it almost sets the house up for failure, right? Not necessarily immediate failure, but eventual failure due to these constant pressures that you’re talking about.

Eric:
Absolutely.

Erik:
Okay. So we’re going to go into the spring. We’re going to be real wet.

Eric:
Yeah.

I see water. What’s going on there?

Erik:
Okay. We’re going to continue to see the cracks develop. And what if a wall’s still holding steady and holding strong but yet they’re still seeing water? You know, is that a possibility? Because that’s something that I assume we get a lot of calls on as well. Where you go into a house and you take a look at a foundation and you’re like, well I don’t necessarily see the cracks, but I do see water. What’s going on there?

Eric:
Yeah. So you know, the water can get in. Water takes the path of least resistance, right? So even if you don’t have these cracks and the wall hasn’t necessarily failed from that pressure, there’s a cold joint at the bottom. The foundation wall and the slab report at two different times. There’s a natural scene there.

Eric:
So that’s a lot of times where you walk into a house, you don’t necessarily see cracks, but you have water. It’s still coming in through that seam. Which goes back to my point about those outside drain tile being crushed.

Erik:
Right.

Eric:
They’re supposed to catch that. They’re supposed to lead that away. So if that’s not happening, you’re going to see that water come up through that little seam down there in the bottom.

Erik:
Yep.

Eric:
That’s a telltale sign.

Erik:
Yep. Nope. Absolutely. So a cold joint, again, for our viewers, listeners and readers, is that area. And we’ve talked about this before in some previous podcasts, but it’s a nonbinding seam. It’s a vertical wall sitting on a horizontal slab. And there’s no mortar, glue, cement, nothing there. It’s weight on weight.

Eric:
Yep.

Erik:
And that drain tile on the outside is there to take the least path of resistance and take that water away. But if the drain tile’s failed or if too much water ultimately shows up, but yet you don’t have cracks, that’s that least point of resistance. And so people are going to say, well, I don’t see water coming down my walls but I see my carpet’s wet in my finished basement, right?

A New Least Path of Resistance

Erik:
And so, that’s where we have to most likely go in and start to relieve some of that pressure. And you’ve got to put in something else that’s going to breathe a new least path of resistance. And what is that?

Eric:
It could be a sump pump for sure.

Erik:
Yeah. Right.

Eric:
Number one, sump pump because that’s designed to not allow that water table that we all sit on top of to raise enough to come in. The sump pump actually sits three feet below the slab. It’s about 30 inches around. So it’s designed to be that path of least resistance [crosstalk 00:08:46] water can get to so that it doesn’t end up coming inside your basement.

Eric:
You bet. And so, there’s times also… I’m walking you through some of these things just so our realtors and viewers can really think about some of these solutions that may or may not be needed. And of course, if you ever need a professional consultation, I mean, call KC Pier and he’d be glad to take a look at this. But the sump pump is in… I already have a some pump in my basement, that’s what we hear a lot of times. And yet I’m still getting wet carpets. What’s going on at that point?

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Interior Drain System

Eric:
It could be a couple of different things. The sump pump basin itself could not be big enough. The pump could not be big enough to handle the water. There’s several things that could be happening with the pump system itself. However, after we check that out, it could be necessary that an interior drain system be put in.

Erik:
Right.

Eric:
So what that is, we can go into that a little bit. It’s basically what we talked about should be there on the outside of that foundation wall. It’s just now on the inside. We just remove a section of concrete and put that pipe run on the inside of the wall, then that runs to the pump.

Erik:
And why you do it on the inside versus the outside? Well number one, it’s like a third of the cost.

Eric:
It’s an expense, right?

Erik:
Exactly. So we can do it that way and it’s just a great product.

Eric:
It is a great product and you’re not disturbing the landscape and around there it’s. It’s equally as effective. But yeah, it does come at a much, much less costly point.

Erik:
Yeah, absolutely.

Eric:
Financial cost points. So that’s always good to know. Okay. So, those are our techniques basically, of dealing with hydrated soils and pressurized walls. I mean we could talk a little bit about beams because you did talk about these rolling walls that are giving in and people are actually thinking about what to do at that point. Do you want to expand on-

Eric:
Yeah, absolutely. So like we talked about earlier with interpreting foundation cracks and that horizontal crack, that then becomes the weak point, that wall is going to start coming in. So how do we support that, right? Hopefully if the wall is not in far enough, then we can just go in there and we can support that with steel I-beams up against that wall.

Eric:
Basically, we’re just trying to transfer that pressure onto something else strong enough to hold it.

Erik:
You bet.

Eric:
If the wall is in far enough, then excavation becomes the only way to fix it, right. Have to excavate on the outside, remove that soil burden, the reason the wall moved in the first place. Remove that, then we can actually make that wall straight again. Almost plum again.

Erik:
Yeah, wall push back. So, actually removing the issue, which is the soil itself, getting that out, replacing that with?

Eric:
Gravel.

Erik:
Gravel, right? Something that’s not going to be expanding and contracting. Right? And then ultimately, then push that wall back to straight and put braces in there to hold it in place.

Eric:
Correct. Yep. And with that process too, a lot of times, that’s where we find these old drain tiles that have been crushed.

Erik:
Yeah right.

Eric:
[crosstalk 00:11:50] we dig that up. So then, of course we replace that as well, at bottom there and that runs to a sump pump system. And then again, that gravel, like you said, not only will it not expand and contract because it’s not clay, it also sheds the water quickly off the wall.

Erik:
It’s not rocket science.

Eric:
It’s really not actually.

Erik:
But it’s a lot of well thought out common sense, based off of the behaviors of our Kansas City soils and interpreting foundation cracks. And specifically how the water affects those soils.

Eric:
Yep.

Erik:
So that’s what I really like. And we just talked about this with the realtors out in Leawood yesterday with ReeseNichols. And that’s what I like about what we do here at KC Pier is ultimately, bringing options to homeowners at times. What we call “A”, “B” and “C”s to allow a homeowner to resolve the issue in a multitude of ways based off of life variables, financial variables, taste, how long they’re going to stay in the home, just a lot of options.

Eric:
Yeah. We just talked about your “A”, “B” and “C” with what we just talked about interpreting foundation cracks.

Erik:
Yeah.

Eric:
Interior drain system, excavation.

Erik:
That’s right. So the “A”, “B” and “C” is like the Cadillac fix. Here it is, man. Let’s go at it and we’re going to put a lifetime warranty on it. The “C” would be the opposite end of that spectrum. It’s like, hey, this will get the job done, right? It may need something additional but we can at least put this in place and test it, let time do the testing. And then “B” would be that hybrid that sits in between. I think that’s super valuable for realtors. And it’s also valuable for homeowners because it ultimately allows them to take a look at their finances, their life situations and variables, and then make some really common sense choices in working with you more strategically.

Eric:
Absolutely.

Kansas City Summers

Erik:
Okay. Let’s take the water away, right? Summer’s coming. It’s going to be 90, a hundred degrees. You know, our Kansas City summers. Soil’s begin to go the other way, I assume. Contract, right? The water’s gone.

Eric:
Correct.

Erik:
So now what happens to those poor foundations when all of a sudden that pressure that it somewhat relies on, as long as it’s not too much, is now not there?

Eric:
When it’s not there. I mean, again, it’s not rocket science, right? We build these houses on top of soil. What happens when that soil shrinks? The foundation has nothing to sit on. At that point in time, it’s literally sitting on air.

Erik:
Right.

Eric:
It won’t sit on air.

Erik:
Right.

Eric:
So then it cracks and it breaks and it falls with the soil.

Erik:
Yeah. Settling.

Eric:
Correct. Yeah. And we also see that when you go between the two. You’ve put all this hydraulic pressure that’s on our foundations right now, everybody in Kansas City has pressure, in January, on their foundation walls. Lot of those are exposing some cracks, right? Which is weakening the structure. And now, come July, you have a weakened structure that is supporting the same weight as what it was back in January.

Erik:
Right.

Eric:
And that’s when you really can see some additional damage. And what types of things, common sense things are giving homeowners some ideas interpreting foundation cracks andof that stuff that’s going on underneath the house?

Eric:
What I always say is, first off, do your doors and windows shut properly?

Erik:
Yeah.

Signs of Foundation Issues

Eric:
If not, okay. It’s probably moving around, right? That’s the number one thing people will see. If you go to shut your bedroom door, your bathroom door, whatever, and it starts rubbing or something like that, then why would that happen? Well, obviously something’s moving on the bottom end, that’s your number one sign right there.

Eric:
Also around those doors and windows. Those are natural weak spots, right? So you’re going to see cracks coming off the top of those. You’re going to see angled cracks coming off the bottom of windows. Things like that.

Erik:
You bet.

Eric:
Pretty simple to see when something’s moving around on you.

Erik:
Yeah. And we have been talking about that. Again, I always go back to our realtors because we do a lot of work with realtors. And so we have seminars specifically for realtors that give them ideas on how to read cracks, right? So you can actually have some confidence in the house and some buyers and sellers confidence. That you’re aware of what’s going on within the house and how that potentially could affect the sale, saleability, valuations and everything that goes with it. Which I think is a great indication. The stickiness and the cracks in the walls, obviously, are an indication of something going on, right? And it’s probably, as you’ve told us and educated us on today, has to do with the soils and the water. You know, how expansive and contractive, and what state that soil is around that foundation and how that’s affecting the house overall.

Eric:
Right. I mean, you ever walk up to a house and you see how, around the edge of the foundation, you have a gap there between the foundation wall on the soil?

Erik:
Yeah.

Eric:
Tell tale sign that soil shrank.

Erik:
And I used to… this was before my foundation days, but I always used to wonder, what’s with this watering the foundation thing?

Eric:
Yeah.

Erik:
Right?

Eric:
Yeah.

Erik:
And so there’s some importance there. Can you explain that, in terms of-

Eric:
Yeah, it’s a touchy thing, right? Because you don’t want water coming in your basement but you also want to try to help yourself out. So really, a soaker hose, something like that. Anything designed to… and you’ll see it happen when it gets wet enough, just to bring that soil back up against your home. That would do wonders for [you 00:16:54].

Erik:
You see the separation, you see soil cracks. That’s a sign that you probably, definitely, need a little bit of water to add a little bit of hydrostatic pressure, which your house is relying on as long as long as it’s not too much.

Eric:
Exactly.

Erik:
Right? So if the cracks go away or start to close up, you know you’ve added enough water.

Eric:
Correct.

Erik:
Right? And that’s another question that we get sometimes. Is, how do I know when I’ve added too much or not enough? You just watch the cracks. The cracks tell you what’s going on in a house.

Eric:
Everything’s visual in interpreting foundation cracks.

Erik:
Yeah. It really is. To a non visual issue.

Eric:
Right.

Erik:
But visual, in terms of its repercussions. That’s excellent. So if some of our viewers, readers, watchers want to get ahold of you. Get their experience and get your experience in the house to give them a closer detail house, how’s that done?

KC Pier App

Eric:
There’s several ways. You can, of course, easily call the office or call myself. You can visit our website. We also have a super nifty app, KC Pier app. It’s on App Store and Android and Google. There’s so many of them these days, I don’t even know. But it’s super nifty and you can download that for free. Then you can actually take pictures of those cracks and those visual things we’ve been talking about and you can submit that to us and it comes straight to me.

Eric:
I can look at it right there. I can give you a ring and let you know if it’s something you should be concerned about, if it’s something that I need to come out and see, et cetera. So there’s several different ways, but that app is awesome.

Erik:
Yeah, well there you go. I appreciate you coming in to discuss interpreting foundation cracks.

Eric:
Thank you.

Erik:
All right, well that wraps it up for another episode on the KC Pier side of the Kansas City real estate industry leaders podcast and we’ll see you next time.

Eric:
Alrighty.

Erik:
Take care.

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Thanks for joining us this week on the Kansas City real estate industry leaders show discussing interpreting foundation cracks. Please support all things local to Kansas City. And hey, be sure to subscribe and share our podcast on Facebook and LinkedIn. This has been a KC Property Guys production, kcpropertyguys.com.

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