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Is My House Settling? Signs of Foundation Settling for KC Homeowners

foundation settling kansas city

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 leader show, a show about industry leaders from the local Kansas City metro market for Kansas City real estate-related professionals and enthusiasts like you. Today we are discussing signs of foundation settling, and now, here’s your host, Eric Scheele.

Eric Scheele:

Hi everyone. We are collected again, kind of in a post-COVID release, but we are back in the studio for the Kansas City Real Estate Industry Leaders Podcast. And we’ve had a few changes. Today we’re going to be talking with Brian Dufour, structural consultant and director of operations with KC Pier about foundation settling. And we also have our new marketing director John Lindquist with us today. Welcome Brian, welcome John.

John Lindquist:
Thanks.

Brian Dufour:
Good to be here.

Eric Scheele:
Today, what we’re going to spend some time talking about is really timely because we’re going to be talking about foundation settling. And we’re entering, of course I say this, and what are we, July 30th, 31st?

John Lindquist:
31st, yeah.

Signs of Foundation Settling in Kansas City

Eric Scheele:
Just last night they had 10 inches of rain down in Clinton, Missouri, and we’re starting to talk about the dry season. Something’s ironic about that. But we really are, we are in July and August, September, October, we enter the dry season in Kansas City so we think this is a real timely subject for us to really be talking about on the KC Pier side, foundation settling. And we’re starting to see those jobs come in for us. And so we’re going to spend some time today talking to you as homeowners and our realtor contingency that’s out there about signs of foundation settling. And some of the things, from the common sense to the drastic measures that sometimes ultimately we have to take at KC Pier, and how we take those measures to ultimately resolve the foundation settling issues. So, you guys ready to jump in?

John Lindquist:
Yeah, sure. Let’s go.

Eric Scheele:
Okay, so we’re going to spend a lot of time picking Brian’s brain. 18 years in the foundation business and obviously has dealt with all types of settling issues from the minor to the severe. And so we’d like to pick your brain a little bit about, let’s start at the 10,000 foot level, the very beginning signs of potentially foundation issues settling and what homeowners and realtors can look for.

Foundation Cracks

Brian Dufour:
So yeah, as you do that and you’re outside in the yard, your 10,000 view is basically starting to see cracks in your soil. Usually your cracks start around trees because your trees are absorbing all the moisture, so you’ll start seeing the cracks come off that a little bit faster than you will around anywhere else. Also, you’ll start seeing it around the foundation. Usually, around all your bushes you have as your decor around there, that’s your first sign that you’re starting to get into the dry season. Once you start seeing that, that’s where you want to start actually looking and potentially starting to water. I know it’s weird saying water your foundation but-

Eric Scheele:
Yeah, yes it is.

Brian Dufour:
… your water bill being a little higher every month versus saving 10, $15,000 worth of piering, is definitely well worth-it considering we only have to do it usually three or four months out of the year.

Eric Scheele:
So let’s unpack that. Because you always hear, you see this at about this time of year. You’ll see it on the news where they actually run some spots and some cameo pieces where they’re basically talking about cracks in the foundation and always watering those cracks. Technically, why do you want to water the cracks? What’s the soil doing to react to that, and how is that beneficial to the foundation?

Brian Dufour:
Here in the Midwest, we don’t have slabs. We have basements. So if you miss it by a couple of weeks, it’s not going to hurt you very much. But usually what happens is as your soil shrinks, what happens is it shrinks from the foundation and then it causes the heat to chase the cracks down. And if you neglect it long enough, the soil shrinks all the way down to the footing, potentially releasing and creating a hollow underneath your foundation footing. And your foundation, your footing, your rebar, all that can only hold for so long. So that’s what the cracks do. We have the benefit of having eight foot basements that takes three, four or five weeks for a massive heat wave, 80, 90 degrees consistently, to start affecting your house.

Eric Scheele:
Okay. So I’m going to back it up just a little bit, because you talked about it perfectly, aside from maybe the fact that it’s the clay that’s receding, right? Because we talk about that a lot, especially in the watery ages that we deal with from spring through right now. Clay basically can absorb water and expand like a sponge, and then when that water isn’t present, the heat is present, it begins to withdraw and contract, and when it contracts, we see that contraction in the form of cracks. And I love your point because you’re saying we have the benefit of an eight foot foundation wall, which means that crack needs about five weeks to finally get to the point where it could potentially create a void underneath the footer. And if there’s a void there in the footer because it’s gotten so dry, that ultimately the rebar, the concrete trying to hold up that house ultimately probably has to give, and that’s where you start to see those cracks in the foundation wall begin to form.

Brian Dufour:
Absolutely.

Eric Scheele:
So, by watering, we are reversing that effect by expanding that clay, closing those cracks, adding support to the foundation. So, no cracks, no settling, healthy foundation.

Brian Dufour:
Yep.

How to Assess Foundation Cracks

Eric Scheele:
Right? That’s a really, really good point. So now we let it go, we don’t water, it accumulates over years and now the cracks begin to show up and the potential of foundation settling begins. We get the phone call. So when you ultimately go to a home, how do you assess whether there truly is active foundation settling going on, or whether it’s misdirected and fear from a homeowner’s or a realtor’s perspective, because we all know this from a realtor’s perspective. And us being on KC Property Guys’ side from a real estate perspective, foundation issues and mold are the two biggest things that run people out of the house. But we also want to make sure that there are actual genuine fears. So if you can talk us through how to assess cracks versus settling, versus which are considered more serious than others.

Brian Dufour:
Yeah. So every time I talk to somebody, the YouTube videos and what we’re doing here is not every crack is a bad crack. Knowing that it’s there and monitoring it is very important, but not every crack is a bad crack. But when you start seeing it, usually what happens is you’ll get cracks off windows and doors, you’ll start having doors stick, not open, not being able to function. Or, depending on how far it’s settled before you’ve really seen it, you’ll start actually feeling it in the floor. You’ll start seeing slope.

John Lindquist:
It sounds like you’re describing my house to me right now.

Brian Dufour:
Hopefully not.

John Lindquist:
I’m on a crawlspace so I feel like that’d be a separate conversation, but-

Eric Scheele:
It can be the same. It potentially can be. And me, from a real estate perspective and you from a structural consultant’s perspective, typically those first three or four steps into a house, you’re like, “Okay, all right, I’m already starting to feel a little bit something here or there. I’m leaning one way or the other.” I mean, we’re probably a bit more sensitive to those things than the average-

Brian Dufour:
I’m definitely more sensitive to it.

Eric Scheele:
… average bear.

Brian Dufour:
It don’t matter what house I go into, that’s the first thing I do because I’ve been doing it so long. So-

Eric Scheele:
Yeah, you can feel it.

Brian Dufour:
You just know-

John Lindquist:
Do you just drive your friends crazy then?

Brian Dufour:
It drives them completely crazy.

Eric Scheele:
Yeah. All right. So reading through that, we can’t just, it’d be gypsy magic, black box magic. If you’re trying to talk a homeowner and saying, “Hey man, I can feel it.” It’s like, no, that’s not going to work. So what types of tools do we bring into the house? What’s your typical assessment look like? How do we approach that from a KC Pier perspective, knowing that we’re really trying to take care of the homeowner.

Brian Dufour:
When I get to a house I ask the homeowner, what’s your concerns? Well, at that point I’ll walk through, I’ll see what’s going on. We’ll walk through everything that they have. And then I bring in a level, which is used a lot in the South because everything’s slab on grade. But I really like it here for the first floor. How I do it, is I set it at the front door, and then I take measurements around the entire house. And then with that, everything is digital. So when we do it, at that time I let the homeowner come with me and I let them see everything all the way around so that way they understand where their house is. Not that that’s how far it’s down, that’s where it is. And in the basement I use a laser level.

Eric Scheele:
Laser level. Yeah I’ve seen it many times.

Brian Dufour:
I love the laser level, personally. I can get everything. It’s very easy to go around with a tape measure and physically see what it is. During that time, I also take the homeowner with me because it’s their house. There’s no reason to hide anything when you’re doing it. You want it to be fully exposed on what’s going on. But before I do that, I also walk around and show them what I see, show them what I feel, show them everything that they probably didn’t see as they were showing me what they do see. And once you get done with that, the actual numbers confirm what’s going on, but that’s not initially how far your house is down. So there’s a lot of people go in and they find the highest point and show you that it’s down three inches when it’s not.

Eric Scheele:
Right. Right.

Brian Dufour:
So what you don’t-

Eric Scheele:
But ultimately, the perimeter of the house is graphed out.

Brian Dufour:
Correct?

Eric Scheele:
Right, and you do find the differences correct within that house, but not necessarily from the high point.

Brian Dufour:
No.

Eric Scheele:
Right.

Brian Dufour:
Not at ll. So as you’re doing it, each crack shows you what the house is doing. It tells you if the foundation is settling. Nine times out of ten, when you have a settlement crack, the crack points to where the foundation is settling. It is a crack that separates. It’s usually wider when it starts, and it starts to get closed as it goes to the edge.

John Lindquist:
So you can follow the wall crack from its thinnest point to its thickest point to see where the issue is.

Brian Dufour:
Yeah. Every crack tells you what the house is doing. The cracks completely tell you what your house is doing, no matter what it is.

Eric Scheele:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And we talk about that in our real estate seminars that we run through the winter. We go through a crack seminar and tell people how the cracks are talking. Cracks definitely do talk to you.

Brian Dufour:
Yeah, absolutely. Your Sheetrock cracks show more settlement than a concrete crack, because wood expands and bends and your Sheetrock gives more than the concrete does. So your concrete can give around three quarters of an inch before it actually starts to physically break and show huge signs. But your Sheetrock tells you within a half inch what it’s doing, and you’ll start seeing the stress cracks break. Usually 95% of them are over doors, windows. A hallway is a big one, is down the hallway. And you’ll usually get those, it’s usually when it comes a big concern and people start noticing it is the front door, the back door, because they can’t lock them anymore. So you take away that safety aspect. And surprisingly enough, it’s your bathroom door. If you can’t shut the bathroom when you have friends over there, they’re like, “You know what? Something’s going on.”

Eric Scheele:
Yeah, something’s going on.

Brian Dufour:
Those are the three main keys of what’s actually happening.

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Eric Scheele:
So windows and doors are sticking, you’re seeing these cracks come out of door jambs, down hallways, potentially in the foundation wall itself. Those cracks do point towards issues and so obviously we notate that as foundation guys. We come in, there’s a consultation, laser levels, the tools come out, we come away with a drawing. And then from that drawing, what’s the homeowner going to do with this information?

Kansas City Foundation Repair Options

Brian Dufour:
Well, at that point we give options. The first one is the full foundation repair plan. We do whatever we have to, to correct whatever issue is going on, no matter how little or big it is. And then from there, we isolate it, depending on what the homeowner wants. We can go as far as lifting everything back up to as-built, or stabilizing it exactly where it is so it don’t get any worse, and it don’t create any more stress around the foundation.

Eric Scheele:
Right. There are options. And then that’s a lot of the consultation that we have at least from the KC Piers perspective. And Brian’s really good at this, is talking about, “Okay, is this a forever house, or is this a five-year house? What’s the future plan here so I can better assess the right resolution plan for you?” And we talk about these on a weekly basis, specifically when it comes to settling, because settling, the jobs are not cheap.

Brian Dufour:
No.

Eric Scheele:
Right.

Brian Dufour:
Not at all.

Eric Scheele:
So we need to probably jump into the point of why they’re expensive. There’s a big manual labor here. And there’s obviously the pier, we’re got to jump into the pier and talk about how those are actually resolving these issues that we’re assessing, right? So the homeowner then hears a plan, hears the options based of all the variables. And then we got, obviously the $10,000 question is, “Okay, here’s my options. So what’s it going to cost me and what’s involved? How’s it work? What’s the timeline like? Are you guys going to be here for five months, five weeks, five days? What’s it going to be?” So can you walk us through that type of plan?

Brian Dufour:
Yeah, absolutely. So the average foundation repair is right around seven to ten, depending on how bad your house is. That’s going to take between two and three days. We’re usually never anywhere more than a week. So it’s not, your house is destroyed for months on end. You also go from interior or exterior. And that is at that point, that is typically at the homeowner’s discretion. The homeowner gets to choose obviously what we do, because everything is manual labor. The interior is going to be cheaper because it’s less labor.

Eric Scheele:
Meaning?

Brian Dufour:
We don’t have to dig as far.

Eric Scheele:
You don’t have to dig as far. You’re in the basement already and you’re on the inside.

Brian Dufour:
Yes.

Eric Scheele:
So you’ve already gone down eight foot, if that makes sense, right? So you don’t have to dig that eight foot that you would be digging from the outside. So you have a choice there-

Brian Dufour:
Absolutely.

Eric Scheele:
… and there’s obviously a labor cost. Savings.

Brian Dufour:
Yep. And, to us as the actual labor, we love doing inside work. Inside work’s great because-

Eric Scheele:
You open up the floor and two foot later, “Hey man, I see a footer.”

Brian Dufour:
Yep. It’s there. And at that point the weather don’t affect us at all.

Eric Scheele:
The weather doesn’t affect-

Brian Dufour:
If it’s raining, we don’t have to postpone your job. We can continue with the work.

Eric Scheele:
Yeah, game on.

Brian Dufour:
And all that is explained why we’re in the house. Once we do that… If we do it from inside, we hang plastic, we do everything to make sure that we can save whatever you have down there that you don’t want to move, is covered and secured. We remove the dirt, we remove the concrete. At that point, it is still a construction site so it gets a little dirty inside. And sometimes, depending on how you have your basement, if it’s unfinished, no one cares. If it’s finished, that’s when they’re like, “Well, maybe it’s a little better outside.”

John Lindquist:
Have you dealt with a situation where you’re going through the floor and maybe the homeowner sees that and suddenly the idea of a hole in their basement floor seems terrifying? Because to me, I know if I was looking at my basement and I was like, “Oh, there’s a portal to the underworld right there in the bottom of my house.”

Eric Scheele:
It can be that way.

Brian Dufour:
Yeah, yeah.

Eric Scheele:
It can be that way. You strike fears, but here’s the beauty of that. Because we document a lot of our work online, we can send home owners to our YouTube channel, KC Pier, and if you really want to see it done, you can see it done, right? And so having that documentation and that exposure, they’re like, “Oh, okay, I get it. I get it.”

So let’s jump in to the pier itself, all right? So we’ve got this hole dug, we’re underneath the footing, we see it. Now what’s the purpose of the pier? How do we ultimately install that pier? Where is it going? And ultimately, how are we resolving the settling?

Foundation Pier Installation

Brian Dufour:
When you install a pier, a pier is for one thing only, and it is preventing the house to settle any further than where it is once we’re done. It’s the only thing the pier does. It does nothing for waterproofing, it does nothing for heaving or shifting. Your house is designed to heave. It is designed to shift to a certain aspect. So you don’t want to tie anything into it to prevent it from doing what it’s naturally supposed to do.

John Lindquist:
Could we define what heaving and shifting are, and what the differences are between those two terms?

Brian Dufour:
Yeah. So heaving is basically, the easiest way to do it is there’s so much soil that it’s, or water, that it’s expanded the soil so much, that it’s actually lifted your house. Typically, you won’t see that around the perimeter as much as you will the center. Your center, because your slab is not tied into the foundation, it’s designed to move because our soils are horrible. Once it does that, you have structural posts that are in the middle that’s holding the main beam. That beam’ll go up and down, and that’s where you’ll get some of the heaving at. Your structural movement, shifting side to side, typically you will never see that. Because of the rebar and how strong the concrete is, it usually moves about a half inch side to side throughout the years. You won’t see that but if you try to tie it down, you will see it.

Eric Scheele:
Which is why you’re saying our pier basically has the house resting on it.

Brian Dufour:
Yes.

Eric Scheele:
Right? Yeah. So let’s continue that because we basically are in this hole, these four by three holes. You’ll see guys down in there and then they have this, we’re using, hydraulics are involved. And so why don’t you walk us through how that pier is ultimately holding that house up or down or stabilized, as you spoke of?

Brian Dufour:
Yeah. So at that time, we’ll bring in the hydraulic machine. It’s a little loud, but it’s very compact and small so we can bring it inside the house. It runs off electricity so there’s no gas fumes. We’ll put it underneath the foundation wall and footing. We don’t have to break anything. Our pier is concentrically loaded so we don’t disturb what was supposed to be there in first place.

Our Pier System

Eric Scheele:
Now I think that is such a critical point, but people just hear it and they’re like, “Whew! that just went over my head. What does concentrically loaded mean?” But when you really get into it and then talk about different types of piers, certain piers are bracketed. So it’s almost like you’re holding your elbows with your arms out and you want to hold the house up on that bracket. And concentrically loaded means we’re moving that bracket. Essentially, it’s center point loaded, and we’re moving it underneath the house itself, center loaded on that pier itself. Which I think is a fantastic advancement and a real market advantage for KC Pier and our system for settlement resolution. I just think it speaks so great to our resolutions and that’s one of the reasons why we can put lifetime warranties on this stuff. And typically we set them in and we forget them, because it is done.

Brian Dufour:
Yes. When we install our pier itself, we can’t lift unless we hit load-bearing strata, because all of our pressures on the first pier that goes in the first segment that drives down. So if we don’t get enough pressure, we can’t lift. So to that extent, it’s failproof.

Eric Scheele:
And we talk about this a lot, where this pier is getting driven down with hydraulics, and you’re calling it load-bearing strata, bedrock, essentially. We’re looking for a big pressure change in the hydraulics, right? And we know that we can’t go down any further. And so we explain this a lot to people in the house where you guys have been, or seeing pictures of houses in Mississippi and Louisiana, and they’re in the swamps and they’re sitting on these stilts on the swamps and they’re like, “Whoa, that’s a little strange-looking.” Well, we’re doing the same thing. You just can’t see it. We’re doing it under the ground. We’re adding those stilts there and we’re driving them, the piers, “stilts,” we’re driving them down to bedrock, load-bearing strata. And then ultimately, either stabilizing or recovering, lifting, the house to the points of which we’ve discussed with the homeowner.

Brian Dufour:
Yep.

Eric Scheele:
Right?

Brian Dufour:
The one thing I can tell you is if you do the full recovery or you stabilize, we’re lifting the house at least a quarter inch, no matter what. And the reason being is I have to move the house to know I have enough pressure to hold the house.

Eric Scheele:
That’s right. You got to have some type of feedback so you know that you’ve recovered it and you’ve hit that stabilization point.

Brian Dufour:
So, it doesn’t matter where we put it in or how we put it in, we’re getting at least a quarter inch lift no matter what, because I have to make sure I have enough weight to hold that particular pier.

Eric Scheele:
That’s a really good point, right. How many feet apart are they?

Brian Dufour:
That depends on the house. Your normal is right at six foot. If you have a single story house with a basement, you are right at six foot. If it’s a two story with a basement, technically a three story, we got to bring the piers in closer. And it’s not because the piers can’t hold, it’s because the foundation can’t hold how far they’re apart.

Eric Scheele:
Perfect.

Brian Dufour:
Your concrete is only so strong. So if we continue to move them further apart with the weight load up top, typically what’s going to happen is you’re going to point load. So you have to bring them in closer so everything is distributed evenly down the foundation, so as we lift, we don’t because any more damage.

Eric Scheele:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Excellent.
Quick hitters for you because we’re going to wrap things up. But I know there’s probably questions. And feel free to always go to kcpier.com. Send us your comments, questions. If you need us to take a look at their house, you can fill out that form. We’ll be out in no time. Talk to Delores. She can call the phone number. We’ll get it set up. We’ll get Brian or our other Eric, our structural consultants out there. But, some quick hitters that just come into mind that I definitely want to get in. Can you pier a garage?

Brian Dufour:
Yes.

Eric Scheele:
Absolutely, right. Can you pier a crawl space?

Brian Dufour:
Absolutely.

Eric Scheele:
Rock wall?

Brian Dufour:
Yes.

Eric Scheele:
Yes?

Brian Dufour:
Yep.

Eric Scheele:
See, that’s a huge question we get a lot. Can you pier and lift a rock wall? Because we have obviously in Kansas City, a load of rock wall homes: Prairie Village, Leawood.

Brian Dufour:
There’s a ton of stone, and you can’t lift, but you can stop it.

Eric Scheele:
You can stop it. You can stabilize.

Brian Dufour:
Yep.

Eric Scheele:
Yep. Decks. Decks begin to fall and pull away from the house. Can you actually throw piers under decks?

Brian Dufour:
You can, depending on how heavy the deck is, but we have other options to stop that as well.

Eric Scheele:
Perfect. Chimneys?

Brian Dufour:
Yep.

Eric Scheele:
Absolutely. Chimneys fall away from the house, lean away from the house. You can actually get some recovery in that lean.

Brian Dufour:
Yep, absolutely.

Eric Scheele:
Yeah. Wing walls?

Brian Dufour:
Yep.

Eric Scheele:
Yeah. So there’s multiple functions for piering. We just need to understand the issue that you may have. And you can always send in pictures too. We got the KC Pier app. You can download the app on Google Play or iTunes. And it’s a great app because you can just take pictures. It goes directly to Brian or Eric, and they within 24 hours will reply to you. It’s like, “Yep. I think I need to get out there and see it.” Or there’s like, “This is what’s going on and don’t worry about it. Don’t sweat it. Water it and be done with it.” You’ll get a quick assessment. So that’s a neat way to communicate and not necessarily wait the two, three, sometimes four weeks, depending on how backlogged we are to see a structural consultant. Anything else you want to add?

Brian Dufour:
At the moment, no. I think we went over mostly everything that you needed at the moment.

Eric Scheele:
It’s great timing. And I really appreciate all the info and coming in and taking time out from the guys and carving this out. Because, for you homeowners and realtors out there that are dealing with cracks, you can downgrade the fear with a really good, honest opinion of what’s going on. We are fortunate enough to be so busy that we don’t have to create work, we can give very good, honest, straightforward opinions with options, based off budget, how long you’re going to be in the house, whether it’s a real estate transaction or not. We can build resolutions to bring you to the closing table. And customized solutions for people. And that’s what I think we do really, really well here.
So, thanks for coming in.

Brian Dufour:
Not a problem.

Eric Scheele:
John, you got the first podcast under the belt. Put the notch on there, that was awesome. And welcome aboard of course.

John Lindquist:
Thank you.

Eric Scheele:
And so John’s going to be producing this podcast and he’s going to add some pictures here for the final product, which we literally look forward to it. But we’re going to wrap this up. This is our latest edition for the Kansas City Real Estate and Industry Leaders Show. I want to thank Brian and John for tagging along and we will see you next time.

Voice Over:
Thanks for joining us this week on the Kansas City Real Estate Industry Leader Show. 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.

For Foundation Repair in Kansas City, contact us today.

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