Ever noticed something about your home, office or property and thought: “That doesn’t seem quite right …” Unfortunately, many property owners get spooked and think that easy-to-correct problems will be mandatory, costly or difficult to solve. If the problem is allowed to worsen, it can lead to bigger problems down the road and bigger headaches for the property owner. As an added problem, a diagnosis from the wrong party can also lead to unnecessary repairs if that person is not an engineering expert. The best course of action is to deal with problems right away by asking the right expert and asking the right questions.
Below you’ll find some common questions we get from our clients and their answers.
- Do the cracks in my house mean that it is unsafe? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on the location and orientation of the cracks, and their width. If the cracks are less than about 1/8-inch-wide, they may not be structural cracks. Cracks in your foundation and slab are generally more serious than cracks in drywall and stucco, which are very brittle, and not generally part of the structure of your home. If the cracks get bigger and wider with time, that can be a sign of serious foundation movement. But if the cracks change seasonally, they are probably caused by expansive soil movement.
- I hear my house creaking (usually at night). What does that mean? Temperature changes are the most common cause of creaking in most structures. These are usually not a sign of any structural concern.
- I have asked several contractors and engineers to look at my property, and they are all telling me something different. Why? Evaluation of existing structures is a combination of detective work, historical research, and common sense, as well as technical expertise and construction knowledge. Not every contractor or engineer has the right type of experience to diagnose a problem, and smart people may come to different conclusions about what the problem is and how to repair it. Engineers are the experts at diagnosing problems and recommending repairs. Contractors are experts at performing the work that has been designed by the engineers. Be wary of contractors who diagnose problems and then recommend repairs. Diagnosing problems is an engineering function, not a contractor function.
- Do my neighbors have the same problems as we have at our house? Subsurface conditions and age and type of structures are generally consistent within neighborhoods. Certain types of problems that we investigate are related to the age and type of construction, and subsurface conditions do not generally change dramatically from one lot to the next.
- Do I have to repair my house? Only if it is unsafe to live in your house. Many of the repairs that we recommend are voluntary, and are not required. We are required by our license to inform you and the local building department if your house is unsafe. But there are a lot of levels of repairs that can be done to address particular problems, and these repairs can often be made now or years from now. Some problems will get worse with time, and other conditions may not change much with time. Our job is to assist you with evaluating the various options from “do nothing” to “tear down and start over” and every appropriate option between these two extremes.
- I have lived in my house for 20 years with no problems, and in the past couple of years I have seen a lot of signs of movement. Why? The drought, and mandatory irrigation restrictions have had a dramatic effect on homes that were built on expansive soils. Some of these soils have gone from nearly saturated (due to excessive landscape irrigation) to very dry (due to severe restrictions in irrigation). Structures built on these soils are moving due to the changes in soil moisture levels.
We hope you never have to worry about most of these questions, but if you do – be sure to ask an engineering firm first, and then work with a construction firm to resolve the issue.
Have you ever had to deal with a misdiagnosis on your property? What was the result? Let us know in the comments, below.