Buying A House With Foundation Piers – What You Need To Know

uying A House With Foundation Piers - What You Need To Know
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Are you thinking about buying a house with foundation piers? If so, this article has the information you need. We’re going to talk about what foundation piers are, what it means when a house has them, what you need to know about buying a house with foundation piers, and more.

What Are Foundation Piers and What Does It Mean When a House Has Them?

Foundation piers are heavy-duty steel piers used to stabilize and strengthen a foundation. Sometimes they’re installed during the construction phase. For example, helical piers are sometimes used when a new structure requires a deep foundation. 
 
Foundation piers are also used to stabilize homes experiencing something referred to as “differential settlement.” You see, after they’re built, all homes settle into the soil a little bit. This uniform settlement is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about. Differential settlement is when the house settles into the soil, but not uniformly. Differential settlement puts a lot of stress on a foundation because things aren’t moving in sync. See the below graphic for the difference between uniform and differential settlement:
foundation settlement: uniform vs differential
Photo of a push pier
There are different types of foundation piers, including resistance push piers, helical piers, slab piers, and drilled concrete piers. All of them help strengthen and stabilize foundations.

If a house has foundation piers installed, it’s usually because the foundation was experiencing differential settlement. The question is, what caused the differential settlement? It would be good to know if you’re thinking about buying the house. 

What Causes Foundation Problems?

Believe it or not, most foundation problems are caused by water. If the soil has either too much or not enough water in it, you’ll end up with foundation trouble. Here are a few ways this can happen:

  • The home was built on expansive soil – Expansive soil is soil with a lot of clay. It swells when it soaks up water and then shrinks when it dries out. This swelling-shrinking cycle is usually seasonal, and over time it puts considerable stress on the foundation and leads to differential settlement.
  • There are drainage problems around the home – Drainage around the home is essential. Poor drainage contributes to a variety of foundation problems. For example, if the yard around a home with a basement slopes toward the foundation, water will drain toward the foundation, saturating the soil outside the basement walls. This causes hydrostatic pressure to build up. Hydrostatic pressure pushing against a basement wall is enough to cause the wall to bow inward and even crack. 
  • The soil wasn’t compacted enough before construction began – Before construction begins, the soil that will be under a foundation needs to be adequately compacted. If this isn’t done correctly, the soil will compact after the home is built on top of it, causing movement under the house, which will lead to foundation trouble.
  • The weather changed after the house was built – If the home was built on top of expansive soil during the dry season, when the wet season comes around again, the soil under the foundation will swell, causing movement leading to foundation trouble. It could also happen the other way around.
  • Floods – Even slow-moving floodwater is strong enough to shift a foundation.

Of course, foundation problems can be caused by things unrelated to water, including:

  • Extensive digging next to the foundation – The easiest way to understand how this could cause foundation trouble is to imagine what would happen if you dig a hole in your yard too close to a lawn chair. Eventually, the soil under the lawn chair will be destabilized to the point where the lawn chair falls into the hole. Even though your home is unlikely to collapse if your neighbor starts digging next to it, the digging could destabilize your foundation.
  • Earthquakes – This one is probably self-explanatory. Any ground movement has the potential to cause foundation problems.

For more information, see Foundation Settlement.

Buying A House With Foundation Piers – What You Need To Know

The fact that the home needed foundation piers doesn’t necessarily mean it was built improperly. Foundation problems are not uncommon, even in homes that were designed and built correctly. These things happen.

If the repair using foundation piers was correctly done, the home probably won’t need another repair. A repair using foundation piers usually lasts for the lifetime of the home. Whatever problem the home had that led to the installation of foundation piers has now been fixed. (Do you know how the foundation was damaged?)

However, the above doesn’t mean you should rush into buying a house with foundation piers. Consider the following before signing on the dotted line:

  • Did the repair come with a transferable warranty? If yes, is there a fee to transfer the warranty?
  • Is the company that installed the foundation piers still in business? Are they likely to remain in business? Remember, the warranty is only as good as the company offering it. If the company goes out of business, there goes your warranty.

Never buy a home – with or without foundation piers – before asking a qualified professional you trust to inspect it first. This might be a foundation repair contractor or a structural engineer. The choice is up to you. Just make sure someone looks at the house before you sign anything.

When to Walk Away From Buying a House With Foundation Piers

It’s time to walk away from buying a house with foundation piers when…

  • The repair is no longer under warranty.
  • The warranty is not transferable to the home’s new owner.
  • The foundation repair company that installed the piers is no longer in business.
  • A qualified professional says the home still has a foundation problem.
when to walk away from buying a house with foundation piers infographic

How Do I Know if a House Has Foundation Piers?

There are two ways to know if a house you’re thinking of buying has foundation piers:
 
  1. Ask the seller.
  2. Ask a professional – foundation repair contractor or a structural engineer – to inspect the house. They will know if there have been any repairs.

How Long Does Foundation Repair Last?

A foundation repair done correctly should last for the lifetime of the structure.

Remember, Always Get a Foundation Inspection Before You Sign Anything

If you take away just one thing from this article, let it be this: Never sign anything without first having the home inspected by a qualified professional (foundation repair contractor or structural engineer). 
 
If you’re considering buying a house with foundation piers in our service area in Northern California and want us to inspect it, contact us today.
Steve Egloff

Steve Egloff

Steve is the CEO at Bay Area Underpinning, a foundation repair contractor serving the San Fransisco Bay Area, California. Bay Area Underpinning was founded in 2005 with the goal of providing a cost-effective, engineered solution to foundation settlement problems with an emphasis on educating customers to make them feel comfortable with the various methods of foundation repair.

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