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Underpinning a House

Angela Bryant Offline Mute
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09-07-2012,05:01 PM
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Underpinning a House

I learned today that a house I bought recently needs underpinning because the stop tap (which strangely was located under the floorboards in the lounge) had been leaking profusely for goodness knows how long and has washed away the foundations!

I went to the property last week and my plumber, who is over-seeing the refurb of the house, showed me under the floor in a couple of places where we could get to and I saw it for myself (it would beggar belief otherwise!) You could see how the ground looks just mushy / soft and there were 'cracks' in places which when he shone his torch onto, looked to be of scary, unknown depths!

A builder was brought in to look at it today, who reported back that he got under the floorboards and has taken photos and it is the same all over - apart from round the edges, where it appears they put extra depth and strength to the foundations (don't they always though?!)

The amazing thing is that there are no signs of cracking to the walls of the property, which apparently is what normally alerts to such problems; although the builder says the work does need to be done as problems could suddenly occur at any time given what we know!

The builder said he'll have to get back to me in a couple of days with a price, as he needs to think about it. I tried googling about this problem, as I've never had a house underpinned before. I was alarmed by what I found.

Apparently it costs between £8,000 - £16,000 to get a house underpinned, from what I found on google!! Not only that, but it should be reported to Building Control and will very likely affect the resaleability, the value and future insurance cost of the house. But I'm wondering if it wouldn't be too bad, given the reason for the problem is not inherent ground shift... the house has been standing since the 1940's.

My husband said to me this morning "Why don't you just tart it up and sell it?!" I said that I would get the work done, as it would be the ethical thing to do. But to be honest, I am wondering if I'd be better off just sticking the damn thing in an auction!

I would be interested in any thoughts from Tribesters on this situation.

Thanks,

Angela
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Suncoast Offline Mute
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09-07-2012,06:27 PM
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RE: Underpinning a House

Hi Angela

Insurance should pay for the underpinning - no doubt with an excess.

We bought a house last year that we thought may require underpinning after we found one large crack in a bedroom wall that the previous owner had kindly boxed in.

Luckily following inspection from the insurance company it was confirmed that the cracking was due to initial settling years ago and no further movement was expected.

Personally I would just get the work done and rent it out and over time it will rise and u will get cash flow.....

We too thought long and had about putting the house back on the market or in auction but I didn't want 2 put someone through the shit we went through when we 1st found the crack!
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phil_stewardson Offline Mute
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09-07-2012,08:16 PM
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RE: Underpinning a House

You could get some advice from a structural engineer, there are other options to underpinning, he may let you flood the sub-floor with concrete.

Underpinning is a horrible job to do, we are currently working on a project which supposedly needed underpinning as there was visible cracking, however our structural engineer agreed we could use 'helifix ' bars which is a much easier job. I didn't fancy doing underpinning, so had it of come to that I planned to sub it out and was quoted £5500

Good luck.

Phil Stewardson,
Stewardson Developments Ltd.
http://www.stewardson.co.uk
@philstewardson
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Angela Bryant Offline Mute
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10-07-2012,09:07 AM
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RE: Underpinning a House

Thanks for your thoughts on this, Billy and Phil.

I don't know if it's slightly pathetic of me, but I'm hesitant to ask if the insurance would cover it! We only renewed our policy about a week ago, after beating down the price. It's just over £7k for all our houses and this claim alone could be for more than that! Plus I made a claim just recently for around £3.5k!

The term "underpinning" seems to be used loosely at times, to mean any foundation strengthening works. I've seen videos on Youtube where they literally underpin by attaching strong, long steel pins to the house.

But the builder who looked at mine is in fact talking about the process that you mentioned Phil: he plans to excavate out the soft stuff and replace it with concrete. I'm hoping that means my house won't have the same stigma after all, as one that has literally been underpinned...?

Don't worry, I will get the work done... I agree with you Billy, I just couldn't bear to pass it on (or should that be 'off'!?) for some other poor sod to have to deal with!

Thanks,

Angela

PS: Another thing I'm a bit worried about is that as the house is a semi, I'm wondering if next door might be affected and if so, whether they could sue me for the damage to their house given that my stop tap caused the damage?! (Although it did happen before I owned the place and I'm the one who's putting it right!)
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Suncoast Offline Mute
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10-07-2012,07:09 PM
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RE: Underpinning a House

Defo claim insurance other wards what is the point in paying ure premiums ! [/b]
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lasvegas100 Offline Mute
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11-07-2012,02:19 PM
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RE: Underpinning a House

It depends on exactly what is causing the cracks. If the foundations are settling (sinking further into the ground), that is a very serious condition that may involve a great deal of engineering (at very high cost) to solve. If certain areas of the foundation are failing for any of many reasons, then perhaps only those specific areas require attention, but the costs will still be significant.

You should find a structural engineer who is experienced in your area and with the type of construction that went into this house. This person will analyze the problem and come up with possible solutions and approximate costs. You do not want to get a contractor for this as the contractor's interests and solutions may not be either appropriate or at the lowest cost for a permanent solution.

Getting directly to your question, true underpinning requires that external, temporary supports be installed under the house (often it is raised slightly to do this), and then all or part of the existing foundations are excavated and new foundations installed. Depending on the size, construction and materials of the house this can be a very difficult and complicated process.

Sometimes solutions may be adding additional columns within the structure of the house, which if properly engineered may be a simple as a "Lally Column" set on a newly dug footing to a new steel beam and steel columns - but, harping again, whatever solution is used should be designed by an engineer qualified to do so.[url]
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Angela Bryant Offline Mute
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11-07-2012,04:59 PM
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RE: Underpinning a House

Thanks for your thoughts on this Elizabeth.

I am certainly learning about a whole new area of property problems that I was blissfully unaware of before now!

The builder said that a structural surveyor has to be appointed and the Building Control department of the Council also needs to be informed. The structural surveyor will investigate the problem further, then provide a detailed plan - including drawings. The council will have to sign everything off at each phase of the works.

The builder did a test patch and found there is firm ground not too far below, which is where the foundations have to be strengthened down to. He has given me "a rough idea" of the cost as being around £16,000. He also said I'm "lucky'' that terra firma isn't twice as far down, which it can be, as that would double the cost!

Angela Sad
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john_corey Offline Mute
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11-07-2012,06:19 PM
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RE: Underpinning a House

Angela,

I have no direct experience.

If I were you, I would definitely go for a structural engineer. It is encouraging that even your builder is saying this is the right path.

What you really want is a solution from someone with the property training, certificates and insurance to back up their decision on the 'correct' solution. You need a specialist to 'bless' the solution so the next buyer, the neighbor and others do not continue to hold you hostage. That is also the reason council is involved. Once you have the 'all clear' and the documentation to share with future buyers, you should see the property stops having an impaired value. It might take some time so proof accumulates.

Now that you are more aware of the general issue, is there anything that should be done before buying in the future? Is there a step missing in the due diligence? Or is this just one of those things that could not easily be spotted so a hidden risk for any deal?
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Angela Bryant Offline Mute
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11-07-2012,07:57 PM
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RE: Underpinning a House

Hi John,

Thanks for your reply. Good question too!

The builder (who has only got involved after the problem was found and who I didn't previously know but is a trusted contact of my plumber) said that he spotted some other houses in the street and nearby, which have clear signs of subsidence - with big cracks in their walls. He even said there's a pair of semis at the end of the road which look as though they've visibly sunken and leaned! So it would've been nice to see through his eyes before buying!

He also started chatting away about his experience of other local properties he has worked on with similar issues.

I guess therefore it would be wise to ask a local builder to look at a property before buying. Although having said that, it's easy to be wise after the event, but I tend to find in practice that my optimism suggests "This property will be a good one" every time!

It can be difficult to know what lurks... As I said, this one didn't actually have any signs of subsidence.

I've got another house where the tenants were gardening one day, on an overgrown stretch of garden to the side of the house, when one of them fell down a hole that nobody knew was there! My husband told me a horror story of someone he knew that made a similar discovery and subsequently the whole house had to be underpinned! (In that case, it turned out to be caused by a collapsed old sewer pipe). Anyway, at my 'hole' property I called a structural surveyor to look at the hole and he charged me £120 but wasn't too sure what caused it! So he suggested I get a builder to look at it. I then called upon my friend's husband who is a builder, to look at it (this is 250 miles away, again!)

He thought it was hilarious when I told him my husband summed up the situation by saying: "Yes madam, it's a hole. That will be £120 please. And if you want a second opinion - it's still a hole! That will be another £120 please." I didn't find it too amusing though when he charged me £195 in the end, to sus it and fill it in!

It turned out that he deduced the houses all along that row had been built on the site where other houses had been previously knocked down. But when they demolished the old houses, they didn't bother to remove the rubble, wood included - which had rotted over time causing the hole! Doesn't inspire too much confidence for what further problems may be lurking there!

I never wanted to be a developer, you know. I thought houses were big solid things that just stood there for a lifetime, at least!

Angela

(11-07-2012 06:19 PM)john_corey Wrote:  Angela,

I have no direct experience.

If I were you, I would definitely go for a structural engineer. It is encouraging that even your builder is saying this is the right path.

What you really want is a solution from someone with the property training, certificates and insurance to back up their decision on the 'correct' solution. You need a specialist to 'bless' the solution so the next buyer, the neighbor and others do not continue to hold you hostage. That is also the reason council is involved. Once you have the 'all clear' and the documentation to share with future buyers, you should see the property stops having an impaired value. It might take some time so proof accumulates.

Now that you are more aware of the general issue, is there anything that should be done before buying in the future? Is there a step missing in the due diligence? Or is this just one of those things that could not easily be spotted so a hidden risk for any deal?
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Chris@mymaintenance.co.uk Offline Mute
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11-07-2012,10:14 PM
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RE: Underpinning a House

I would get the local building control officer around to advise in the first instance,my guess is it will be a concrete underpin solution to ensure the soft spots are down to load bearing ground. The good news is that no cracking has occurred in the building superstructure which seems to suggest that the foundations have acted together to maintain stability. If this is not a local ground problem then a good underpinning job should not be detrimental to future value.
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