Put bluntly, East Austin does not have the best soil for foundations (see East Austin Soil). Because of this, foundation issues can be a fairly common occurrence in real estate transactions. So it helps to know as much as you can. This issue can be dealt with and it shouldn't be considered a deal breaker...but it should be handled like the important issue it is! A lot of older East Austin homes will have had work done already and will come with a transferable foundation warranty. Others will be found to need work, and others will check out fine. If you are a home buyer, it is important to have a home inspection performed by a qualified inspector that can see signs of foundation movement. We also recommend getting an inspector that will do elevation tests on the floor (usually with a tool called a Ziplevel) to determine if the foundation has moved and if so, how much. The home inspector can then advise if further investigation is needed by a licensed structural engineer.
East Austin Soil
The clay content of East Austin soil is fairly high which can cause the soil to shrink and swell as the amount of moisture changes in the soil. This can generally be controlled by stabilizing the amount of moisture that goes in and out of the soil. Some ways to do this include installing a gutter system to ensure water runs away from the foundation. Also, keeping a healthy lawn is important to prevent erosion and evaporation of moisture from the soil in our hot summers, and to help maintain uniform moisture levels in the winter. Water the lawn during the dry times and try and keep an overall uniform level of moisture during all seasons. If your yard has a slope towards the foundation, consider installing a french drain system to divert water away and prevent pooling.
Looking at East Austin homes you can learn to see tell-tale signs of foundation movement as well. Some of these signs include:
- Masonry or Stucco cracks on the exterior of the structure.
- Driveway that is extremely out of level and cracked (driveway slabs are usually thinner than the house foundation, but this could be an indication of movement that could be affecting the home foundation as well).
- Yard that slopes towards the house. (If the yard has been like this for a long period of time, the water drainage up against the house could affect the foundation by throwing off the uniformity of the moisture in the soil).
- Drywall stress cracks near the doors and windows.
- Out of level doors and windows, sticking doors and windows.
- Separation of the ceiling drywall sheets at the joints. You can sometimes see the lines of the 4 x 8 drywall sheets where they were taped & floated.
- Warped flooring, out of level flooring (A good test is to bring a small rubber ball with you and roll it on the floor...if it's out of level the ball should go to the lowest area).
Pier & Beam and Slab are generally the two types of foundations that you will come across on the eastside of Austin.
Pier & Beam foundations have piers that go into the ground and beams that rest on top of them. Homes with this foundation type should have a crawlspace under the house to access the piers, and other house systems like plumbing. You should be able to recognize these foundations by the vents for the crawlspace going around the exterior of the house. This type of foundation construction has its advantages and disadvantages. One big advantage is the crawlspace access. The plumbing and other systems are accessible which means doing additions or remodeling can be easier and less costly because of this accessibility. Also, if the foundation moves it can be adjusted fairly easily and plumbing and other systems that are exposed are fairly easy to fix if the foundation repair causes problems. The disadvantage to this construction is that pier & beam foundations have the potential to move around more than a heavy concrete slab. This can show up with doors or windows that become out of level and don't latch, or stick in the frame. Also, drywall stress cracks are very common because of the increased movement of the home. In general, the movement tends to be seasonal, according to the wet & dry weather conditions as the clay soil swells & contracts.
Slab foundations are concrete slabs usually reinforced with steel reinforcement bars (rebar) inside the concrete that the house sits on...there is no crawlspace to access. The advantage to a slab foundation is the overall stability of it. Slab foundations are made with thick concrete and reinforced with steel so the foundation generally resists movement better than a pier & beam foundation. The disadvantage to this construction is the potential for costly repairs if it does move. Plumbing is run through the slab so if the slab moves or cracks the plumbing could have issues too. When a foundation repair is made the pipes could crack inside the slab causing a costly repair expense. The foundation repair companies typically will not pay or warrant for this expense if it is to happen. They 'level to the limits of the structure' meaning they will stop if signs of structural stress or the potential for plumbing issues become apparent. But, it can still happen before they realize the problem.
Special attention should be paid to older homes with cast iron drain plumbing. Because this material is rigid and corrodes over time, it is prone to leak when the slab is leveled. A static test performed by a licensed plumber will indicate whether the drain piping is holding pressure either before and/or after leveling is done.
We are very knowledgeable about foundation issues having dealt with this many times before working in East Austin. We have accumulated the resources and contacts to handle the situation if a foundation problem is uncovered. It's another good reason to work with an agent that specializes on the eastside!