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What to do with your settling house

Seattle is, overall, not built on a sturdy foundation. Early settlers used fill soil to relieve the area of its swamp-like nature, and this tends to lead to settling and mudslides.

This means your home is also not built on the sturdiest of foundations, and may settle over the lifespan of your home. Pete and Rob talk to Chuck Brastrup from Ram Jack Northwest about what this can mean for your foundation and how to fix it.

Some of the most common foundation failures occur due to “saturated soils,” Chuck says. “Generally, it comes from inadequate, or improper, water evacuation from the house. Most often, the original drainage system is broken or clogged.”

A recipe for disaster, he says, is water from your roof dumping to your foundation.

Chuck says one of the most obvious indications of a problem “is a crack in the foundation. That crack will be wider at the top then at the bottom, but not always,” he says. “Sometimes the crack will be wider at the bottom, which tells you the house is sinking from the middle.”

Other times, you may notice a crack in the drywall, or doors and windows don’t open or close properly, or won’t even open at all.

If you’ve deduced that your home is probably settling, Pete and Rob recommend calling a company like Ram Jack. Chuck says they will first take a look at your home and ask you about the problems you’re experiencing.

They’ll then take measurements that will tell the engineers how much the house has actually settled. Then, “a geotechnical or soils engineer will need to provide a soils report that, in turn, a structural engineer will use to draw up a pipe pile plan, which is then submitted to the city for approval.”

Pipe pile, designed to transfer structural loads through the foundation to the soil below, generally consists of 2-inch pipes driven down into the ground, using either the weight of the house, or pneumatic or hydraulic hammers “down to refusal,” or when the pipe won’t go any further.

Those pipes, which are being driven through brackets, make up a structure called a pier, and are rated to support 70,000 pounds. “Once it’s secured in place, along with the other piers, those piers are then linked hydraulically to a central manifold,” Chuck says. “And with one pull of the lever, [they] can simultaneously lift that part of the house.”

Pete wonders how much this undertaking will cost.

“Once I have a pier plan that the structural engineer has drawn up, I know how many piers there are, and I know what kind of excavation is going to be required,” he says. “Based on our standard unit price, our standard unit price being $1,500 per pier up to a depth of 20 feet,” he can give an accurate estimate to a client. A typical range, although wide, Chuck says, is $50,000 to $100,000. “Most jobs fall within those 10 to 25 piers,” he says.

Listen to the whole story.

Home Matters with Pete and Rob can be heard on KIRO Radio every Saturday at 8 a.m. and Sunday at 6 a.m. or anytime at Like Home Matters on Facebook.

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