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  1. #1
    Super Member California's Avatar
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    Default How to stabilize the earth under a pier foundation?

    This is an old farmhouse with a pier & post foundation in poor condition. Gophers have undermined several piers and they are settling into the basement. Previous repairs have been haphazard, mostly just piling concrete scrap against the sagging earth.

    I need to stabilize the soil and make it gopher resistant - maybe by trowelling a concrete layer over the bare earth??

    I could use suggestions from anyone who has solved a similar problem.

    The photo shows where I cut a new access door to get under the house to deal with this.

    How should I stabilize this mess?
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  2. #2
    Super Star Member Egon's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to stabilize the earth under a pier foundation?

    Sounds like this would be a prime candidate to jack up the house and pour a new foundation under it. Chances are this would prove to be the cheapest permanent fix.

    Add-hock fixes will be ongoing and never prove satisfactory.
    Egon
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  3. #3
    Elite Member WayneB's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to stabilize the earth under a pier foundation?

    From what I can see those are not attempts at repairs, not even good bandaids! I think Egon is pointing you in the right direction. Get the house jacked up and put a new foundation with footers beneath it.

  4. #4
    Super Member California's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to stabilize the earth under a pier foundation?

    Egon, Wayne,

    Trouble is, the whole farmhouse is in this condition. The living space looks decent, but it was built cheap 90 years ago and has had nothing but patching since. I recall helping Dad patch stuff that looked this bad 40 years ago when he inherited it in similar condition.

    All the systems - plumbing, electric (added years after the farmhouse was built), windows, insulation (none), roof ( I re-roofed it when I inherited it to halt major ongoing water damage), drainage (I fixed that immediately, to halt the driveway from funnelling into that crawl space - that's the tractor connection!), and whatever else you can think of was in near-unusable condition when I inherited it. If you try to open a window there are only a couple that will slide up, others crumble as you apply force.

    Dad used it as a summer home and always said he didn't expect the house to outlast him. He strongly recommended tearing it down instead of trying to revive it. I'm torn between getting by, as he did, because I love the place as-is and it isn't my primary home, and giving up and building new.

    For now I'm the third generation trying to slap patch upon patch. I don't think jacking it up is an option. That would break every rusty pipe in the building. It'm not exaggerating, I've repaired seven rusted-out plumbing leaks in the past seven years plus fixed at least that many for Dad in the preceding years. Pulling a building permit would surely lead to a condemnation instead.

    This is simply an attempt to continue using a structure that is far beyond its useful life, in all respects - because I love it here. We spend our time outdoors - the house isn't the focal point. We have a decent house in the city to return to when it rains so hard here that water is coming out of the light fixtures.

    I could afford to replace the building but for now I prefer to not spend my retirement savings building something new, sterile, unfamiliar. If I ever decide to make the ranch my primary home, that would be the point I would face the decision to rebuild. I would probably go ahead at that time.

    Back to my question - has anyone remedied (or delayed) erosion like this? How?

  5. #5
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    Default Re: How to stabilize the earth under a pier foundation?

    Quote Originally Posted by California


    I don't think jacking it up is an option. That would break every rusty pipe in the building.
    Jacking up a house to replace the foundation is not like jacking up a car to change a tire. You jack up a car 10 or 12 inches just to get the tire 1 inch of the ground and then change the tire. In lifting a house to replace the foundation you may only need to raise it as little as 1/16 of an inch, just enough to take the weight off the old supports so you can remove them. That's not going to be a problem for your pipes. Also you don't have to lift the entire house at one time. You can do a section at a time, however large a section you're comfortable working on.

    As for toweling concrete on the ground I see that as a waste of time.

    My vote is for a new foundation. If you do it a section at a time it's not that big a deal.

  6. #6
    Super Star Member Egon's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to stabilize the earth under a pier foundation?

    Okay, given more conditions I'd say you have a decision to make. Keep patching on an as needed basis without spending much money or ????

    Keep your own safety in mind when exploring the crawl space.
    Egon
    50 years behind the times
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    Worn out skin bag filled with rattlin bones

  7. #7
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    Default Re: How to stabilize the earth under a pier foundation?

    The soil looks stable. By that I mean it's non expansive clays like we have in some parts of Texas. That simplifies it by a ton.

    What I'd do would be to temporarily support the existing framework. Then I'd dig some piers. By piers I mean twelve to sixteen inch holes down at least six feet. These holes could be outside of the building line, along side the the cut if you will.

    At the top of the new pier hole I'd place haunches. This is an enlargement of the pier to go under the building line. I believe there are some pictures of this work early in the "pond project" on my web site.

    The new piers will stabilize the building from sliding sideways. The haunch will pick up the weight of the house. Once the pier and haunch has hardened then you can use conventional solid, solid, solid concrete blocks and shims level and support a new beam that runs under the side of the house picking up all the existing joists and beams.

    This repair is mostly about labor, heavy labor. The biggest material expense will be the beam. This can be lessened by going with wood instead of steel because the beam shouldn't be in contact with the soil.

    If the house has survived all these years under those conditions then some simple things like this should guarantee it keeping on keeping on. Who knows, walking into a room and not feeling like you're on a boat because the floor leans might inspire you to continue repairing and appreciating.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: How to stabilize the earth under a pier foundation?

    There is an old barn I drive by frequently that a few years ago was in really bad shape. They lifted the barn up and built a new foundation before setting the barn back down. This was/is a ratty old building with fancy tar paper siding. But the building is important to someone so they saved it.

    You can save the building its just a matter of cost and is it worth the money to do so. Your choice.

    When we where land hunting we came across a 50 acre parcel with a good 8 outbuildings and an old house. The seller was the surviving brother and he was in his 80s. The farm house was build around 1900 and they still had the Farmall from the 30s. He lived on a farm down the road but had put 15K into the old house because it was where he grew up. Even with the 15K put into the house he could not keep a tenent in the place for more than a month or two. It was either too hot or too cold. And the floors had quite and incline. I think the man wasted 15K. The building was not worth saving but it his life was tied to that old house and he could not let go. Can't blame him for that though.

    What drove me nuts was that his brother was an avid photographer and he had carosal after carosal of Kodachrome slides in one of the outbuildings. Kids had gotten in there and dump quite a few of them on the floor. The carosals where worth some money. I regret that I did not ask the man if I could have the slides. Someones memories just scattered all on the floor.....

    Later,
    Dan

  9. #9
    Elite Member WayneB's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to stabilize the earth under a pier foundation?

    Quote Originally Posted by California
    Egon, Wayne,

    Trouble is, the whole farmhouse is in this condition. The living space looks decent, but it was built cheap 90 years ago and has had nothing but patching since. I recall helping Dad patch stuff that looked this bad 40 years ago when he inherited it in similar condition.

    Must say I have been there. The house we live in is over 200 years old and was built by a person that was granted the land as long as he would put in a saw mill to cut lumber for homes in our town. This was an up and down water driven saw. The house was an expanded cape style house with the main house being 11/2 stories and then extended out to include the summer and winter kitchens, down into a workshop and then into the cattle barn.

    The total length of the place from front side of house to back side of the barn was over 135 feet. The first project I did was to jack up the north side of the cape and install a corner beam and lower sill. I had help doing this but we had support structures on both sidewalls, supports going to the roof, multiple jack points along the sill area and ended up cutting out the old sill and end post. Actually a sawyer in town cut the end beam and sill to size prior to us removing the old stuff. This project took four weeks from start to finish. So it can be done, but it aint a bunch of fun!


    All the systems - plumbing, electric (added years after the farmhouse was built), windows, insulation (none), roof ( I re-roofed it when I inherited it to halt major ongoing water damage), drainage (I fixed that immediately, to halt the driveway from funnelling into that crawl space - that's the tractor connection!), and whatever else you can think of was in near-unusable condition when I inherited it. If you try to open a window there are only a couple that will slide up, others crumble as you apply force.

    As for the plumbing I think this is something that you will have to look into replacing. I am sure if the pipes are rusting away there is no way it can be used safely. don't drink the water!

    Electrical is also a matter that you will have to replace as some point and if you are going to restore / save the place then putting in a new updated service and limited wiring is something you might have to do soon.

    Now you are getting into money when you start talking windows, doors, wiring, plumbing, heck lifting the place will be cheap compared to the other items. But, all good structures start with a good foundation!


    Dad used it as a summer home and always said he didn't expect the house to outlast him. He strongly recommended tearing it down instead of trying to revive it. I'm torn between getting by, as he did, because I love the place as-is and it isn't my primary home, and giving up and building new.

    For now I'm the third generation trying to slap patch upon patch. I don't think jacking it up is an option. That would break every rusty pipe in the building. It'm not exaggerating, I've repaired seven rusted-out plumbing leaks in the past seven years plus fixed at least that many for Dad in the preceding years. Pulling a building permit would surely lead to a condemnation instead.

    I think you should seek help with deciding what to do first. I am sure there are people that could come and look at the structure and let you know what the cost would be to construct a sound foundation under the building. We can all suggest doing things, but the proof is to actually do the work. Gosh we could all meet out there and help with the repairs. Give This Old House a call maybe they are looking for a major project. Their first project, many years ago, included jacking and replacing a foundation on a colonial home in Concord, MA!

    This is simply an attempt to continue using a structure that is far beyond its useful life, in all respects - because I love it here. We spend our time outdoors - the house isn't the focal point. We have a decent house in the city to return to when it rains so hard here that water is coming out of the light fixtures.

    I could afford to replace the building but for now I prefer to not spend my retirement savings building something new, sterile, unfamiliar. If I ever decide to make the ranch my primary home, that would be the point I would face the decision to rebuild. I would probably go ahead at that time.

    Back to my question - has anyone remedied (or delayed) erosion like this?

    How?
    Good luck with the project, sure it will work out for you!

    Wayne

  10. #10
    Super Star Member Egon's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to stabilize the earth under a pier foundation?

    Been looking at your picture again.

    The first step should be to replace the concrete block that is being incorrectly used to hold up some weight. [ located in the top left of picture ]

    Concrete blocks can be used in load bearing situations but they must be set flat with the open portions oriented vertically. Any other way and they have a tendency to break.
    Egon
    50 years behind the times
    Livin in a
    Worn out skin bag filled with rattlin bones

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