Our lil’ bungalow is currently sporting a pier and beam foundation system. We’ve been told by several reputable parties that in Austin, a pier and beam system can be more advantageous than a slab foundation. This is due to the nature of the soil and it’s tendency to shift between seasons. A slab may just crack while a pier and beam system can go with the flow. That said, most foundations, regardless of type, need a tune up every few decades or so. Ours is in dire need of some TLC.
After the initial inspection we knew that the foundation would be one of the biggest repairs we would be making on the house. The inspector pointed out some sloppily and cheaply done repair work (you will see this is a continuing theme as we work our way through the house). Many of the 4X6 beams had been replaced with 2X4s resulting in the beams sagging and rolling. He also informed us that the house was a few piers short of a full load. We would need to install additional piers and replace most of the beams. Those factors combined with shifting due to natural ground movement left our house feeling off-kilter.
Before we moved forward with getting quotes from contractors, we brought in a structural engineer who specializes in pier and beam to take a look at the house and write up a scope of work for the repairs. He confirmed most of what we had been told to date and gave us a little physics lesson. I won’t bore you with that here (but also I don’t remember much of it, he was attractive and I was distracted).
The biggest advantage of having an engineer review your project is that you know exactly what to ask for from your contractors. Two contractors might quote you similar prices for repairs but could include completely different scopes. The engineer generally isn't there to "win the business" so they will shoot you straight on what is necessary vs. nice to have and what needs to be done tomorrow vs. what can wait. Especially for first timers, we highly recommend this step (not just for the views, heh heh).
A good portion of the foundation repair cost is coming from the fact that the addition the previous owners added to the house, which includes the efficiency apartment and the 4th bedroom in the main house (more on this later), is just sitting on piles of cinder blocks. The addition also doesn’t have proper clearance to allow a crew to get underneath it and do the necessary pier installations. Our engineer told us that less accessibility means more $$$.
That brings us to our first tiny rehabber task. This weekend (weather permitting) we’ll be tearing up the floors in the efficiency apartment to allow the foundation crew to access the area and install the piers from above.
Sounds easy enough, right?