What to do? Crack?

newhomeNewbieJanuary 25, 2012

Hello... I'm a long time lurker and now we've finally have new construction in our hands... Currently, we do not know how to remedy the issues below. (builder told us they'll caulk the affected areas after the build)... what do you think?

taken jan. 14

back (basement)

taken jan. 17

and last taken jan. 20

we're open to suggestions and opinions.

thanks gw!

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Did it crack after backfilling?

    Bookmark   January 25, 2012 at 5:05PM
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I think R8 is suggesting the wall may not have been braced or at least the first floor in place before it was backfilled

If that crack is more than 1/4" wide it would be prudent to get a professional independent assessment.

If it's determined it's not structural and won't get worse, caulking is not the most effective repair. As well, best practice would have included a plastic membrane on the exterior of the wall.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2012 at 8:13PM
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Yep, looks like a contractor took a chance and lost at your expense. Looks like awful big rocks in the backfill too. The apparent absence of exterior waterproofing is unfortunate. Caulk will only make it look better for awhile. You definitely need an independent professional assessment and I would ask that professional to check the drawings and specs and visit the site every week.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2012 at 9:33PM
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That professional assessment should be at the cost of the builder. Good luck in getting this resolved.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2012 at 10:12PM
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I agree with getting it looked at by a professional, paid for by the builder. I don't know whether the crack is cosmetic or structural but I wouldn't take the builder's word for it. I also would get a professional opinion on how it can and should be repaired. It is pretty crummy to have a brand new house with a crack in the foundation, particularly since the experts here seem to think it was caused by the builder.

I would also be concerned about the lack of exterior waterproofing. How does your builder propose to keep the basement dry?

    Bookmark   January 25, 2012 at 11:18PM
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Some of the possible causes are:

1) backfill before the wall was adequately braced. ("IRC R404.1.7: "backfill shall not be placed against the wall until the wall has sufficient strength and has been anchored to the floor above, or has been sufficiently braced to prevent damage by the backfill. Bracing is not required for walls supporting less than 4 feet of unbalanced backfill.".

2) no engineer design (R404.1.3 "Design required - Walls supporting more than 48 inches (1219 mm) of unbalanced backfill that do not have permanent lateral support at the top or bottom.")

3) insufficinet CMU thickness or insufficient steel reinforcement for the unbalanced backfill height (see section R404.1.1)

4) large rocks, frozen soil roughly placed with bucket of a backhoe

5) Settlement of the footing is a possibility but that should have happened more slowly and the crack usually follows many of the CMU joints

I think any permanent solution will involve exposing the wall, repairing the CMU and applying membrane waterproofing. By the way, where is the waterproofing? This could be another code violation.

Where is the project located?

The contractor should not participate in the selection of the professional who will investigate and offer a solution to the problem. Getting the contractor to pay for that consultant could be just the red herring issue the contractor needs in order to derail the effort. I would avoid that issue and find a consultant immediately and keep him/her on the project; it's cheap insurance.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2012 at 7:11AM
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Regarding waterproofing instead of dampproofing:

IRC R406.2 - "Concrete and masonry foundation waterproofing. In areas where a high water table or other severe soil-water conditions are known to exist, exterior foundation walls that retain earth and enclose interior spaces and floors below grade shall be waterproofed from the top of the footing to the finished grade."

Unless you live in the desert the water table is high enough to warrant waterproofing. Dampproofing serves no practical purpose IMHO. I don't see anything on your foundations wall that looks like waterproofing and I suspect what looks like a painted coating is intended to the minimum dampproofing required by code (something I consider a major red flag). IMHO troweled dampproofing is of little use and painted dampproofing is a total waste of labor and material. Waterproofing is cheap insurance against a damp or wet basement. You must learn to always buy cheap insurance regardless of the opinion of builders who have nothing to lose by offering the easiest conventional solution.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2012 at 7:51AM
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thank you all for the responses. this would definitely help us communicate with the builder. we're building in MN as added information. :)

btw, how would we know there's lack of exterior waterproofing? (I would also check our plan for this)

thanks everyone!

    Bookmark   January 26, 2012 at 10:10AM
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cause you don't see any water proofing.
call your code inspector to come out to your site.
be there with him.
ask him about foundation insulation also.

best of luck.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2012 at 4:30PM
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I talked to DH, a structural engineer, who suggests that you ask an inspector to find out if the contractor placed any horizontal "ladder" reinforcement between every other course of blocks. Was there a bond beam at the top of the blocks, also reinforced? Whatever you do, don't let the contractor rush to "fix" the problem without investigating the cause.

Can you shine a light through the crack? Is it wider at the top than it is at the bottom? Is it wider on the inside than it is on the outside? These can help in determining the cause, since if it's a settlement issue, you've got bigger problems that could affect you down the road.

Typically in commercial design (where DH normally works), any concrete masonry is to be filled solid if it's below grade to avoid having any voids that could fill with water and then freeze. Since you're in MN, that may be an important consideration. The crack appears to be in a hollow-core wall since both the inside and the outside cracks are open. Verify that there wasn't any settlement at either end of the wall that could have caused the problem. Did the footing crack?

One method of reinforcement could be to cut the horizontal joints at the crack location and grout in #3 bars, approx. 6 feet long, centered on the crack at each course, along with epoxy-injection to grout in the bars. Caulking is not the solution, the fix needs to be permanent and needs to be in writing so that you can hold it to him down the road.

Yes, as R8 says, you should get an outside inspector, not one chosen by the contractor. If he pays for the inspector he may insist on choosing the inspector as well. It may be worth the $$$ to just get your own. Your mileage may vary. Good luck, nhNewbie.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 7:20AM
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thanks everyone for the answers and tips! makes it clearer for us now.

you just can't buy your peace of mind. :)

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 10:23AM
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Whatever code sections or good construction practices the builder might have failed to observe, this wall was required by the state building code, section R404.1.3, to be designed by an engineer. Your first task is to find out if an engineer provided that information in the permit documents. Let us know what you find out.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 10:50AM
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I meant to ask who designed the project including the structural elements? Was there a designer who worked for you or was it a design-build contract?

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 11:13AM
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it's from one of the plans the builder has used (custom home) or is selling.

i've requested to see the permits from the city (or get a copy).

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 11:49AM
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If you go to the building department and ask to see the file for the project address they will let you see everything; it's public information and a request to see it is routine.

The building department will also give you copies or let you copy the documents but the drawings might be more difficult if they are not digitized into PDF format.

However, you should have been given all of the permit drawings already because they would have been included in the construction contract. There can be no differences between the drawings you were given and the ones filed with the building department; the contractor is required by state and contract law to build to the permit/contract documents and any structural changes must be given to both you and the building department.

Look for a foundation drawing or specification and any documents stamped by an engineer. An engineer might include a collection of details and notes that cover any special reinforcement conditions in CMU walls or included a note where that condition occurs.

If you hire a consultant he/she will probably do all of this even if you have already done it; I know I would.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 12:44PM
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newhomeNewbie, above you ask "btw, how would we know there's lack of exterior waterproofing?". I think you said you're in MN, and as Reno8 said, there will be different codes. However to answer your question, please see picture below:

That black stuff you see is waterproofing. It's sprayed on the poured foundation in our area. This isn't a good pic of the spray, but I was photo the exterior of them building the masonry FP, just happened to have this pic handy, but it shows the black waterproofing well enough for you, I think.

We are in mid-Atlantic. hope this helps!

Also, we hired a new home engineering type to come double-check occasionally. It cost, but all visits were less than a thousand dollars. We cringed, but it ended up being good insurance - at least our peace of mind - it was worth it. Good luck!!

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 7:50PM
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Was trying to listen to SIL on phone and wasn't clear before, sorry. What I meant to say was that we hired an independent home Inspector, who specialized in New Home Construction. We engaged him to visit the construction site at strategic points during the building process, and close to the time banks & county was also inspecting.

All his visits together, including mileage expenses, costs us close to a thousand dollars all total (a little over, I believe), but it was worth it as our personal insurance, and for our peace of mind to double-check.

Hope this helps!

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 8:26PM
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Spray-on cold modified-asphalt is the best waterproofing for the money but be sure it creates a flexible "waterproofing" membrane that can bridge cracks and is not "dampproofing" which cannot. In the case of a large crack you will probably need a sheet waterproofing membrane in that area. Caulking and grouting will only be cosmetic.

There are contractors who specialize in waterproofing. It might be a good idea to ask one to look at the problem.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2012 at 10:13AM
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We have the black spray asphalt waterproofing and also a j-drain (like a french drain). We have had loads of rain since our build began and our basement is dry as a bone.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2012 at 6:15PM
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In most cases, the black spray is nothing more than the minimal required asphalt cutback dampproofing, not waterproofing.

Before plastic dimple membranes were available, I used crystalline spray waterproofing, which is invisible after it dries. I can imagine contractors looking at those homes in the years since sniffing that the builder "forgot" to dampproof.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2012 at 6:37PM
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