Holy crack!

quesera1970February 17, 2014

We are mid remodel. Two weeks or so ago, we had load bearing walls removed in the kitchen and mudroom area on the main floor. One replaced with steel beam, the other with LVL something or other. Today, I went upstairs and saw major cracks on the walls in the exact place where steel beam was installed (but cracks on the second story wall). also noticed stairs pulling away from wall/sagging and basement floor boards separating.
Plans were engineered reviewed and approved but it looks like i may need to hire a second engineer to review? anyone with advice, warning, schadenfreude???

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Yeah get an engineer there quickly, and maybe think about getting the hell out until the house is shored up properly. Engineered properly does not man built properly and vice versa!

    Bookmark   February 17, 2014 at 7:44PM
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More frightening to me than the wall crack is the miter opening on that casing. Whew.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2014 at 10:42PM
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That looks pretty substantial. All houses will move and crack to a certain degree, and while ive seen worse, probably worth the peace of mind to get checked.
Maybe by a couple of different engineers.
2nd opinion never hurt.. well, maybe your wallet

    Bookmark   February 18, 2014 at 8:31AM
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Most likely an improper installation. Even if beams are specified by an engineer, the person doing the remodeling must make sure they shore the structure above properly, mostly lifting it a little beyond where it will sit, and the adjust the support columns as needed to be at the right height. A beam is supposed to be designed to deflect maximum of 1/360 of the total beam span so that you wont have drywall cracking, etc. Looks to me like the beam is not high enough, not that is was improperly designed.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2014 at 8:34AM
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When you start changing the load path of a structure some crack some cracks in the finishes are bound to occur as the house settles into the new configuration. There is too little information on the work performed to tell is this is something serious or not. Did you just notice these cracks (could they have happened during the work) or did they just form?

As a minimum call the original contractor and have him explain the formation and repair the cracks. You should also have the engineer that "reviewed and approved" the plans come out and look at the work that was performed and provide his opinion on the cracks.

Again, not enough information to formulate any opinions, but unless you see the cracks continuing to grow, I can't see any reason to "get the hell out of the house".

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 10:30AM
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Okay. I called in a structural engineer (the engineer who reviewed the plans no longer lives in the area--great!). The cracks caused by the installation of the new beam, either from improper support during installation or because the beam itself is insufficient. NOT that the plans were insufficient but GC did not install the specified beam.

Oh and guess what else? two of the other three beams also diverged from approved plans.

And the fourth beam (that replaces what in our house looked like an interior wall but was in fact part of the original exterior wall of our 1920 house)? NOT EVEN INSTALLED. Nothing there. They removed 6 ft of original supporting wall of the house and replaced with....nothing.

I am not even sure what to do next. GC wants to rush in and fix everything (worried for his license?). Engineer drawing up new plans. I am wondering how much more it would cost to hire a new company to redo and replace and whether it is worth exploring legal options.

But, basically, it is hard to know whether the cracking was caused by improper support or not--but the review showed us that the GC was subbing out inferior materials. When I asked him why he just said that sometimes "conditions in the field" necessitation substitutions and that generally they are equivalent. So, a couple of 2x6s nailed together are just as good as a steel I beam?

the crazy thing is that I thought Idid my homework--good reviews, no previous court cases that I could find, spoke with a couple clients, he is licensed in 3 states, etc.

also not sure how this got past inspection, although it was a private inspection.

I have no idea what to do next.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 8:45PM
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2x6s? ROTFL.
Sounds like the guy who tried to build my back porch, all 37' x 18' of it on 4x4s. Oh - an said joist hangers weren't necessary.

All I can suggest is you start taking photos all over the place. You might not be litigious, but your GC doesn't know that. Seeing you photo'ing things -- if you decide to keep him -- could put the fear of God/the judge in him and he'll do things right, not with "general equivalents.

Plus, beams, I beams or LVLs are not inexpensive. Who has paid for those nonexistent beams?

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 10:13PM
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I think I'd give the city/county building inspector a call. Have them look at the situation and see what they suggest.

Did you or the contractor get the building/construction permits? I get the feeling there are not any permits.

I'd even bet they pocketed the money they charged you for the steel.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 11:07PM
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Ironically, one of the reasons I chose this company over the usual guy who does stuff around our house is that they do everything by the book (supposedly), including permits. They are licensed and bonded. However, he used a third party inspector, rather than the city inspector.
I am pretty confident that they will completely redo everything that is necessary to make it structurally sound, at their cost. But it has totally damaged my faith and trust---and put us way behind schedule. We have to move back in by march 2, and we have a 2 and 4 year old. The entire job was scheduled to be done by early feb, but that's clearly not happening.

Thinking I will call the city inspector, but that could also hold things up to my detriment. Litigation would be an option, but my basic understanding is that the contractor needs to have the chance to fix things. Reporting to licensing board is a different story. Either way, its been a bad experience from almost the start, but this takes the cake.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 11:26PM
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Your homeowner's insurance may not cover an independent inspector if there is a problem in the future. If the city's inspector issues the okay and there is a problem then the city becomes liable.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 12:27AM
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I would contact a good local attorney specializing in construction law and review your situation and get consultation / recommendations on the required documentation to best get the situation resolved. As some said you need complete documentation and photographs of the as-built conditions. It sounds like the GC wants to correct the errors and save his reputation but I would not trust him to do everything with complete oversight by someone representing your interest (maybe the structural guy that you called).

Did the GC actually do this job or did he subcontract the whole project to someone else? It is not unusual to substitute material based on availability but typically the engineer who stamped the plans must approve the substitutions.

Where are you located? what is the contracted value of the renovations? the value/extent of the project is what would control the expected level of supervision/review.

I'm sorry for your situation and best of luck getting it resolved.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 9:07AM
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thanks sdello and everyone:
the remodel is extensive: gut and redo of the existing back of the house: kitchen/mudroom/pantry area leading to deck, turning a warren of small rooms added on at different times into one large space (that is what required removal of 4 different load bearing walls) plus remodel of two bathrooms (one being reconfigured) plus a lot of smaller stuff (window replacement, repainting, etc). The total cost of the renovations just south of 100k. Not a small amount. Contractor has received 50 percent so far.
I am considering my options. One is to write an addendum to our contract specifying their obligations, including making all structural repairs to be reviewed by the engineer we hired. Maybe also requiring city inspector, although given that we live in DC its not a guarantee that's going to be better (or faster for sure). contractor offered to cover our housing costs but we cannot stay where we are and would have to move with a 2 and 4 year old (and our full time jobs/commute) once again.

One of our frustrations was that we thought our project would be directly overseen by the head of the company/GC, but in fact, the hands on daily work was performed/overseen mainly by a totally incompetent 'project manager' who has his own team, with plumbing and electric subcontracted out. So far we see no problems with those (except plumber trashed the tub we bought and it has to be reglazed) but who knows.
I am awaiting the engineers full report and with that information will proceed accordingly, but it is probably a good idea to have an attorney review the situation and our proposal.

Does anyone know if substitution of materials in a case like this can get someone's license revoked? or fined? I am wondering what kind of leverage we have, besides reputation damage (and this contractor received an extremely high rating on Angies list, BBB, etc, but I guess that means nothing or we got the bad project manager).

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 9:44AM
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My ex- was a GC and his family has been in business since 1950 -- in the Wheaton area. Of course, he drove that business into the ground, but that's another story. Anyway, I have heard these kinds of horror stories when he's gone in after someone to fix or take over a job. Dangerous messes, sometimes.

Maryland has a MHIP Commission that reviews issues like this (DOCUMENT) to determine who pays for what, but it's usually after the fact. Being in DC, I'm willing to bet there's something similar and you could contact them to discuss your current situation and in case you need them, what documentation should you assemble. The MHIP Commission could refer you. MHIP is Maryland Home Improvement Commission.

As messed up as DC can be, and God knows the payola involved -- because I assure you the Good Old Boys' network lives on -- I'd speak to the attorney first and take every avenue possible to protect yourself. Mention your willingness to speak with the city inspector, too. Somehow, it would be nice to see what your insurance company has to say, but them I'd really keep out of the picture unless necessary. They can do you worse than a contractor like this. Ok, PM.

Too many clients wait for the GC to make things right and have to litigate later. In the meanwhile a house falls apart or a chimney falls off.

Pictures. Everything in writing. Even your response from the Project Mgr & GC. Even if you have to tell them you're recording the conversation (which I think you must do in DC).

Depending upon what your attorney might say, you could email these people your pictures, just so 1) they know you're watching, 2) they realize you're not going away, and 3) there's 50% outstanding -- which they could walk away from, anyway. Keep your email, but make certain if you print them to include the headers (time stamps) or you got nuttin'.

Being in the area, I'm SO curious as to whom you've used. But I'll watch your thread instead.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 10:42AM
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FWIW my brother had a high-end custom home built here in the Boston area. He hired a local architect who drew up the plans and had them reviewed by a structural engineer, etc. The architect's husband was a builder so obviously she pushed for him to be the contractor. They framed the house and it wasn't until a large window was delivered that it was discovered that the contractor built the house with 8 ft ceilings when the plans should 9ft ceilings. The house was designed with a walk-in from the garage. As built they set the foundation elevations too low which necessitated a stairway from the garage to the main level of the house.

these are fundamentals that are clearly on the plans but the GC just built it "the way we always build them"

My brother ended up throwing the contractor off the job and getting another contractor to come in and finish.

It obviously increases both time and cost but it may be the best solution in your case too.

Good luck and keep us posted.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 11:17AM
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The schedule is the least of your problems. Difficult but irrelevant. These are very serious issues. Don't kid yourself. You need to get these inexcusably, unbelievably irresponsible people out of your house. Before someone gets hurt. Inspect everything they did. Talk with a lawyer too.

Very scarey stuff. Good luck getting it all straightened out.

This post was edited by snookums2 on Thu, Feb 20, 14 at 20:33

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 8:28PM
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In answer to the question--just BBB or not... No. Go after his bond and insurance. Get a lawyer to draw up an initial letter with all your evidence. And, get a bid to have it all fixed to correct by another GC/remediation company. Then, send the letter from the lawyer stating all of this. You can go after his insurance and bond and he won't be in business long... Depending on the contract you signed, you'll either be in court or in arbitration.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 10:21PM
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You don't want to call a building official to the site until you're sure what's done will pass. Hire another contractor if you have to. You don't want your house condemned.

Avoid going legal as much as you can. Those here advocating playing "tough guy" aren't paying the bills. Contractors are paupers compared to lawyers, even the best ones.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 7:39AM
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Plenty of contractors around here are not paupers. They do quite well.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 8:01AM
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