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So I refuse to be one of those inspectors who passes off every little thing for further evaluation because they are afraid to offer a professional opinion. However, it has become increasingly frustrating with contractors apparently searching for work. Here is a common example that I would appreciate some input on. I frequently inspect homes of 50-80 years old on raised foundations that have signs of past structural movement such as an unsquare door frame or two, floors that are slightly out of level and a stem wall crack or two that display no significant separation or differential. Barring any substantial grading and drainage issues that could increase the potential for further movement, I generally do not recommend further evaluation by a structural engineer, drainage specialist or other specialist.

I am in the midst of dueling specialists because I reported a typical foundation stem wall crack in a 70 year old home but did not recommend repair or further evaluation by a structural engineer. Two years later, a contractor came along to do unrelated work to the home and suggested the crack be immediately repaired because it is a structural concern for a substantial amount of money. You can guess who the home owner turned to for the repair costs. I hired two highly regarded specialists to come out and say this was without a doubt a non-structural issue. The home owner hired a specialist as well to state the opposite and of course will do the repair work. It really is a bunch of nonsense but has cost a whole lot of time and money to deal with.

Sorry for the long winded story but I guess what I am looking for is good report language to report my findings in this particular circumstance that will be informational to the home owner but at the same time not be unnecessarily alarming or suggest that I am making claims only a structural engineer or other specialist can make.

Otherwise, I will be simply passing the buck on the majority of my inspections for something that is found in just about every home of this age and type. I do not feel this is a good way to do business. It is spineless and causes the owner to incur the additional cost of a specialist or worry over something that is a non-issue aside from the aesthetics.

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Is there a statute of limitations on home inspections done in CA?

Is either of your 'highly regarded' specialists a registered engineer?

At this point it might end up being a 'battle of credentials', who's got the most.

At the outset, I would have mentioned to the former client that the contractor had a vested interest in claiming the need for expensive repairs. You're the only one with a vested interest in only the truth.

Marc

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One is a geologist/geotechnical specialist/hydrologist who specializes in geology and structural reinforcement of aged structures as well as designs plans for grading a drainage according to specific geological needs. The other is a foundation contractor with 30+ years of experience in seismic retrofits, new construction and repair. Frankly, I've got a home owner with too much time on their hands and I am certain any compensation for repairs will go straight to new drapes and furnishings rather than an unnecessary repair.

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I see two stumbling blocks here. 1) you are on an earthquake fault line or close enough for people to be panicky about foundation cracks.

2) you are in SoCal where sharks congregate to squeeze cash from well-meaning home inspectors. Or so it seems.

I agree you might need an ironclad disclaimer for foundation cracks and to have it signed by the client before the inspection. You might only need to pull it out for those shaky older houses, which, BTW, might not even be bolted down to the foundation.

Whatever you get for a disclaimer, I would get a lawyer to proof read it. Good to have somebody on your side, for when that call comes in.

"Sorry to hear you are having a problem. I'll talk to my lawyers, we'll go over the inspection agreement/contract and get back to you soon as possible."

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When you got the first call from the client demanding you pony up cash, did you go out to the house and look at the issue and discuss it in person with the customer or did you simply contact your specialists first?

Does your contract have language that says that before someone hires a contractor to make repairs of something they think you erred at, or something that they claim you missed, they are required to notify you in writing and give you an opportunity to go back out and see the issue in person and attempt to resolve it before they can go to anyone else or sik a bunch of lawyers on you?

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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Well the contractor who gave that False information with out any Certifications should be hung out to dry.. Your not in a position to give any professional advice to any structural faults that is left to a PE.. I swear some of the Contractors that worry about a cracks in concrete should go to the ACI and learn what concrete does in its life time... IT CRACKS.... Its the nature of the beast.. If a contractor came behind me and did something like that i would have his License. In fact the contractor doesn't even have a PE or ICC Reinforced Concrete...

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  • 3 weeks later...

. . . I am looking for is good report language to report my findings in this particular circumstance that will be informational to the home owner but at the same time not be unnecessarily alarming or suggest that I am making claims only a structural engineer or other specialist can make. . .

Sorry, Will, that can't be done in California.

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  • 10 months later...

This has happened to me a few times, and there's no easy answer for how to deal with it--post-inspection, or when you walk down into a basement and see a crack for the first time.

An engineer spoke at a CE seminar I attended a couple of years ago, and his position was that any crack in a foundation wall MUST be reinforced. His logic was that, if the foundation wall is compromised in any way, then the load of the house isn't being adequately transferred to the footer. His position, I understand.

I also understand that stuff happens to foundation walls, and that movement often attains stasis and there's really no cause for alarm. The engineer I mentioned even said that he gets into battles with another engineer in his area who oftentimes says a cracked foundation wall should be sealed, but that structural repairs aren't necessary.

The X factor, is that the engineer doesn't want to be wrong and have someone ask him or her to fork over a few thousand bucks five years in the future because something wacky happened. Prudence suggests he should always recommend repairs to limit liability.

I've had lots of engineers for clients, and I unfailingly ask them if they learned building codes in school, or whether they were taught to observe and assess issues in residential construction. I've never had anyone respond affirmatively. Typically, most of them laugh and say something like, "I can tell you how to build a bridge, but I don't know that much about houses."

My experience is that most competent structural engineers are autodidacts, and learn about residential issues post-university. The ones who rely solely on their school curriculum to assess houses are ill prepared to do the job.

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I don't believe there's college curricula on residential construction. Residential is several notches below what colleges want to graduate.

I believe John B is on spot. The most common route to a career in residential engineering is a BS engineering degree, any discipline, a failed attempt at a satisfactory job, a chance encounter with the concept of residential design, self study at various small fry schools and a gradual improvement in familiarity and proficiency at a chosen 2nd choice profession.

Marc

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An engineer spoke at a CE seminar I attended a couple of years ago, and his position was that any crack in a foundation wall MUST be reinforced. His logic was that, if the foundation wall is compromised in any way, then the load of the house isn't being adequately transferred to the footer. His position, I understand.

There's a big difference between an advocate and a zealot, isn't there.

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An engineer spoke at a CE seminar I attended a couple of years ago, and his position was that any crack in a foundation wall MUST be reinforced. His logic was that, if the foundation wall is compromised in any way, then the load of the house isn't being adequately transferred to the footer. His position, I understand.

The X factor, is that the engineer doesn't want to be wrong and have someone ask him or her to fork over a few thousand bucks five years in the future because something wacky happened. Prudence suggests he should always recommend repairs to limit liability.

His position, I understand.

You do? 99% of the basements I see on new construction have cracks at the window corners. What is the structural "reinforcement" for this? 50 yr old houses, 70 yr old houses have vertical foundation cracks. The problem I see is seepage. What is the structural "reinforcement" advice given? Earth anchors? Underpinning? I am all ears.

Prudence suggests he should always recommend repairs to limit liability.

Prudence? There are better words to describe this recommendation.

This has happened to me a few times, and there's no easy answer for how to deal with it--post-inspection,

Sometimes, it is remarkably easy. Call a waterproofer.

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An engineer spoke at a CE seminar I attended a couple of years ago, and his position was that any crack in a foundation wall MUST be reinforced. His logic was that, if the foundation wall is compromised in any way, then the load of the house isn't being adequately transferred to the footer. His position, I understand.

The X factor, is that the engineer doesn't want to be wrong and have someone ask him or her to fork over a few thousand bucks five years in the future because something wacky happened. Prudence suggests he should always recommend repairs to limit liability.

His position, I understand.

You do? 99% of the basements I see on new construction have cracks at the window corners. What is the structural "reinforcement" for this? 50 yr old houses, 70 yr old houses have vertical foundation cracks. The problem I see is seepage. What is the structural "reinforcement" advice given? Earth anchors? Underpinning? I am all ears.

Prudence suggests he should always recommend repairs to limit liability.

Prudence? There are better words to describe this recommendation.

This has happened to me a few times, and there's no easy answer for how to deal with it--post-inspection,

Sometimes, it is remarkably easy. Call a waterproofer.

You misunderstood what I wrote. The "no easy answer" refers to when I see benign cracks, but have to wonder about an engineer who may come behind me--a week later, five years later--and mistakenly recommend repairs that could cost thousands of dollars. That's the situation described by the original poster, and that's what I was responding to. I apologize if I wasn't clear.

The kinds of repairs utilized aren't actually germane to the conversation but, around here, injecting concrete beneath footers is a favored method, for whatever reason.

What else? Oh, regarding prudence and an engineer. He has liability just like we do, and that's why he puts lots of disclaimers in his letters. What's important, though, is that he has exposure if he says something is okay, but the condition worsens in the future and possibly causes larger problems. Sure, the engineer is a wuss for doing his job defensively. I was simply stating what happens in real time.

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