Unsupported sill plate and a stupid engineer

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David Barwacz

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My father recently passed away and I assumed the responsibility of the trustee of the estate.
I listed his house for sale and immediately had several interested buyers. The house is about 100 years old and has brick outer walls.
I accepted a decent offer and as is customary the buyer or his realtor had a "home inspector" check the place out.
There were some cracks in the brick which I just assumed were normal for 100 year old brick.
The inspector immediately assumed that the cracks were the result of a sinking foundation and recommended a company called Foundation Systems of Michigan, a foundation repair contractor.
Realizing that any repair they might recommend would be expensive, I decided to hire an independent structural engineer to determine exactly what might be causing the problem and just how serious it might really be.
An appointment was scheduled with what I thought was an independent engineer, I inspected the cracks myself.
The cracks were all stemming from glass blocks windows my father had put in several years earlier.
Upon close inspection it was clear that the contractor who installed the glass blocks had removed the header below the sill plate.
The span was 32 inches and each window that had cracks associated with it had at least two floor joist supported by nothing but sill plate and some mortar that the installer use to set the windows.
The sill plate was noticeably sagging above the windows. See picture attached. In the picture I held a 28 inch level flush to the bottom of the sill plate and the other end of the level had about a 1/2 inch gap to the plate.
Other windows on perpendicular walls where the joist ran parallel to the sill plate had no cracks in the brick wall above them.
I felt confident that this had to be the problem and repair would certainly be far less costly than any form of foundation supports.
When the engineer came out he immediately diagnosed foundation settling and recommended, guess who, Foundation Systems of Michigan.
To add insult to injury he didn't even recommend any particular fix but just said that Foundation systems of Michigan would handle everything.
I called the engineering company that he worked for and spoke with the owner and pleaded with him to come out and at least look at the glass block windows.
he accused me of questioning his intellect, said he stood by their report and hung up on me.
I have another engineer coming out next week who has agreed to look at the windows during his inspection.

My question is, assuming that the new engineer agrees that these sagging sill plates need some reinforcement, does anyone know an inexpensive way to do so. The top of the plate is completely accessible.
 

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Steve123

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I am no expert, but it doesn't take an expert to know there should be a steel lintel over those windows.

So those windows were a retrofit ? Foundation Systems of Michigan sounds like they would be qualified to do that work. Going to lose at least 4" to 6" in height. Maybe just have one row of glass blocks ? Inexpensive? -- depends on what you consider inexpensive or expensive. First you need to call and get a price.

Might be easier to offer the buyer a few thousand off and let them deal with it.
 

David Barwacz

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Steve,

Thanks for the response. Yes the windows were a retrofit done about 25 to 30 years ago.
The problem I have is that the engineer who inspected the house refused to even consider the windows as an issue.
The buyer who was interested demanded the helical piers as well as a $5000 off the price to replace about 10 feet of 4 inch sewer pipe. I refused and we executed a mutual release.
Before putting it back on the market I would like the issue cleared up.
I contacted a glass block company and they said that Michigan code allows for a 32 inch span of a 2 x sill plate. I have not been able to confirm this.
They did also confirm that there is no lintel and told me to contact a good mason. If they replaced the windows they would not construct a header.
Personally, I would like both a lintel and a header and confirmation that any settling that occurred is not the cause of the cracks and avoid the expensive cost of helical piers
 

Steve123

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You seem to be leaving out some of the information.
A professional engineer normally gives a written report, not just a verbal. What did it say? Did it say that the footings were insufficient or non existing? Where did the helical piers idea come from ?
Not sure I buy that the window doesn't need a lintel by code, but that is not really relevant anyways if lack of lintel is causing a problem.
 

David Barwacz

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Here's the engineers recommendation:
"To limit future masonry damage, the foundations can be stabilized using helical piers
along the west wall, SW corner and porch as needed. The piers should be drilled to
stable earth and anchored into the foundation to prevent further movement."

There was nothing in the report about the windows.

I was not present at the inspection but called S******** A****** Inc. the engineering firm that preformed the inspection and spoke with the president M****** K******. I requested that he look at the windows. He refused, got angry, accused me of insulting his intelligence and hung up. The report also refers to the buyer as the client, even though I paid for 50 % of the inspection.

Since my last post I spoke with a contractor who said he knows of no exception to the code regarding headers in local code.
 
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oldognewtrick

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I edited your post. The engineer is not here to defend himself, to avoid any legal issues, names are best left out.
 

Hamberg

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Confused!? The Home Inspector "IS" an engineer or a "Structural" Engineer did the subsequent report? If so, they would have issued a report with recommended repairs (that is specifically why they are hired!)

I'm with @Steve123, you need to assume the house as built correctly initially and there were originally, standard (maybe custom sized) windows, where the glass block is now - if so, there was a lintel (or header - which on a 32" span may have just been a 2"x 8" sill plate) there. I can't imagine that whomever added the glass block windows took the header out!?

Can't tell from the pics but it appears to be a block foundation? Are there horizonal cracks in the block (not in the mortar joints but actual cracks in the block?). Is there bowing/deflection in the foundation wall?

Here is an example on a compromised foundation. You can't see the deflection from this pic but if you look at the bottom course you'll see the block itself fractured in two

IMG_2826.jpg
 

tomtheelder2020

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Some Thoughts:

Examining the interior side of the foundation from under the subfloor can tell you a lot about its condition. If there is no evidence of structural distress, foundation settlement is not the problem.

A laser level can show high and low spots. For a house that age a less than level foundation when new would not surprise me but if low spots are not at areas of distress foundation settlement is unlikely.

If the distress is localized AND due to foundation settlement, soil conditions must be different in the areas of distress. Is the house in a natural flat area where uniform soil conditions would be expected?

Do you know anything about the foundation such as what it is made of, how deep (both interior and exterior sides), how wide at bottom?

Are other nearby houses of similar age? If so, conditions might be similar. Can you talk to neighbors and local building inspectors to see of others have had settlement problems?

Answers to questions can lead to question you should ask engineer in writing, such as
"If foundation settlement is causing the distress, why is all of the visible distress above the windows?"

In California, complaints of substandard work to the Engineers Licensing Board can result in action against the engineer.
 

David Barwacz

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First, let me say that I appreciate all the questions/suggestions. I'll try to answer the questions in the order received.
The Home inspector is not an engineer. He did not recommend an engineer but rather a contractor who installs helical piers.
The buyer wanted to get the recommended contractor out for a quote.
I refused to allow a contractor to come out until an independent engineer inspected the house and issued a report. The buyer and I agreed to share in the cost of the report.
At the buyers request and with the help of an engineer I knew personally I provided him with a list of 4 engineers, all of whom had time on the day the buyer requested.
To my surprise, I discovered that the buyer never even contacted any of the engineers, but hired one recommended by the contractor who the Home inspector recommended.
This was the guy who refused to even look at the sill plate, lintel or any thing else that may be all or partially responsible for the brick cracks.
The only recommendation he made was helical piers and deferred the details to the same contractor that the home inspector recommended.

The house was built in 1930. The houses adjacent to it were both built by the same contractor about the same time and still have the original basement windows. These original windows have a substantial cast iron frame and the frame is cemented into the foundation. It almost looks like the foundation was poured around the window frame. One could easily imagine that the massive frame provided adequate support for the sill plate.

There is a lintel supporting the brick, however it has rusted substantially and thus the gap has expanded. It is obvious from the pictures. At one time in the past, someone filled the enlarged gap with some sort of filler. The job was obviously not done by a mason and it clearly should have been repointed.
The engineer used this poorly repaired gap as evidence of foundation settling.

The foundation is poured concrete. The interior of the foundation was painted many decades ago, the paint filled some small cracks and it appears that there is no further cracking as the paint that bridges the cracks has not itself cracked. There is some spalling but no bowing or significant large cracks.

The house itself is very level. I used a laser level and found nothing troubling. If I could get an engineer past the outside brick , I doubt he would report any substantial settling. If the house were resided with vinyl, I doubt he Home inspector would have reported and issues with settling.

The two houses next door have had no obvious issues with settlement. Both are sided with wood.

I have another engineer coming out tomorrow. He says he has no affiliation to the helical pier guys. So hopefully I can get an honest accurate report and
get the house back on the market.

Thanks for the help and suggestions
 

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Flyover

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If the buyer isn't playing ball and doing stuff behind your back, is it breach of contract? Can you get out somehow? Doesn't sound like someone you want to do business with.
 

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