Foundation Elevation Survey: A Deeper Look at Your Home’s Foundation
(This page is about an additional service we can perform when inspecting your foundation. For more information about your foundation, such as understanding how soil conditions affect your foundation and identifying indicators of adverse performance, click here.)
(VERY IMPORTANT: None of the inspectors at Ensure Home Inspections are licensed professional engineers, nor do any of us represent ourselves to be in any form. Nobody other than a licensed professional engineer can definitively tell you the condition of your foundation or recommend repairs to a foundation. There are no objective standards for determining whether a foundation’s performance is acceptable or not.)
The Levels of Foundation Inspection
Foundations are a major component of every structure, let alone home. We consider the foundation, along with the roof and the air-conditioning system to be the three most concerning systems of a home; not because they are the most important, but because of the cost of repairs and the likely-hood repairs may be necessary. As we explain in our post linked to above, while in our opinion, most foundations are performing adequately and don’t require further evaluation by an engineer or repairs, when repairs are necessary, they can be expensive.
Foundations are one of the first things we look at when inspecting a home in the San Antonio area. We’re looking at the moisture of the soil around the foundation, if there is any soil erosion around the foundation, poor drainage, excessive cracking, etc. At the end of the inspection, we provide our honest opinion of the foundation in the report, the only subjective opinion required by our standards of practice. Known as the “performance statement” we give our completely-unbiased decision on whether we think this foundation is supporting the structure adequately or if it needs further evaluation.
There are actually 3 “levels” of foundation inspection or foundation evaluation. As a home inspector performing visual observations of a foundation, this is the most basic level of evaluation, known as level A.
A summary of the foundation evaluation scale is as follows:
- Level A Evaluation: Visual Evaluation, No Measurement. Piecing together evidence drawn throughout visual observations of a home and the looking for clues of prior foundation movement, such as doors that rub against their frame, twisting/cracking masonry, frieze-board separations, etc. After looking for these clues, an individual can form an opinion about the condition of the foundation and whether further evaluation and analysis of the foundation should proceed. A standard home inspection in Texas will include a Level A evaluation and performance statement. No license is required for this basic evaluation.
- Level B Evaluation: Foundation-Elevation Measurement. This is the measurement of the elevation differences between the horizontal plane of the foundation. We’ll explain more shortly, but this is the first level of measurement performed on a foundation to determine if movement has taken place. This is not included in the most basic level of home inspection, but many inspectors will offer this as an additional service once they have acquired the tools and training to perform this measurement. Again, no license is required to perform this task, but prescription of repairs (if necessary) can only be performed by a licensed professional engineer in the State of Texas.
- Level C Evaluation: Measurement and Analysis of the Foundation Over a Period of Time. This is the real deal, and only an engineer can perform this level of evaluation. This level of evaluation often involves multiple visits by an engineer to place devices around the foundation that measure the directions/axis of movement of the foundation, as well as how much movement is taking place. At the point that Level C analysis is required, there is no question about the foundation’s performance, instead the question is how the foundation is moving and how to address this. We’re not going to discuss in-depth this Level C, because it’s over our heads and our pay grade. Instead, if we determine a foundation isn’t performing or has moved outside of acceptable tolerances, we’ll recommend further evaluation by an engineer.
Level B Evaluation: Foundation Elevation Survey
At Ensure Home Inspections, all home inspectors carry with them a Zip-Level, or altimeter. This device uses fluid-filled cords to measure very small differences (such as a quarter of an inch or less) between the elevation or height of the foundation. These differences in elevation can be used to help understand how a foundation has moved or shifted over time. While we don’t expect a home’s foundation to be perfectly level or without elevation differences throughout the foundation, we do expect the elevations to be within a certain threshold or tolerance.
Depending on the size of the home, the average foundation-elevation survey take about 30-minutes to gather the required data. After we setup the Zip-Level near the center of the ground-floor, we take an initial measurement near the Zip-Level to us as our “zero”. All other measurements we take that are on the same elevation or plane as the zero-point will be compared against the zero-point to determine whether there is movement and whether that movement is up or down. If there is an area that is multiple inches lower than the zero-point by design, such as a garage that has a noticeable drop between the main-house and the garage floor, we setup in that area and account for the change.
We move from corner-to-corner, taking measurements approximately every 10-feet or so, marking these measurements down on a clip-board. After the measurements have been taken, we can look for patterns or contour lines indicating what areas are lower/higher than which. We compare the measurements of elevation to the dimensions of the home (length and width of the exterior) and from that point we can determine if the elevation changes observed in the home are outside the threshold for acceptable movement.
What Does this Data Mean?
This data will give us a better idea if we should recommend to you that you hire an engineer to perform greater evaluation of the foundation. In a perfect world we would recommend every foundation be further evaluated by an engineer, but we understand that the services of an engineer are not cheap (easily several hundred dollars) and we don’t want you to call spend this money on an engineer only for them to tell you “everything is fine”.
Basically, just because a home has experienced prior foundation movement does not necessarily mean that the movement is something that is practical or necessary to correct. A home can have multiple indicators of adverse performance and the elevation survey can reveal that it is, in fact, well within the industry accepted threshold of movement.
How Much Does a Foundation Elevation Survey Cost?
Standard Foundation Elevation Survey: $49 (homes less than 2400sq/ft)
We will use our Zip-Level to take elevation measurements of the ground floor of your home. We will then consider these measurements when developing our opinion on the performance of the foundation, allowing us to provide you with a much more accurate opinion of the foundation. If a foundation’s elevation measurements are all found to be within the acceptable tolerances, we are much more likely to have a favorable opinion about it’s performance, although we will still note any indicators of adverse performance or prior movement. If any part of a foundation’s elevation measurements are found to be outside acceptable tolerances, we are much more likely to state an opinion of inadequate performance and give you an explanation why, including approximate areas of the foundation that were notably higher/lower. If a foundation’s performance is found to be inadequate, we will always recommend further evaluation by a licensed engineer.
Homes greater than 2400sq/ft may be subject to additional charge.
Our standard foundation-elevation survey DOES NOT include a diagram or drawing of the foundation. This service is priced to provide an additional level of evaluation at an affordable price to provide you with more peace of mind about your foundation. If you have any doubts or concerns about a foundation, we strongly recommend you order this service with your home inspection.
If you would like us to translate our measurements into a diagram/drawing in addition to what we do above, we will do so for an additional $50, for a total price of $99. At time of writing, no other home inspector in the San Antonio area provides this service remotely as affordably as Ensure.
Standalone Foundation Elevation Survey: From $200
Ensure Home Inspections is more than happy to perform this service as a stand-alone product purchased without a home inspection, traveling to a residential address and performing only a foundation elevation survey. When performed as a standalone service, you will receive a drawing with the data we have collected during the survey. If we observe deflection greater than commonly accepted tolerances, we will recommend further evaluation of the foundation by a licensed engineer, as only they can prescribe repairs (or tell you if repairs are necessary). The price for this service begins at $200, and may increase depending on age, size, location, and type of foundation.
If you would like to hire an inspector to perform a foundation-elevation survey alone without performing a home inspection on a property, please contact us and have details such as the square footage of the property, age of the property, type of foundation, and location ready.
(VERY IMPORTANT: We are not engineers. We can’t stress this enough. While we may have training and education to form an opinion about a foundation, our opinion is not equal to that of an engineer. The purpose of our service is to provide you with a more accurate opinion of your foundation, compared to our opinion without performing a foundation elevation survey, while still being affordable. If you observed indicators of severe foundation distress or believe your foundation is deficient and want to know about possible solutions, there is no substitute to hiring an engineer. Engineers are the only people who can legally determine if a foundation requires repair or not.)
Not Sure About Your Home's Foundation?
Order a Foundation-Elevation Survey with Your Home Inspection
You don’t need to be a real estate expert or a general contractor when buying a house, you just need a good home inspector. At Ensure Home Inspection San Antonio, we look out for home buyers as if we were buying it!
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Info at EnsureInspections.com
PO BOX 311571, New Braunfels, Texas, 78131
TREC # 23813 - TDA # 0819063
Ensure Home Inspections provides thorough inspections, detailed reports, and personalized consultations at affordable prices in San Antonio, TX & surrounding areas. We also offer WDI/Termite Inspections, Thermal Imaging, Drone Roof Inspections, Foundation Inspections, and more!
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