House Foundation May Need Some Underpinning

foundation_repair_email_iconHere is an email exchange I had recently with a guy who relocated, is new to heavy clay soils and thinks he may be in for a foundation fix.

Subject: Old house, slab foundation, clay soil, big trees, and the drought!

Dear Digger,

My family moved from Columbia, MO to a 21-yr old house in Sugar Land, TX in December 2010. Over the past few months, I have observed and learned big lessons about the house and its foundation, the swell/shrink clay soil in this region, one monstrous oak tree and another two big trees nearby, and the exceptional dry weather condition facing the entire state of Texas. I have a family of seven.

On top of my daily duties, I am feeling overwhelmed by the acuteness of the situation, signified by brick wall crack, pulled away soil, cracked door/window frames, wood siding separation, etc.

I had gutters installed on all sides of the house in late December 2010. I water the yard regularly. And I am reading a lot of articles, including yours on I think I need to do something with the tress and their roots. I also need soaker hoses to maintain proper moisture around the foundation.

Could you please give me some referrals for installation of root barriers and soaker hoses? I should consult with a residential structural engineer before getting more bids from foundation repair companies. Do you have names to share? Thank you in advance for your advice.


Dear Joshua,

I would start with a structural engineer. The few hundred dollars for an objective inspection of your situation might save you a lot of money in the long run.  You can find engineers and contractors for your area here:

I think Du-West out of Houston does both tree root barriers and soaker hose systems.

This is not necessarily a recommendation of Du-West, I’m just giving you a place to start.

There are many foundation companies in the Houston area. Get bids from at least three if the engineer says you need underpinning. Foundation repair costs can be significant, but cheaper is not necessarily better. Listen to the engineer.

Having said that, remember that I’m not in the foundation repair business, but rather a home owner like you and a writer.

Thanks for visiting the blog.

Good Luck!


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  1. I’m a structural engineer in the Atlanta, GA area, and I agree with your structural engineer’s criticism of the type of piers Olshan uses. I personally prefer steel helical piers for new construction and lighter structures, and steel resistance piers for repairs on heavier structures. Helical piers have the advantage you don’t need a heavy structure to brace them against when you drive them into the ground, but they aren’t good for lifting the structure back into place.

    Resistance piers are basically steel tubes that are driven into the ground by pressure, which is accomplished by bracing them onto the structure – so obviously the structure needs to be heavy, like a two story brick veneer building. The advantage with them is they are easier to use to lift the structure back into place.

    I’m not against using pressure grouting, but it’s applications are more limited.


  2. Villa Root Barrier is a wholesale manufacturer, specializing in root diversion systems. Please visit our website to learn more and if we can be of any help don’t hesitate to contact us at our office. Good luck with your project.

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