Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Plumbing Leaks: How do they affect my foundation?

Diagnosing the cause of foundation movement is a vital part of the repair process. In order to properly FIX a foundation, you have to properly diagnose why the foundation is moving in the first place. My favorite, but also most uncomfortable evaluations all revolve around plumbing leaks. Why? Because they are very easy to diagnose, but very hard to prove.

I'm not a plumber, I can't perform a hydrostatic test or a camera inspection. So I can never definitively prove that you have a plumbing leak on site. What I can do is see the signs and symptoms of them. If your house is deflecting towards the center of the slab, it probably has a plumbing leak. If there is a straight line crack from a hallway bathroom to the kitchen, it probably has a plumbing leak. If your house smells like raw sewage....:)

The most frequently asked questions that I get in regards to plumbing leaks are:

1) How can a plumbing leak make my foundation do this?
2) Why do I have to fix both my foundation and my plumbing?
3) Will my insurance pay to fix both my foundation and my plumbing?
4) Will the existence of a plumbing leak affect the warranty on my foundation repair?

I will briefly try to answer each of these questions, and hopefully give some insight into what we see as foundation repair contractors.


A plumbing leaks affect on a foundation, and the signs that it gives off.

Plumbing leaks will affect your foundation in one of two ways:



1) Heave - If the soil under your home
has been consistently dry, the soil will swell and cause the home to heave.  Heave occurs when soil begins to saturate and the pressure of the swelling soil lifts your home. The signs of this are compression.  Compression will look like the drywall is smashing together, bubbling, straight vertical or horizontal cracks, and usually you will see stair-stepping fractures on both sides of your exterior wall cleanouts also appear.  On the exterior look for cracks that are wider at the bottom than at the top, horizontal cracks in the mortar, and window casings around the plumbing that are "leaning out".  Visible bubbles in your roof, especially around the plumbing vents, are noted as well.

This can be tricky to catch, as one side of your home will appear to be settling, but in actuality the heave on the other side simply gives it the appearance of settlement.  I've seen very bad recommendations for repair because the evaluator simply missed the signs of the plumbing leak. A lot of repairs are issued that simply lift the low side of the home, or the complete perimeter.  But what happens after that plumbing leak is fixed and the soil drys out?  That's right, the middle of your house will drop, and create a hole new problem. In Houston, this is mostly uncommon due to the fact that the soil is usually consistently hydrated under the home.  
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2) Middle Drop - Soils have what is called a liquid limit.  The liquid limit is basically the point where there is soo much water in the soil it no longer acts like a solid.  Think of when we get heavy rains, and your shoe sinks in the mud.  This happens with plumbing leaks, mostly because there is no way for evaporation to take place to help dry out the soil.  It usually happens gradually, and in Houston is almost always on the sewage line.  Signs of this are cracks in the flooring from one plumbing source to another, walls that are separating from the flooring, door ways that are dropping to the middle of the house, and a visible "sag" in the roof line.  In Houston, since soils are usually fairly hydrated this is the most common movement we see associated with plumbing leaks.  If the exterior of the home has been piered, it will actually accentuate this drop since the underpinning will hold the exterior in place while the middle drops. 



When hiring any foundation repair contractor, make sure that they test the plumbing when finished.  Foundation repair can often cause plumbing leaks to occur (especially in older homes with cast iron or galvanized piping.) If they are not testing the piping when done, it's a good bet that the house will continue to move after the repairs.  Plumbing leaks are the silent killers of foundations.  In Houston, 99% of the leaks I see are on the sewage side.  You will never see an increase in your water bill, you will probably never smell it or even know that it's there until too late.  Plumbing leaks can also affect piers that were just put in. Piers will "sink into the mud" so to speak.  If this happens, every foundation repair contractor that I know of will void your warranty.  Make sure that if a plumbing leak is present, you have it repaired.

 Why do I have to fix both my foundation and my plumbing?

Fixing one will not fix the other, and your house will continue to get worse.  Fixing the plumbing will not correct the foundation movement, and fixing the movement will not fix the plumbing.  Remember, in this industry the repairs need to address "causality", and the plumbing leak in this case IS that cause.  If the house is heaved, it might never come back down, and a house that has sunk definitely will not come back up.  Any repair that is done to the foundation (while immediate results will be seen) will not be permanent as long as water is still being introduced under the home.  It is necessary (although a lot more costly) to repair both in order to restore your homes structural integrity.  Also, the plumbing leak can effect the foundation in a new area, not covered by your warranty.  This will mean that a new work order and a new expense will be issued to you.....oh yeah...and you'll still have to get that plumbing leak fixed.

Will my insurance pay to fix both my foundation and my plumbing?
The answer is read your insurance policy and follow the proper steps.  Most policies do cover plumbing leaks, but very rarely cover foundation failures.  When I get asked this question I usually sit down with the home-owner and have them call their insurance company right there so we can ask.  In a lot of cases they will cover the plumbing repair, but not the foundation repair. If your policy covers foundation failure, let me know who they are so I can recommend them to every homeowner in Texas :)


Will the existence of a plumbing leak affect the warranty on my foundation repair?
Absolutely.  As we discussed, water continually saturating the soil will move the piers.  When those piers move, your warranty will be voided.  A lot of companies do not recommend plumbing inspections post repairs, and then void your warranty when you have a leak.  Reputable companies like the company I work for (Perma-Pier Foundation Repair) or Du-West will make sure that everything is performing as needed when they leave.  Even though most reputable companies are a little more expensive, it will be well worth it in the end.  Spending a few hundred extra dollars up front to make sure everything is taken care of can save you several thousands of dollars on the back end.

If you suspect you have a plumbing leak, there are many good companies here in town to help you out.  Nick's Plumbing [1420 North Durham Drive  Houston, TX 77008 - (713) 868-9907] is a great diagnostic company.  They have the only structural engineer that does plumbing diagnostics that I know of in the entire state.

If you are seeing some of the signs that we mentioned above, give us a call at Perma-Pier (713) 849-993 or click on the link below for a free evaluation!  We'd love to help you out.


Click here for a free evaluation



Hope everyone has a great 4th of July, and talk to you all soon,
Brian


You can call us here: 888.434.8232  
You can email us here evals@permapier.com
or you can click here to sign up for a free evaluation.
Or you can email me directly with any questions at: brian.gilchriest@permapier.com