Drought means cracking foundations under houses

BY TERRY EVANS

tevans@star-telegram.com

House foundations are cracking across North Texas.

Cracks an inch or more wide have appeared in brick exteriors and drywall interiors. Exterior and interior doors are sticking in their warped frames. Frames around windows have gaps as wide as 2 inches.

And calls to foundation repair companies continue to soar, as the drought and oppressive heat linger, causing the soil to shift and wreck foundations.

“Our calls have probably tripled in the last two or three weeks,” said Craig Powers, president of Power Jack Foundation Repair in Fort Worth. “It’s just so hot and dry that this is when the soil shrinks the most and causes the most movement.”

Friday was the 28th consecutive day that it reached at least 100 degrees in the Metroplex, the third most in one year since record-keeping began. The official high at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport was 101 degrees.

That’s not good news for homeowners.

Of several types of soil in Tarrant County, the worst is a clay mixture that expands when moist and contracts when dry, Powers said.

“A lot of people call it Texas gumbo,” he said.

Expanding and contracting soil stresses foundations over years to the point that they break, Powers said.

Julio Rodriguez, president of Pro-Select Foundation Repairs in Arlington, said most of his jobs are in Arlington, Irving, Carrollton, Fort Worth and Mansfield.

“The soil in these areas is that black gumbo clay,” Rodriguez said.

The best areas for foundations are in west Fort Worth, Hurst and Euless, said Phillip Travis, sales manager for 1st Choice Foundation Repair in Hurst.

“West Fort Worth has a lot more rock and a lower base of clay,” he said. “There are areas in Hurst and Euless that have a lot of sand, which is probably best for foundations.”

Perhaps the worst area in Tarrant County is south of Interstate 20 along Texas 360, Travis said.

“Right now 85 to 90 percent of our workload is in south Fort Worth and on the 360 corridor south of 20,” he said.

And the workload is massive.

No insurance help

Home Savers Foundation Repair in Fort Worth has six crews working every day, spokesman Jeff Miller said.

“We had a similar situation in 2001,” he said. “The phone rang off the hook for two years. If rain doesn’t come, it can only get worse.”

Miller said that watering foundations can help stave off cracks, but it’s no guarantee.

Travis said foundation problems are often inevitable, which is why there’s a glass-half-empty saying in the industry.

“There are two kinds of foundations in North Texas: one that’s been repaired, and one that needs repair,” he said.

Foundation repair costs can range from $1,500 to well over $20,000, experts said.

Unfortunately, there’s no help from homeowner’s insurance. Jerry Haggins, a Texas Department of Insurance spokesman, said damage isn’t covered.

“The foundation damage from settling, cracking or earth movement is a typical exclusion in homeowners policies, not just in Texas but nationally,” he said. “It never has been part of insurance policies. It’s certainly a tough situation, but, unfortunately, it’s not considered a peril.”

But just because there’s a crack in a wall doesn’t mean you’re destined for a second mortgage.

“I’ve seen people who thought they had major problems, and it really wasn’t that bad,” said Margaret Gallagher, a spokeswoman for G.L. Hunt in Fort Worth.

Concrete vs. steel

The worst case Rodriguez has seen this summer is a 22-year-old, 2,000-square-foot house on red clay in Joshua, which costs $15,000 to repair.

Miller said the most common systems for foundation repair are concrete piers, steel piers and cable lock — basically a combination of concrete and steel pilings held together with cables.

“A lot of people have gimmicks,” he said.

Miller said he doesn’t believe that one system is better than others, but concrete is the least expensive.

Track records are important. Check with the Better Business Bureau before signing,experts said.

Lots of foundation companies offer lifetime transferrable warranties, but Miller said some aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

Powers agreed that scams are all too common.

“A lot of foundation companies pop up each time there’s a drought,” he said. “It’s like roofers when there’s a hailstorm.”

Free estimates are also common among foundation repair companies, Powers said.

“The standard rule is to get three estimates,” Powers said. “The estimates should be very similar among reputable companies as far as the number of piers and locations. If there’s a wide difference, that’s a red flag.”

Terry Evans, 817-390-7620

Read more: http://www.star-telegram.com/2011/07/29/3257227/drought-means-cracking-foundations.html#ixzz1W4dbQ0zP

Read full article: http://www.star-telegram.com/2011/07/29/3257227/drought-means-cracking-foundations.html

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Owner/Operator: Pro-Select Foundation Repair
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