Structural Engineering vs. Foundation Repair

When you build a home you can’t start with the roof, you begin from the ground up. The foundation of a building carries the distributed loads of the structure whilst ensuring that environmental factors such as moisture, freeze-thaw, and catastrophe events like earthquakes do not compromise the strength of the structure. This makes the foundation one of the most key elements when designing and building a home, but what happens if you own a home with foundation damage? Structural damage to a house can cause headaches beyond the occasional flood and even put the inhabitants in danger. In this short article, we’ll describe the key differences between a Structural Engineer and a Foundation Repair company to ensure you know who to contact in each stage of your project.

Unaddressed foundation issues and the problems they can cause

Foundations require a great deal of geotechnical engineering, and the complexity of manipulating land on which a home stands can create a homeowner’s worst nightmare. Poor compaction of soils prior to construction can lead to settlement of the home over time causing major cracks in a home’s foundation and all the headaches that come with it. Soil conditions like clays or soils made up of organic matter can expand when saturated, pressing on foundations, and leading to problems if not properly accounted for when designed. If you couple these issues with extreme weather conditions, poor construction practices, and water damage, the foundation of a home takes the brunt of a lot of force unseen by the naked eye. These issues can lead to cracks in the foundation and even major shifting of the home over time and lead to other problems like flooding, damage to pipes and gas lines, or lead to serious structural damage of your house.

Spotting foundation damage

  • Cracking along basement walls/floors
  • Pools of water forming in your basement
  • Diagonal cracking above door frames
  • Leaning Chimneys
  • Sinking front porches
  • Bowing of walls
  • Uneven floors

Why competent engineering is necessary for peace of mind

Trying to address what issues are occurring with the most important puzzle piece to the structural integrity of your home takes a keen eye, so instead of deciding whether to buy a house with uneven floors, get a professional opinion. Some instances of foundation damage are purely cosmetic, and one can be convinced to spend tens of thousands of dollars making repairs that are not quite necessary. Having a professional investigate cracks throughout the house and accurately assess whether one needs to proceed with costly repairs surely gives you peace of mind and saves you money in the long run. In many jurisdictions, moving forward with foundation repairs takes a licensed engineer to design foundation repairs, restorations, or in some cases, design a complete overhaul of the foundation in question to ensure these problems don’t persist moving forward. When you consult a licensed professional to inspect foundation issues or design repairs, they should ensure that those doing the inspections provide forensic reports. This ensures that the inspection is done by somebody with expertise verified by a national counsel and that the inspection bears details that you can bring to a foundation repair company and know your repair estimate is not inflated with work that isn’t necessary.

Engineering vs Contractor

Engineering and repair are two completely separate services that have some form of overlap.

A structural engineer is a licensed professional who has a Bachelor’s or possibly a Masters degree in Civil/Structural Engineering, a minimum of 4 years relevant experience, and having passed exams regulated by a National Council of Licensure. They participate in a number of professional development hours approved by the same council each year to keep these licenses updated, making them qualified to give professional opinions within their field.

Engineering has many avenues of practice. Some engineers use their knowledge and experience to design the bones of a structure using applied physics, mechanics of materials, geotechnical conditions, and various softwares to ensure each building with their stamp of approval can have guaranteed safety. 

Structural engineering also includes the inspection of standing structures previously designed. They use their knowledge of conditions and the behaviors of materials to inspect structures and construction. This requires knowledge of the region, knowledge of state/city specifications, and various forms of testing in the field to pinpoint the problems at hand and relay this information to the team doing the repairs, however they often can’t do the repairs themselves.

The contractor is the team responsible for repairing the structure in question, in this case the foundation. A foundation repair company has a team of laborers and the tools to do the physical repairs based on the design provided by the engineer. 

Options for foundation repair

When it comes to fixing a damaged foundation, the initial problems need to be adequately addressed. Depending on the issues at hand, there are various ways a contractor would go about remedying the issue. Foundation piers such as helical piers, slab piers, push piers, and micropiles (depending on conditions) are often used for houses with settlement. Wall anchors or channel anchors can be installed from inside the home to remedy structural issues like diagonal cracking or bulging walls.

No homeowner wants to be surprised by a house that has structural damage in the foundation, but it can happen to anybody. Anything below the surface of a house deals with forces of nature that we take for granted daily.

If you suspect those cracks in your basement are growing or those steps outside are separating from the rest of your porch, partner with a licensed Structural Engineer to assess the current state of your home’s bones. At the very least, you’ll get peace of mind.

Give us a call today. Search your local LEVEL Expert.

* Photos from

Picture of Scott Zurn, P.E.

Scott Zurn, P.E.

Founder and CEO of Level Engineering & Level Design Partners. With more than 4 decades of experience, Scott Zurn has contributed to all aspects of the building industry, serving both public and private sectors. He’s achieved tremendous success in commercial and residential markets, held leadership roles such as building official, city engineer, and director for local governments, and accomplished hundreds of millions of dollars in successful commercial building and civil infrastructure as a designer, project manager, and leader. As the Founder of the Level brand, Scott is dedicated to ensuring the entrepreneurial success of design professionals, as well as creating positive environmental impacts through design work. Read Scott’s full bio here.

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