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How is Foundation Repair Done on a Historic Home?

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When we think of history, we think of what’s written in dry textbooks, ancient items preserved in museums, of magnificent structures constructed ages ago. What other people might forget is about those historic homes built long ago. And like modern homes, they are susceptible to damage from foundation settlement or heaving. 

Foundation repair is another part of keeping a home’s history alive. 

What might surprise you is repairing a historic home is similar to a modern one. There might be variations in damage over an extended timeframe, but the foundation repair is just as possible. 

Dalinghaus Construction has been in the foundation repair business since 2015, helping to stabilize modern and historic homes. With the experience of our crew, we have more than 100 years of cumulative experience in the foundation repair history. We presently use our past experience so homes can maintain their future. We help make sure these homes can appear as though they look the same as when they were first built. We understand how foundation repair on a historic home is done. 

Are historic homes common?

Historic homes aren’t as common for foundation repair since the “historical home” term is given by the cities where they reside. There are places you’re more likely to find historic homes, especially in cities that are… well, older. Makes sense. They’ll typically be 100+ years old.

Among places we’ve inspected and worked on homes, the city of Orange, Riverside, Redlands, and Los Angeles has a good wealth of historic homes. 

Problems more common with historic homes

The range of problems depends on the city the home is located in. For example, the city of San Diego tends to have more homes with brick-and-mortar footings or boulders for their foundation. Historic homes might require you to remove and replace those footings.

Older homes usually use raised foundations – foundations that put your home above grade. They were much cheaper to make back in the day until concrete became more affordable in the later 20th century, resulting in more slab-on-grade homes. 

When it comes to the signs and symptoms of a home in need of foundation repair, the amount of foundation settlement and the extent of damage always varies. Regardless, modern and historic homes will show the same symptoms. 

What matters is the overall condition of the structure. Typically, older homes have a longer chance to show signs and symptoms. 

Common signs and symptoms 

  • Drywall cracks
  • Stucco cracks
  • Concrete slab cracks
  • Ceiling cracks
  • Tile cracks
  • Chimney cracks
  • Leaning chimney
  • Sloping floors
  • Doors and windows are hard to open and close
  • Water leaks

When it comes to foundation settlement, you’ll find more than one of these symptoms at a time. 

Again, there is a higher chance you’ll find an older home with foundation issues. It would be like comparing a juvenile to an adult for committing various crimes. Adults have been in the world for an extended period compared to children. You’re more likely to find an adult with a criminal record. Not that you couldn’t do the same with a child, but you’re likely to find that information with more adults.

Guidelines with historic homes

Anything on the exterior of the house will need to be maintained with the same appearance. This can be a pain for companies to do and takes time. That said, it’s doable. 

Any structural damage that compromises the house needs obvious changes and alterations. There’s no way around that. That said, the city makes the ultimate decision of what needs to happen with a historic home. 

Precautions before repairing a historic home

The precautions are on a case-by-case basis, but typically there is a little more involvement with shoring the house – building a temporary structure to support an unsafe area on the construction site. This is especially true with foundation repair work.

Is it difficult to repair a historic home? 

Like any foundation repair project, the difficulty is more on a case-by-case basis. The difficulty in the repair can be smooth as silk. It can be like a video game set on easy mode. Sometimes the difficulty can be like the Dark Souls video game franchise: arduous if you don’t know what you’re doing. 

(If we are comparing foundation repair to Dark Souls, we’ve played this game over 2,000 times. We’re experts and know how to endure difficult areas. We aren’t new to the foundation repair game.)

It depends on the project and what is expected. The difficult part is making sure the exterior of the home looks the same as it was back in the day. 

Sometimes older homes will require a seismic retrofit, meaning the home needs to be bolted down to the foundation. However, if the material is made of brick or boulder and mortar, we’ll be unable to do a seismic retrofit. That will require a concrete footing. 

A sister footing will be poured alongside the original footing. The new concrete footing is hidden on the inside of a crawlspace. That way the exterior maintains its appearance. 

Repairing a historic home

The methodology used for a historic home will be very similar compared to modern homes. Dalinghaus Construction will use a push pier and helical pier method for foundation repair of many homes. Though this might vary depending on the project design specialist or structural engineer.

Push piers are galvanized steel tubes that are hydraulically driven underground into bedrock or competent soil using the weight of a home. This method can put stress on the footing of a historic home, which is why some project design specialists will use helical piers. 

Helical piers use helices attached to the leading pipe to penetrate the soil and go be hydraulically screwed into the ground until reaching bedrock or competent soils. Think of it like you’re putting a screw into a piece of wood.

Helical piers don’t need to use the weight of the home since they are put in individually and are not attached to brackets until the pier has reached the desired depth. Stress isn’t being put onto the footing while the production crew gets the pier into the ground.

Note: These types of piers will be more common for historical homes since they are also very light. 

The last thing anyone wants for a historic home is blowout, meaning a bracket breaks off from the rest of the footing; it will take chunks of the footing with it. 

You can think of it like trying to repair a toy when you were a kid. You applied a bunch of pressure to reattach an arm, only for your grip to slip and damage another area of the toy.

How construction has changed now compared to historic homes

Back in the day, there weren’t pressure requirements for concrete. Usually, concrete was poured in and left at that. Nowadays, the concrete needs to be more pressurized (at around 35 psi) to be denser for strength. 

We also understand soil compaction rates better than we did back in the day. The rates now are about a 95% compaction rate. The soils did not need to be as dense in the past, which can result in more foundation settlement as time passes. 

Regardless, there is a much better understanding of soil compaction now. And we still learn more. 

Check our case study: Repairing A Slab Foundation With Helical Piers in Villa Park, CA

You know more about foundation repair on a historic home. Have your foundation inspected 

You’ve learned about problems with historic homes, how they undergo repair, and how construction standards have changed now. And the older a historic home gets, they need to see the equivalent of a doctor (but for homes). In this case, have a foundation inspector come up with a foundation repair project – like a doctor would with a prescription. 

Some historic homes need to have their issues addressed sooner than later, while some of them have the lifespan of the elves in The Lord of the Rings lore. 

Keep what’s from the past present. That way history can live in the future. 

To start, you can get your free foundation evaluation!

We encourage you to have as many companies evaluate your foundation. Dalinghaus Construction can do this, too. Like what was said earlier, foundation repair is a game we’re very good at playing. We know how to play on hard mode. 

Read the article Should You Get Multiple Foundation Repair Bids? (How You Benefit) to see how receiving multiple bids works in your favor.

For any questions, call Dalinghaus Construction at (877)360-9277, or click the button below to schedule your free foundation evaluation today!


Brian Dalinghaus

Brian is one of the Co-Founders of Dalinghaus Construction. He has been in the foundation repair industry since 2005. During his career, he has been associated with helping over 4,000 homes and structures throughout California and Arizona.

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