erobinson's blog

Increase Your Watering

As we get into the hot months early this year you can adjust watering to meet demand.  Normally it is recommended that you water 3 times a day 10 min at a time through the end of June.  Since we are getting hotter sooner this year go ahead and increase that to 4 times a day 15 minutes at a time if you believe you need it.

Remember that watering times and duration is site dependent.  If you are watering and you still cannot keep up you may have large trees or extra vegitation you are not considering.  You may need to move or remove vegitation, or install root barriers.

Choosing A Contractor For Repairs

One of my clients called yesterday to let me know that she had a bid from a contractor to replace their water heater based upon my recommendation due to its age and condition.  The bid they received was over twice the typical cost for replacement with no special circumstances at about $2,400.00. A typical water heater replacement at the first floor garage area tends to run in the ballpark of $1,000.00 in our area.  The water heater was readily accessible in a garage storage room; the replacement was with a standard water heater.  The contractor recommended replacement of all of the associated components such as the flue pipe and plumbing connections but wanted to charge about 10x the normal cost for replacement of these components.  While changing these associated components my not be mandatory it is a conservative measure and not uncommon it should be done at a reasonable cost.  This bid was provided by a local well known contractor many of my clients might use.  The client called to let me know about the high bid and I suggested that she should get a few more bids from other plumbing contractors.

When you are looking to have even small work completed be sure to get multiple bids for the work.  It is recommended that you try to get at least 3 bids for the work with written proposals covering the scope of work so you can compare them.  If possible create a scope of work you expect from a contractor prior to getting bids so you can provide it to the contractor preparing a proposal.  It should include details about the scope of work and components you expect to be used.  If you need help with this process do not hesitate to contact a professional third party such as Professional Engineering Inspections who can provide you with unbiased assistance.

Check our page on selecting a contractor:

Why We Water Several Times A Day

Yesterday morning Steve Drake called and asked that we do an interview, which went off rather well.  Based upon that interview, Steve called me later to let me know that I did a good job, but that he was concerned that my recommendation about watering your foundation several times a day might affect my credibility.  I have never gotten that reaction that I am aware of, but my wife later presented a question that came off about the same way.  If you have not heard this recommendation before, I can understand the reaction; however, I can assure you I am not the only engineer recommending it and I wanted to take just a moment to address it.

First, I would like to clarify that during a radio interview, I am not free to speak my mind at length.  Although I find my topics interesting, I understand many of you would be a little bored over some of the details, resulting in a challenge to balance the “what” with the “why.”  This prevents me from providing the “why” about everything I recommend.  The “why” related to the engineering in construction can be very technical and thus long-winded.  That said, let me take a moment to clarify some of my comments so you don’t think me crazy.

The Foundation Care Information you can find on our web site is based in some part upon consulting experience but was largely developed by Texas A&M and issued about 15-20 years ago, including watering recommendations.  Remember a sprinkler system is not a foundation watering system.  A foundation watering system is specialized to use water to its best effect in maintaining the performance of your foundation.  Although watering your yard with a yard sprinkler system can be effective at maintaining your foundation under some conditions for the most part, it is not as effective as a purpose built foundation watering system for few reasons.  Normally, you water your yard every second to third day and you run the sprinklers for an extended time.  This prevents damage to the grass due to a continuously wet yard causing fungus.  This works well for grass but not for maintaining uniform moisture content in the soil to ensure foundation performance.  For maintaining foundation performance, you must maintain a uniform moisture content in the clay soils supporting the foundation, and the best method for achieving this goal is to water a little, but often, and near the foundation rather than out in the yard.  This makes the most effective use of the water too.

The reason that watering of your foundation is recommended in much of the Houston area is because, to a large extent, the buildings in our area rest on some degree of expansive soil.  This expansiveness is caused by high clay content in the soil, which shrinks with loss of moisture and swells with addition of moisture.  Because most foundations in Houston are shallow and often rest on this expansive clay, non-uniform shrinkage or swell of the supporting clay soil is the cause for what we call “foundation settlement” and the resulting damage to the structure.  Another result of the high clay content in the soil supporting foundations is that the permeability of the soil can be very low, meaning water simply will not flow through the soil rapidly.  For this reason, we water for a short time, say 10-15 minutes, and do it 3–4 times a day divided as equally as possible.  This allows the water to soak into the ground near the foundation rather than pond on its surface, allowing it to run away from the building where it would be most effective.  This technique also makes the most efficient use of the water.  If you water for long durations, you may use excessive water and it may be much less effective, as most of it runs across the yard or to the gutters.

Why Crawlspace Inspections Are Important

When evaluating the condition of a building having a crawlspace providing inspection of a crawlspace through direct access can potentially uncover significant problems.  Because of the time and difficulties in inspecting the crawlspace when performed correctly Professional Engineering Inspections charges a fee based upon the time and difficulty in access.  Prospective clients frequently ask if they really need to inspect the crawlspace.  As the crawlspace structure provides a foundation for the upper structure we believe inspection of this area is a good idea and that you should be cautious about the purchase of a building lacking sufficient clearance for inspection.

On our Facebook page I have provided a album which shows common defects we find in a crawlspace.


Water Causes Chimney Damage

According to Fire Engineering's web site:

"...Prolonged contact with water can deteriorate brick, mortar and tile and corrode steel and cast iron. Expansion from the freeze/thaw effect can cause even more damage. The result can be cracks or gaps in your chimney where creosote can collect and noxious gases can escape into your home -- which can cost you big bucks in repair bills..."

Check out the rest of the article:

We often find chimney crowns deteriorated.  This results in deterioration of the firebox and damper we can see; however, damage can exists we cannot see and it is a good idea to have an inspection by a chimney sweep who can use special tools to view inaccessible areas.  If you need a Chimney Sweep check with CSIA Here.

Lord's Chimney sent over this informative bit of information in the form of a link, to share with our clients.  They provide us with updates on fireplace care and maintenance from time to time.  You may want to check their Facebook page for more articles like these.  We definitely appreciate the information they send us.

Use of Real Estate Agents and Brokers on the Rise

The numbers are in indicating that the majority of buyers are using a real estate agent to assist them.  This is generally a good idea if you buying new construction or an existing building.  In either case a good real estate agent work for you can help you to understand your market and the process given your area and existing market conditions.  As stated this is very true even for new construction with production builders.

Read the Article in Realty Times

Introduction to Tile Decoupling Membranes

I occasionally run into clients who have cracks in their tile floors due to differential settlement in the foundation.  Where such tile cracks occur over a bending or shrinkage crack in the foundation the foundation cracks often telegraph through the tile finish with seasonal differential settlement in the foundation common in our area.  This type of product uncouples the tile from the supporting structure to reduce this occurrence.  I do not wish to specifically recommend this  or any other product; however, this provider offers a good presentation.  Do a little research and you will find other providers who may have suitable products for your specific needs.


Foundation Performance Can Improve in Winter Months

I was listening to the radio this morning and one of the foundation repair ads caught my attention.  The ad started off to say that, “..the recent rains and cooler weather is masking your foundation problems, but they just won’t go away by themselves.”.  This made me laugh because, actually, sometimes with rain and cool weather they simply do, at least for a while.  For me this ad emphasizes the point that when you think you have a foundation problem you should have it evaluated by an engineer who can lay out a reasonable course of corrective action.  It may very well be possible to improve or repair the foundation performance without the need for very costly repair piers or piles.

Seasonal differential settlement of foundations in the Houston area is a common problem.  The key term here is, “seasonal”.  If you are experiencing differential settlement that seems more severe in the summer months than in the winter months, or if most of what you now see seems to have occurred in the last 12-18 months, then there is a good chance you are experiencing seasonal differential settlement which has been made worse by our current drought conditions.  This most often occurs due to drying of the soils supporting your foundation, causing the clays in the soil to shrink in a non uniform manner around the foundation.  This bends the foundation and damages the structure it supports.  This can be made significantly worse by a lack of consistent watering around your foundation, by the existence of heavy vegetation at the foundation, and large tree near the building.

If you are having problems with cracks in your sheetrock, separations in your siding, or doors that don’t fit, don’t call a foundation repair contractor, call us.  Professional Engineering Inspections can provide recommendations to either repair your foundation through improved maintenance and the use of root barriers or watering systems, or where necessary, implementation of pier or pile support.

Home Foreclosures May Jump 25% This Year

According to a recent article I read in Business Week magazine Online foreclosures are anticipated to be up as much as 25% over the next year.  This is expected to occur as legal scrutiny of foreclosure practices ease and the backlog of foreclosures is addressed.

If you are considering the purchase of a foreclosed property keep in mind that some of these properties are significantly distressed.  This may include foundation performance problems, deterioration of exterior surfaces such as the roof and siding, or other damage related to a general lack of proper maintenance of a long period of time.  As home owners struggle to pay their mortgage they often find themselves unable to maintain components of the home properly.  Failure to keep up with regular maintenance can take a toll on the structure in a short time especially related to foundation performance given our current drought conditions.

Let us help you determine the condition of the property you are purchasing.  Our consulting services allow us to provide a better understanding of the condition of property through inspection than a simple TREC licensed inspection contractor can provide.

Bloomberg Newsweek Article

Injuries Around the House

I was working around my house this weekend and managed a pretty good puncture injury working on my vehicle.  It made me think that my immunizations were not up to date and I ran down to my local clinic to get updated.  As an outdoorsman growing up in the country I normally manage to injure myself in a minor way at least once every 10 years, enough to remind me about updating my immunizations and you should consider it too.  This is especially true if you work in the garden.

If you work in the inspection field, are a builder, contractor, or just work around the house you should consult your doctor about the need and recommended frequency of immunizations to protect yourself against unnecessary illness due to minor injuries.

CDC Vaccines and Preventable Diseases:

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