Foundation Failures...Why so many in Texas?
By Mark Eberwine
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How is it that for over a century contractors have built skyscrapers and massive structures that span acres, and millions of homes that have withstood decades of rain and drought, yet Texas Homebuilders have such a dismal record when it comes to constructing foundations that properly support the walls, ceilings, and other superstructure components? Simply put, why are there so many houses in Texas with foundations that have failed or are otherwise in need of foundation repairs/stabilization?
The favorite excuse that shoddy builders use when explaining away yet another failed foundation is 'Texas soils'. Somehow we are expected to believe that the soils in Texas occur nowhere else in the world. While quality homebuilders are busy building homes with solid, properly engineered foundations that will last for 100 or more years, shoddy builders are busy petitioning the Texas legislature to continue to allow them to build substandard houses.
Shoddy Homebuilders and the engineers they hire to design low-cost, minimally functional foundations, would have homeowners believe that the reason a foundation fails is because the homeowner did not 'water around the foundation' properly. If the foundation fails, the shoddy homebuilder will tell the homeowner it's because the homeowner did not 'water around the foundation'. If the homeowner says he or she did water around the foundation, the builder will say "you watered too much". It is a no win situation for the homeowner.
Texas law allows builders to construct minimally functional foundations that require large volumes of water be used in the soils around the house to ATTEMPT to keep the foundation from failing. Doesn't it seem odd, or bizarre that with all the emphasis on responsible water usage and water restrictions, that Texas lawmakers would continue to allow, session after session after session after session, homebuilders to construct house foundations that require artificial hydration of the soils that support the slab?
Imagine this, better yet, experience this for yourself.... When you come home from work today observe all of the brown and dying yards/grass in your neighborhood as a result of city/local watering restrictions. Then notice the commode that you just used is 'low-volume' water saver unit mandated by federal law. Next, as you begin to shower, notice the minimal water flow. That's right, federal law requires that the showerhead water flow is a maximum of two (2) gallons per minute. As you head to your favorite restaurant, notice how they don't automatically serve a glass of water to everyone at the table. If you want a glass of water you have to ask for it. This has been the case for years. Finally, as you return home from the restaurant, walk over to the outside water faucet and turn off the water to the 'soaker' hose. The soaker hose that for months has been dumping hundreds and thousands of gallons of precious water into the ground in an attempt to keep your foundation from failing or at the very least, to keep too many cracks from forming in the walls and ceilings.
Are you starting to ask, in the words of Bruce Bowen, "Hey, what's goin' on here"?
I'll tell you what is going on. Each legislative session, shoddy homebuilders and their lawyers descend on the Capitol to browbeat and mislead our lawmakers about the need for laws that allow builders to construct what, in many cases, amounts to 'disposable housing'. Homebuilder 'trade-group' representatives continually warn our lawmakers that if the builders are made to construct quality homes, it will drive homebuilders out of business. This statement is continually made, in spite of the fact that many builders operate with 30% profit margins. Compare this with the 2% to 12% profit margin at which the majority of other businesses operate.
Year after year, homebuyers shop prices between various builders. They will take a set of house plans to multiple builders to obtain bids. The bids for building the 'same' house will vary by tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars. How does this happen? Well... Quality builders bid the plans to build a house that doesn't develop foundation problems, doesn't develop dozens and dozens of cracks in the interior walls, ceilings, and exterior walls, and doesn't have warped and unlevel countertops, leaking roofs, and a multitude of Code violations. Simply put, quality builders take pride in their homes and their prices reflect quality construction. Meanwhile, the shoddy builder bids the house knowing he can construct a substandard foundation, isn't required to repair cracks in the walls and ceilings or the exterior walls, and paints the house with paint so thin and watered-down that the house has to be re-painted a year after construction.
If you are contemplating having a home built or buying a new home, know that Texas laws are designed to protect shoddy builders. Once you build or buy that new home, you are at the mercy of your builder and the laws designed to protect your builder. You had better do your homework. Knock on doors of houses that your builder has built. Find out how the builder treated them AFTER the contract was signed and AFTER closing. Find out how any warranty claims were handled. Were there repairs or excuses? If you are buying a 'spec' home or a home from a volume builder, walk the neighborhood and ask the homeowners about any problems they have encountered. Look for problems common to multiple homes and start by looking at the homes that are the oldest in the neighborhood. In addition, hiring a competent Home Inspector to inspect the house as its being built, or at the very least, once the house is completed, is a decision smart buyer's make.
Some of the Homebuilders with a reputation for building a quality home in and around San Antonio and the hill country are just a phone call away.
Contact Mike Coan with Tri-Built Custom Homes at 210-789-5458 or
Jason Long with J. Long Companies at 830-456-0521.
If these builders aren't building in the locations you desire to live, they can probably help you find other quality builders to fill your needs.
For a list of Licensed Home Inspector's in the San Antonio and surrounding areas, go to SATAREI.COM, interview the inspector for their experience, any specialty training they have, and ask if they are in any way connected to a home remodeling company or the homebuilder you contract with to build your home. (Eliminate the conflict of interest issue, right away) Visit TAREI.COM for a statewide list of Home Inspectors. While a Home Inspector's services are typically utilized for identifying defects in a potential home purchase, their expertise and experience can be utilized by homeowners desiring to locate and identify defects and related hazards in the home the homeowner has already lived in for many years or a brand new home that is the process of being constructed.
Those of you who are interested in legislation that affects your home ownership rights, electrical safety, methods of dealing with contractors, energy saving tips, and many other issues, know that you can visit this blog for useful and practical information. In addition, I'll try to regularly provide links and other contact information for those individuals and organizations that can help make living in your home a little safer and less costly.