Foundation: should i be concerned?

Greetings Inspector Gurus!

I am not an inspector, but house hunting has increased my interest in the whole process. The house we’re bidding on is great, but the foundation has features that make me nervous! All you have to do is listen to the radio around here to know that foundation problems are common in this area (North Texas).

I’ve done a lot of searching and reading about foundations (this site is great), but a few days of reading does not an expert make. Of course, we will be getting the house inspected as soon as we are allowed to, but hearing some preliminary opinions from you guys would be most appreciated.

The house was built in 2000, and I believe (correct me if I’m wrong) it has a post-tension foundation, slab on grade, that has been poured in two steps. The corners do have some wedge-shaped cracks (which I’ve learned is not uncommon), but what really concerns me is what appears to be exposed cable-ends. Adding to my worry, there is obvious patching material that has been applied. In one section, the patching is so thick and bumpy, it makes me wonder what the heck has been covered up. I’ve read a bunch of posts here, but I haven’t seen anything like this.

Anyone care to voice an opinion? Once we sign the contract, our option period is only 10 days, so I’d like to start the process with a little knowledge. Plus, I’ve found the process of reading about foundations and soil and such to be quite interesting.

Thanks in advance,

  • Chris

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We don’t have post tension slabs in Massachusetts, but I know Jeff Pope can help you out on your questions.

He’ll be here shortly…

Hi to all,

Chris, post tensioned slabs do require specialist knowledge to inspect, especially if there is any signs of urrent failure, and yes the cable ends should be sealed.

I think what you are calling prior repairs maybe in fact the sealing of the cables after they had been tensioned.

I am far from an expert on this process, but the basics of it are that the foundation is built up using a “grid” of thickened concrete beams running in both directions within the slab, and thickened perimeter footings, after the curing has taken place the cables are then tensioned effectively pulling the bottom of the slab inwards and producing a crown effect in the slab.

From what I understand the biggest failures are from moisture entering the slab and rusting the cables thus releasing the tensioning, and from poor landscape drainage allowing expansive soils to move differentially under the slab.

Some parts of the country have a lot of this type of construction particularly the DFW are of Texas. Make sure you use a home inspector very familiar with this type of construction and if there are any signs of failure seek the opinion of a structural engineer specialising in this area.

Regards

Gerry

Chris,

I am a full service Inspector working North East Texas residential and commercial and am very familiar with PTC-SOG foundations. These are about 85-90% of what I inspect. www.adairinspection.com

An onsite, complete inspection of all interior and exterior features is necessary to determine a conclusive response for any type foundation.

An inspector evaluates all associated conditions, and then renders his/her opinion with confidence and assurance . I will render NO opinion based on a few photos.

Corner shear is common in this area mostly cosmetic but can affect the proper support of masonry work in some instances, or can be a sign of other problems. “Won’t know until I go.”

The “bumpy” coating is called “parge” this is generally applied to “dress” the exposed perimeter footing where surfaces are uneven from form movement, blow-outs where concrete was not worked properly to remove all air pockets “aggregate exposed”, or other anomalies in the exposed face surface of the exposed perimeter footing.

ALL cable ends must be pre-treated (grease) then sealed with a compatible cementitious coating to avoid elements exposure and corrosion.

Gerry FYI: proper cable installation requires a poly sleeve for the entire length of the cable so no part is ever exposed to direct contact with the concrete.

What happens is the sleeves get nicked, cut, and punctured during installation or are not properly terminated at both ends. This sets up the “latent defect” process that cannot be detected until failure occurs.

For a brief guide: http://www.vsl.net/downloads/what-pt.pdf

I hope this helps and please hire a professional inspector.

Good morning. Thanks for directing me here Dave.

First and foremost, any exposed cable is a defect - period. They must be completely sealed at both ends. If not, they will eventually fail.

Second, I’m not sure what you mean by “poured in two steps.” PT slabs (generally speaking) must be a monolithic pour - a single pour with no cold joints.

The only obvious problems that can be seen in the photos are the exposed cables and poor quality workmanship with regards to properly sealing the cable ends.

Barry, this is not true. Concrete has no deteriorating effect on steel cables. The greased and sleeved cable is a relatively new product (early '70’s). They are very popular in PT concrete for slabs and parking structures.

Still today, the most efficient and strongest system is multi-cable systems where “dry strand” is used in conduit (ranging from 4" to 12") and grouted with high strength grout after stressing.

I inspect North East Texas residential and commercial and am very familiar with PTC-SOG foundations. www.adairinspection.com

An onsite complete inspection of interior and exterior features is necessary to determine a conclusive response for any type foundation.
I will render NO opinion based on a few photos. An inspector evaluates all associated conditions, and then renders his/her opinion with confidence and assurance.

Corner shear is common in this area mostly cosmetic but can affect the proper support of masonry work in some instances, or can be a sign of other problems.

The “bumpy” coating is called “parge” this is generally applied to “dress” the exposed perimeter footing where surfaces are uneven from form movement, blow-outs where concrete was not worked properly to remove all air pockets “aggregate exposed”, or other anomalies in the exposed face surface of the exposed perimeter footing.

ALL tendon ends must be pre-treated then sealed with a compatible cementitious coating to avoid elements exposure and corrosion.

Proper tendon installation requires a greased poly sleeve for the entire length of the tendon so NO part is ever exposed to direct contact with the concrete and so No internal corrosion occurs. What happens is the sleeves get nicked, cut, and punctured during installation or are not properly terminated at both ends. This sets up the, once poured, “latent defect” process that cannot be detected until failure occurs.

http://www.vsl.net/downloads/what-pt.pdf

Please call me to discuss all of your inspection needs. 214-328-8331

Hi to all,

Thanks Jeff & Barry, I knew others would be better versed on these than me.

Regards

Gerry

Jeff,

Please provide further “concrete” information to back up your statement. I am always willing to learn.

All I have inspected have been greased and why are the majority seen today greased systems if “dry strand” is better?

Jeff,

Concrete is the conduit for corrosion.

Is not direct concrete contact an issue for proper tensioning, does affect cable integrity by transferring moisture/water, mineral salts, and does have properties within that expedite corrosion.

True or False

Most (if not all) residential applications are “grease and wrap.” It’s an “unbonded” system.

The sleeve and grease keeps the concrete from bonding to the cable allowing them to be stressed uniformly. The process of the unbonded system is faster and generally less expensive (labor wise).

Granted, exposed cables can create problems during the stressing process, but unless the slab is in a really corrosive environment, minor exposures are not critical.

The biggest difference between the bonded and unbonded systems when finished is that the unbonded system (greased) is always “live.” Failure in a live cable can be destructive.

The bonded system requires much thicker concrete (generally used in freeway bridges, dams, and other heavy construction). Multiple cables (I’ve placed as many as 30 in one conduit) are stressed and then grouted, “bonding” them into position.

I have to go inspect.
i’ll view responses later.
Thanks to all and I appreciate your input, Jeff, always learning keep up the great work!

Jeff,

Please indulge me the liberty to advise staying focused.

My responses were toward residential PTC-SOG foundations to assist a non-inspector.

Your vast experience in other construction realms is appreciated by me, but may confuse the actual issues and the less experienced inspectors and homebuyers.

I am still interested in any documentation you can provide as I too am occasionally employed in these non-residential realms. This may bring back some hopefully fond memories. http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/bridge/pt/pt01.cfm

“i love to drive fast and take chances”

Everyone,

As a phase (pre-pour) inspector pertaining to residential PTC tendons I look for:

  • Unsecured or improperly installed anchorages and temporary plastic wedge cups
  • All tensioning terminations through forms
  • Greased sheaths and ends
  • Penetrations, tears, or breaks in the moisture barrier (poly around here)
  • Penetrations, tears, cuts, or breaks in the tendon sleeves (polyethylene sheath)
  • Tendon location per plans
  • Chair placement
    What else should I be looking for?

Out of hundreds, possibly thousands of tendons viewed I’ve only had one replaced by the builder before the pour.
I’ve had 1 callback for failure, after the fact. They weren’t blaming they wanted to let me know what I had written and photo documented would be used as ammunition by their “representative” and wanted to know “if I had anything further to add.” “NO!” was the correct answer.

Anything wrong with this installation through the beam, over water supplies and under waste pipe then back up and out the other form, in your opinion?

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Awesome link, thanks for the trip down memory lane. The largest segmental bridge I ever worked on was the H-3 freeway on the island of Oahu. . . two bridges over a mile long each and two tunnels over a mile long each. Those were the days. . .

Back to residential PT. The picture doesn’t give enough information for a conclusive determination, however, at the very least, the parabolic curve of the tendon has been compromised.

It may be that it is mid span at its lowest point (which would be proper), but the pipes (where the chair is) throw off the curve and will likely be broken when the cable is stressed.

As an inspector, you are right to look for damaged sheathing. Generally speaking, duct tape is usually sufficient to seal minor breaks or tears. Many times we used a “split sheath” to cover damaged areas, or where the sheathing was cut too short at the live end. The point is, the concrete (in and of itself) will not deteriorate the cable.

In a highly corrosive environment (near the beaches or where roads are salted for example), corrosive agents can be introduced through hairline cracks during movement. It becomes more important in these areas to ensure the sheathing is intact and that hammered-on “grease packs” are used to seal the wedges at both ends.

The most critical thing (IMHO) to look for is a damaged cable - kinked cables or broken strands. These will certainly fail.

Hello all-

My brother in law works for a very large foundation company here in town that pours & tensions almost every slab here in Shreveport. Their company has developed and patented a way to sleeve the cables in plastic. Basically they run the cable through a machine that coats the cable completely in melted plastic.

That has been the method for many, many years (even before they were used in residential applications). The original unbonded system was to grease the cables and then wrap them in paper. They were originally referred to as grease & wrap cables. Otherwise, they were dry strand.

Wow. Thanks to everyone who replied.

Thanks for the correction, Jeff. I saw what I thought was a horizontal seem from a two-stage pour, but I guess it’s just an impression from the forms.

We’ve decided to get a level B engineering report in addition to a full home inspection. It’s a small price to pay.

As part of my research, I’ve even checked the federal soil survey for information about the soil the house is built on – turns out to have a linear expansion index of 3-5%, which is as good as it gets around here (way better than the Houston Black they have to deal in other parts of the state).

Assuming the deal goes through, the addition of a french drain in an area that seems to suffer from poor drainage and re-routing of the downspouts farther from the house are both things that we are assuming will happen – pending advice from the professionals of course.

Thanks again for your comments,

  • Chris

Here’s a pretty good link, written by a couple of PE’s, regarding PT design and construction: http://www.houston-slab-foundations.info/Buyer’s%20Guide%20to%20Slab-on-Ground%20Foundations.pdf . If you go to the main page there are numerous other articles on foundations. Warning! this is for the serious only :): www.houston-slab-foundations.info .

Chris –

I think the engineering inspection is a great idea. Texas is a major area with foundation/soil problems.

I would also ask about the “white” stuff on the side of the foundation. It looks like it might be coming from the location of the tendons and may be a sign of other issues.

Jeff –

As always: a wealth of information. Of all the thousands of PT foundations I have been involved in, there was one that was poured as a two-pour foundation. It was actually a mat PT slab with deepened perimeter footings. The poured the perimeter footings first and the placed the mat slab on top. A very strange project overall. Actually, the perimeter footings weren’t even poured with structural concrete.

Barry –

Your list of items to look for is pretty complete. I also verify that there is 1.5” between the form board and the dead anchor. In my area you also need to have a continuous perimeter rebar or “hair pin” rebar at each anchor. For some bathroom issues they will place a box to create a void in the slab. It is important that these do not reduce the concrete around the tendons. This is very important at the slab edges and corners.

It is also very important that they vibrate around the anchors to avoid voids near the anchors. I like to walk the recently poured foundations to verify they don’t have too many voids. If they do, I would make a point to come back after the pour but prior to them “fixing” the issue.

As for the tendon going above and below the pipes, I see this as an issue. It appears to be a beam tendon, so these should be placed towards the bottom of the beam (draped). The plans will show the exact placement of the tendons. Also, the tendons can be placed and run around objects in the foundation. Most plans will show the allowable movement. It typically is a 6:1 slope.

Thanks for the link. I am giving the link to my project engineers to review and read.

On a side note: I will be going to a job site today to view the fix of 7 cut tendons in an existing home. The contractor was cutting out the front edge of the garage slab to tie in a new driveway.

"Mat slabs (also referred to as “raft” slabs) are a completely different animal. Typically they include interior caissons (piers). Often they are poured over a deep base of sand. Depending on the slab thickness, there may even be a “two-way” placement of the reinforcing steel in upper and lower layers (heavy placement over piers/supports in the top layers and heavy in the mid-spans of the lower layer).

Depending on the extent of the damage to the tendons, these may not require replacement cables. I’m sure you have an idea of what needs to be done :wink: