I have heard about houses in Chapel Hill having foundation stabilization problems. How can I tell if the?

Asked by , Fri May 23, 2008

house I am considering has the problem or has had it in the past ? Are there areas in Chapel Hill which are more prone to these problems? What is ongoing cost to address these issues?

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Laura Grace, Agent, Pittsboro, NC
Sun Jun 8, 2008
You are right. There are areas in Chapel Hill that are known for foundation problems. A lot of this is due to the sandy clay soil that shrinks and swells with moisture that seems to be more typical in certain neighborhoods around Chapel Hill. The local Realtors know which neighborhoods are more likely to have this problem. As Bridget pointed out, there are typically signs, like horizontal cracking, gaps around the outside of the fireplace, door jambs and window frames.
Many of these are apparent before you have an inspection and many have already been corrected by the homeowner. So two important considerations are to work with an agent who knows the area well and have a reputable home inspector advise whether an additional specialist is recommended for further evaluation.
Don’t let this deter you from the many great housing opportunities in Chapel Hill, Carrboro or the surrounding towns. It is a great place to live!
Web Reference:  http://www.LGRealtor.com
2 votes
Bridget Lasz…, , Greensboro, NC
Fri May 23, 2008
I am not a structural engineer by any means, however one thing you can look at when it comes foundation are the cracks in the brick. If it runs along the mortar that’s alright, those are “good cracks” However if it has a crack that bricks themselves are breaking then those are the bad cracks to watch out for. This should always be checked out and could be costly to fix. Price is hard to determine until the extent of the damage is determined. I would recommend always getting a home inspection and let the inspector know of your concerns so that he can pay extra attention. Don’t condemn yourself to thinking all homes have this problem and you miss a great opportunity to purchase a home and it’s not really fair to think that most of the homes there will have this problem. I hope this helps you some.

Bridget Laszlo
2 votes
Alan Trammel, Agent, Durham, NC
Thu Jun 20, 2013
I think you need to be very careful who is defining “foundation problems”. Cracks in the brick veneer, while very common, are not always indicative of a structural deficiency. Labeling cracks as good or bad and using this to make some sort of determination is a falsity.

Only licensed professional engineers can determine if a home needs a structural repair. A foundation repair company should NEVER be contacted first. You only need a foundation repair company if an engineer lays out specifications for a repair.

I have had several listings in Chapel Hill where sellers obtained estimates ranging from $10k to $30k from foundation repair companies. After hiring a licensed professional engineer they found out all the cracks were cosmetic and no repairs were necessary.

As a Chapel Hill native, Realtor, Licensed General Contractor and Licensed Home Inspector I am very familiar with these scenarios.

Alan Trammel
Trammel Brothers Realtors
1 vote
Michael Colv…, Agent,
Fri May 23, 2008
I have dealt with homes with foundation issues and the only way to tell is to have a home inspection before you purchase and the home insp will no if it warrents having a company that specializes in foundation issues look at it Ram Jack is a very good one.
Web Reference:  http://www.colvinm.hpw.com
1 vote
Larry Story, Agent, Greensboro, NC
Fri May 23, 2008
If there are foundation problems you will need a company specializing in foundation repair. If you want to even deal with that. These could cause any number of other problems. Once it is fixed you should get a warranty but, thes problems can be very expensive.

Larry Story
Coldwell Banker Triad
1 vote
Ed Billings, Agent, Carrboro, NC
Thu Jan 30, 2014
Certain locations within Chapel Hill are known for having a history of soil movement, while others are know for being "rock solid". If you suspect their may be a foundation issue, I've found the best course of action is to get an independent structural engineer to evaluate the situation. If there is no issue, they will issue a letter stating as such, which will give you peace of mind and assist you when you go to sell your home, down the line. If a remedy is required, they will determine the course of action and sign off on the repair.

I hope this helps.
0 votes
Janice Woych…, Agent, Chapel Hill, NC
Mon Nov 18, 2013
The houses in Chapel Hill that might have stabilization problems are clustered on the east side. An experienced agent in the area can help you identify the area. Builders are aware of this problem. Of course you will have to have an inspection to see if the particular property you are looking at has this problem. Houses can be jacked up if they start to settle. If you are interested in a particular house, you would want to get an estimate on the repair during your due diligence period.
0 votes
Mary Aguero…, , Chapel Hill, NC
Tue Nov 6, 2012
Improving the water runoff and drainage from around the house is 99-100% of the solution. Step back and look at the big picture. Literally. Is the house in a low spot, not just the foundation area but a much larger low spot in the immediate half acre area- whatever you can see from across the road. By doing this, you see what you may be dealing with but it does not matter that much. You can fix anything, but you have to know what you are dealing with first. Also, breathe, think, relax and work with competent people.
0 votes
Brent Chambe…, Agent, Chapel Hill, NC
Wed May 16, 2012
Many areas of North Carolina, including Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill have a high percentage of expansive clay soils. While sandy soils remain stable as water passes through them, soils rich in clay undergo significant changes based on their moisture content.

When clay type soils dry out, they shrink significantly (think of a dry sponge) -- so much that the ground can become covered with cracks, and load bearing structures can settle. But after the missing moisture is replaced by rain, the soil expands, the cracks are gone and the settled structure is pushed back, though rarely to the exact point it started. This is when structures can begin to twist or undulate.

Because clay soil absorbs so much water, it expands during wet weather, and that expansion can push both laterally and vertically.

Expansive clay soils can put enormous pressure on your basement, foundation piers or foundation walls. When the pressure becomes more than the wall can handle, the wall will begin to push inwards, or settle or lift unevenly. A licensed home inspector, licensed contractor or structural engineer can advise you on the severity of any movement, and what if any corrections are needed. A well-designed home constructed with good materials that has proper rain drainage (think grading, roof, gutters, downspouts) will keep the soils around the house from having a high fluctuation in moisture content. Builders in this area have been dealing with these issues for a very long time. With very dry and very wet seasons, some movement will occur, but the resulting cracks should be minor and will likely be considered cosmetic. Let the experts make that determination. And, yes, regardless of clay soils, this is one of the best places in the country to live …. But then, that’s no longer a secret.
0 votes
Local home b…, Home Buyer, Carrboro, NC
Fri Feb 27, 2009
I heard from a builder who has been in the area for 30 yrs that that foundation problems are commonplace in Chapel Hill because of the soil.
I would highly recommend you get a structural engineer to look at any home before you buy. I say that because I just looked at a home for sale that had a substantial horizontal crack on the foundation. The seller was notified, and the next time I visited the home, the crack had been "covered up" and I doubt an inspector would have found it.
0 votes
Leslie Gura, , Chapel Hill, NC
Wed Feb 4, 2009
I live in Chapel Hill and have some cracks in door jambs etc. that were there when I moved in. I had the home inspected completely by a structural engineer (not just a home inspection company). He assured me that there were not serious problems and suggested tree cutting and drainage changes to prevent problems in the future.
0 votes
Ron, Home Buyer, Chapel Hill, NC
Sun Jul 27, 2008
What are the areas that have this problem?
0 votes
The most concentrated area seems to be in the Briarcliff area, or the generally low lying area extending away from the southeast corner of Ephesus Church Rd and 15-501. Such problems can occur in any home that does not have proper drainage, so gutters are important, as well as a positive slope away from the foundation perimeter.
Flag Thu Jun 27, 2013
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