First quote on foundation work

Yesterday I had a local foundation expert come over to check out our basement.  I’ve wanted to get some seismic upgrading done for a long time, but it was becoming painfully obvious that I am never going to have the time to do it myself.  Stephanie has been pushing for us to hire it out, and now I am finally starting to come around on this.  It usually takes about a year from the time she puts an idea in my head until “I get it.”  I have a bad history about being stubborn with things that I can do myself, which explains both why we have been able to afford to do as much as we have and also why it always takes so long to get it done!

You may recall from this post my desire to bolt the house in order to get earthquake insurance.  Over the last year my concerns over a seismic catastrophe have grown, so it’s time that we do something!  While we may or may not see “the big one” during our lifetime, if it happens, our house could be toast.  Read about the Cascadia Subduction Zone to see what I’m talking about.  And since most of our money is tied up in this place, it’d be ugly to end up with a wrecked house AND a mortgage.  Yuck.

The bottom line after talking with the contractor is that we will likely move ahead with just the bolting.   My fantasies have extended all the way to a full foundation replacement or even digging out our crappy crawlspace foundation to create new, reinforced basement space, but the $$ were sobering.  Much more so than I even imagined.  While we never seriously considered a full foundation replacement, I was curious as to what it would cost.  Because of complexities with our lot, such as our “concrete bunker” garage that would have to be demolished and rebuilt to gain access to the foundation, the ballpark floated was between $90-120k!  Ouch!

And some of my other planned upgrades were discouraged by the expert as well.  While I had hoped to install some of the tie-downs (I don’t know the technical name) that extend from the foundation up into the wall cavity to be able to create proper shear walls, he said that I’d just be fooling myself.  The old concrete would not do a good job of holding them in, so it’d hardly be worth the bother and expense.  We are still thinking of adding plywood to the exterior, which would definitely help add to our house’s structure, but the motivation for that is primarily based on our desire to A) insulate the rest of our downstairs and B) swap our our 1960’s-era ranch siding for shingles more appropriate to our bungalow.

So, the bottom line is that we are now planning to go back to our original plan…do only the bolting necessary to qualify for insurance and then sleep easier knowing that we are at least mostly covered.  Even the 80-85% of the repair costs that most earthquake insurance covers is better than 0%, right?  The only downside is that the initial ballpark he threw out was around $5,000.  I know I could do the work myself for under $1,500, but the last year proves that it’ll never happen.  And Stephanie says that any time I spend on the house should be devoted to upstairs, so that we can get Ginger’s room habitable.  She’s right, so I think we’ll be scheduling this soon.  I’m hoping to get at least one more quote, but contractors that do this kind of work are surprisingly hard to find around here.

3 thoughts on “First quote on foundation work

  1. Ouch! I had no idea that the seismic work would be that hard to find a contractor for. I know the labor markup for such work is high. My brother-in-law mentioned that framers get $25 per holdown for installation. I rented an angle drill and installed all 22 in my house in under 3 hours. $13 for the drill rental. The only thing marginally difficult was getting the threaded rod bent into position and then having my legs cramp up from being bent over screwing the bolts into place. I used the PHD2’s and 5’s.

    I think you were talking of using:

    Maybe there is a liability issue for the contractors doing the work so its not as attractive of a niche to work in? I had a bit of a hard time getting the 3rd party inspection done. Those companies are very busy. I imagine the small scale of a single home project is not worth their time with the larger scale commercial projects they do. The first said they weren’t taking new clients. 2nd said the minimum inspection fee was $500. The 3rd came out and the cost was about $350.

    If you do decide to do it yourself the Simpson hardware was the most expensive part of the whole thing. The best prices I was quoted were from the Lumbermans in Forest Grove and Milwaukee Lumber (near 82nd and Stark). When the inspector comes out to do the 3rd party inspection thing make sure to have the epoxy warm.

    That means throw it on the floorboard of your vehicle or toss it into a bucket of hot water before the inspector arrives. (It’ll mix and squeeze out of the special caulk gun much easier.) That in conjunction with having my holes for the threaded rod clean made the whole process go very smoothly. Whatever you decide, good luck.


  2. Mick,
    My sense is that the quote I got was pretty high, so I’m going to try to get some more before we make any decisions. I think they are overcharging the small projects, because it’s easy to get away with. Although the work is relatively easy, most people wouldn’t have the confidence to do it or don’t like crawling around in crawlspaces. Myself, I’m just facing the reality of a lack of time.
    The good news for our situation is that we don’t need to get any kind of 3rd party inspection. It’s not required by either the insurance company or the city, since the project would be classified as a voluntary retrofit. I think the inspection’s only required when the seismic work is part of a larger project that requires structural upgrades. For us, the contractor’s certification should be sufficent to get the insurance.And thanks for the leads on good Simpson prices. Even if we end up hiring out this project, that’ll definitely come in handy for other things!


  3. Hey Julio!

    Ah, fun with foundations. I think it is a liability issue and therefore many concrete and foundation guys don’t deal with earthquake-related reinforcements…

    You may want to talk with Irik about this. He had a lot of experience with foundations in the past year and a half (wink) and knows a number of good and very bad contractors in the area. He also knows a fair amount about earthquake bolting.



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