Understanding How Underpinning Works

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Foundation underpinning provides a way to strengthen, repair and sometimes increase the depth of your foundation. Foundations often deteriorate over time because they have been exposed to excess moisture and other environmental forces.  Here in Toronto, with so many older homes, non-livable basements and crumbling foundations are common.

Underpinning can be done in many ways and in order to make the right choice, it is necessary to understand the structure of the foundation, the supports which are used, and the factors that caused the foundation to weaken in the first place. Underpinning works with load-bearing walls so professional help is highly recommended as this is definitely not a DIY project.

Toronto home underpinning

Underpinning is often needed if your home has substantial cracks, heaving or buckled walls. Unstable soil is also a reason to underpin a home. Unpinning ensures the foundation is restored so it is strong enough to support the structure above. There are many methods of underpinning.

Concrete Underpinning

Concrete underpinning is one of the most common methods where mass is added to improve strength.

Beam and Base

Another method involves a beam and base.In this system, piles are installed on either side of the affected wall. The type of pile used is determined by the strata below. A reinforced concrete beam is installed between the beams to support the wall and the existing material between the piles is removed. The construction of the beams depends on the architecture of the structure built on the foundation. The beam and base technique is often chosen as it is quick and less disruptive than concrete underpinning. It is also capable of bearing a very high load and can be used in very tight spaces.

Screw Piles and Brackets

This method is used when traditional underpinning is not possible. Installation does not require a large crew or a lot of equipment.

Screw piles are installed in the foundation and are designed to withstand many stresses. They are ideal when used with underpinning support brackets as the structure can then be returned to a level position. The weight of the foundation is then distributed to the bracket system. They are relatively quick to install and cause little damage to the surrounding area.

Piled Raft

This method is used when the whole foundation needs lateral and traverse reinforcement. It is often when there is a deep foundation or if there is very hard soil. Piles are placed based on the load with reinforced beams beneath them. Finally, a ring beam links all of the reinforced beams together and concrete is poured.

Wall Anchors

Wall anchors can be installed in areas with limited access and without the use of heavy machinery. The anchors are designed to provide lateral stability to existing foundation walls.

Mudjacking

This method may be chosen if a structure is settling, but it is not a good solution. Holes are drilled, either into the slab or under the foundation, and then concrete is pumped into the holes. The extra concrete spreads and is supposed to eliminate settling, however it does nothing for the bedrock below. Mudjacking is effective when used properly with piers.

Clearly, underpinning a home properly requires building knowledge and an understanding of loads and stresses. Underpinning a foundation should not be attempted unless you have are a structural engineer or you have proven industry experience.

Nusite Group has the experience you need should the foundation of your home require underpinning. Want to learn more about creating a full-height basement in your home and what options are best for you?  Don’t leave a job like this to amateurs. Contact Nusite here for your inspection and estimate today.

5 Great Uses for Your Walkout Basement

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Home office TorontoIf you have considered creating a walkout basement to your home, this is not only a great feature to have while you are in your home, but it can actually add value if you ever decide to sell. Here in Toronto, many of the homes are older, with basements that were never meant to be used as living space, but a walkout basement can create another floor of living space without all the red tape of adding an extension to the home.

If you have a traditional basement and would like to create a full height basement, you’ll have to hire a contractor that specializes in what’s know as “Underpinning”, more commonly known as basement lowering.  It’s a popular option in Toronto as land is limited and it’s a great way to create extra living space without extending the house and losing more backyard.

Not only can you enjoy another level of living space, but a walkout basement can add value to your home if you ever decide to sell.  

Take a look at five great ways to use your walkout basement

 

Create a living space for parents or adult children

A basement that remodeled and with a privatized entrance is the perfect place to allow your college-aged child live, or even your aging parent. The fact that it is somewhat separated from the remainder of the home offers the same privacy that they would have in an apartment.

 In-law suite basement apartment Toronto

Create the ultimate, privatized home office

If you operate a home-based business in which you need to have clients come to your office, you might not want to welcome strangers into your living space. By allowing clients to enter through the designated entrance it can help to separate your professional and personal life. Not to mention, you don’t have to worry about the condition of your home when welcoming clients.

Home office Toronto

Create an inviting family space

For some homeowners, the basement is best utilized by creating a comfortable living space for your family to spend quality time in. Because of the increase in natural light offered by the door, you don’t have to feel like you are tucked away in a confined box when you are together, and in the summer you can open up the door and let fresh air in.

Fameily room in Toronto basement

Create a kids’ space

What parent doesn’t want to have a playroom for their little ones to house their many toys? The problem with traditional finished basements and playrooms is that it can seem like you are shoving your children in a dark corner to play. But, that’s the beauty of a walkout basement, the entry allows for natural light to enter, and it creates a great entry point to the yard and pool.

 Family play room Toronto

Create a guest suite

What better place to have your relatives come stay than in their own private suite in your basement? Many homeowners who may not have an extra guest room will convert their walkout basement into a bedroom space for friends and family to stay. The exit give them a sense of privacy for coming and going, and the fact that they aren’t sleeping on a pull out couch or in your child’s room means less crowding on the main floors.

Basement bedroom Toronto home

Keep in mind that by adding natural light into your basement, and outdoor access, this space can become anything that you need it to be. You are sure to find that by making this space feel more like your actual living space, and less like your basement, that you are making a wise financial investment everyone can enjoy.

Have questions about basement lowering and the process involved?  If you live in Toronto or the surrounding GTA, feel free to contact us here for a free in-home inspection and estimate.

5 Benefits To Lowering Your Basement

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Have you ever dreamed about having a full height, finished basement you and your family can enjoy?  A large open space like a basement can create a wonderful family room, recreation room or even additional living space.  The process of basement lowering, also called underpinning, can turn that old and damp basement of your into a bright and livable space for your and your family.

Finishing a walkout basement in Toronto

There are many advantages to lowering your basement, ranging from stabilizing your home from structural problems, or simply expanding your living space. Taking the plunge can really change the way you live, and protect you from structural damage that may occur. Many of the older homes in Toronto were not meant to be used as living space, but the cost of real estate and scarcity of available land in Toronto has turned the basement into a viable option. Here we explore 5 reasons why you should lower your basement:

  1. The construction process will uncover the hidden mechanics of your home and make them easily accessible for inspection, upgrades, and repairs. It will make it easy to replace your old plumbing, electrical, and insulation systems, especially if you live in an older house, and help you to modernize your home. Your waterproofing systems will also be changed when you lower your basement, so you will have a brand new dry concrete floor. Over time, you will cash in on energy savings, mechanical savings, and safety of your home.
  2. Basement lowering is a necessity when your house’s foundation suffers structural problems and cannot adequately support the house due to extreme climates, soil types, or inexperienced workers causing damage to the structural integrity of your home. It will immediately stabilize your home, strengthen the house, and give you a peace of mind, not to mention increase your home’s value and equity to future purchasers for years to come.
  3. Lowering your basement will give you up to fifty percent more below-ground space, greatly expanding the available space in your home! Once upon a time, basements were only used for mechanics and storage, but the modern basement can be turned into absolutely any function you want it to be: an extra bedroom, a home office, a home theatre system, a rental suite, a room to entertain guests in- you name it! You gain much more usability of space without having to buy a new house.
  4. By lowering your basement, you can increase ceiling height and lighting. Traditional basements have the problem of low ceilings and may feel cramped, but the added headroom will make your basement a far more attractive space in your house, and open up the conversion possibilities of your basement suite. You can remove any unnecessary walls to get rid of unneeded rooms open it up as a larger space, or add any rooms to a big open space as you wish. The possibilities are endless.
  5. Basement lowering is the least expensive and disruptive way to add more space into your existing home, and give your house a refresh. This is particularly important for growing families who need the extra space without the purchase of a new home. Basement lowering will get rid of any moisture and leakage problems, help you add floor space, and can even help you construct a new entrance/walkway for added safety and convenience.

Whether you are simply intrigued by this beneficial construction process, or are in need of services immediately to help fix your home’s structural problems, basement lowering will enhance, strengthen, expand, improve, and add value to your home.

Have questions about turning your basement into a full height, livable area?  If you live in Toronto or the surrounding GTA, you can contact us here for a free in-home estimate and inspection.

Fix Your Foundation Cracks Before Finishing Your Basement

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toronto-finished-basementGetting ready to finish your basement?  Better check for foundation cracks before putting up that drywall!

Any home repair project involves looking into the future—you can picture the finished product, say a carpeted basement with a TV set or maybe a bedroom for your teenage son.  Looking far ahead is great, but it’s important to switch focus, looking into the distant future but also into the immediate future.  The latter is where you’ll find some things you have to do to prepare.

If you plan to finish your basement, putting in a finishing wall and some sort of flooring, you have to make sure the foundation is in good condition first.  An approach similar to turning up the radio when your car is making a noise simply will not work—don’t carpet over floor cracks that could potentially leak water or put up walls over foundation wall cracks thinking that out of sight is out of mind.  You’ll be setting yourself far back by hiding increasing damage.

We repair hundreds of basement a year here in Toronto and some of the hardest, more so for the homeowner watching their drywall get stripped away, are basements that have already been finished.

First, The Symptoms

If you have spotted cracks in your foundation—or perhaps the water that has seeped in as a result—the first thing is to shore up the damage.  You may use caulking or other home-repair methods to take care of the crack itself.  Keep in mind, though, that sealing from the inside won’t be enough—in a minute we’ll discuss structural damage of which cracks are a symptom.  You will need to dig to access the outside of your basement wall or floor and seal from the outside—this is where an experienced waterproofing company comes in..

 

The Disease

It’s extremely important to realize that a crack in your basement is not some isolated event or happenstance.  It is a symptom of a larger disease.  There’s no way you can have a crack in your foundation without it being a sign of a larger problem.

 

Settled Foundation

Cracks are often caused by your foundation settling—or sinking—into the soil.  This is also referred to as floating, which means your foundation is actually moving around slightly with the soil, which is what causes cracking.  This might require piering of your foundation—definitely a job for a contractor—or might be remedied by adding rebar or fiber to the concrete to improve its strength.  The point is that merely filling a crack and then spending the money to finish your basement instead of fixing the settling does not make sense.  You have to fix the disease, not the symptom.

 

Drainage Problems

Horizontal cracks are likely caused by water drained from your roof.  The water from your downspouts may be directed too close to the ground surrounding your basement.  This pushes too much water into the ground, which then freezes.  In addition to fixing the actual cracks, then, consult an expert and make sure you have your gutters and downspouts working and aligned properly to not cause further cracking.

 

Bowed Foundation Walls

If the walls of your basement have been subjected to so much pressure that they are actually slightly caving in, or bowed, you have a larger problem.  This situation calls for a contractor to either do some piering referred to above or to use carbon fiber strips to properly support the wall.

 

Give your basement a good inspection before you start

The best thing you can do is thoroughly inspect your basement before a renovation.  If you have issues such as doors not closing properly, water seepage, or sloping floors, you almost certainly have a problem that must be fixed.  It will of course be extremely hard to fix an issue once you’ve finished the basement, so do yourself a huge favor and fix it first.

Have questions about cracks in your foundation?  Before you start your basement renovations, feel free to contact us for a free in-home inspection of your foundation.

 

 

 

Are Cracks In The Foundation Normal?

Toronto home with vertical crack in foundationPoets, lyricists, and other writers love the metaphor of the crack in the foundation, something that is small but the forerunner of pathological damage. A crack in your foundation is information—it is telling you something, and you must invest the time to figure it out.  It may turn out to not be a big problem, but it demands assessment.  It’s usually best to call in a specialist to make this assessment.  If you’re hesitant that they will try to sell you a suite of services and repairs, remember you can always get a free estimate or just say “no,” but that one thing is for certain—a crack, once present, will not go away and requires intervention.

It’s usually best to call in a foundation specialist to make this assessment as a foundation crack can be totally normal, or can be an indicator of something serious.  If you’re hesitant that they will try to sell you a suite of services and repairs, remember you can always get a free estimate or just say “no,” but that one thing is for certain—a crack, once present, will not go away and may indicate a more serious problem with your foundation.

HYDROSTATIC_PRESSURE (1)

Here in Toronto, foundation cracks are quite common.  Many foundation cracks are simple from shifting foundations and aging homes “settling” over time.  While others are from shoddy construction from the start or an environment surrounding your foundation that is contributing to its erosion.  As you can see, sometimes it’s nothing but other times it can be serious.

Even if the foundation crack is not serious, it can still cause water issues and can lead to foundation erosion over time if water is allowed to continuously channel through your foundation into your basement.

So, let’s take a look at some of the most common information—the most common causes—of basement foundation cracks.

 

Concrete Contraction

Concrete is a mixture of cement, water, and aggregate.  It is poured and then dries and cures.  Early in the curing stage, the concrete enters its plastic state.  In this state, it is still very moist, but it continues to lose moisture during the curing process.  Steve VandeWater, in his paper “Why Concrete Cracks,” illuminates, “because concrete is a very rigid material, this shrinking creates stress on the concrete slab.  As the concrete shrinks, it drags across its granular subgrade.  This impediment to its free movement creates stress that can literally pull the slab apart.”  He continues, “when the stress becomes too great for the now hardened concrete, the slab will crack in order to relieve tension.”

VandeWater points out that these plastic-state cracks are almost sure to occur near obstacles, objects placed in the concrete slab, such as drains, plumbing fixtures, etc.  The concrete has no ability to shrink around these objects.

 

Contraction cracks not a disaster

Fortunately, though some cracks due to the contraction of concrete during its curing process are inevitable, they aren’t likely to cause serious structural damage.  They’re mostly a nuisance, providing a gateway for things like water leaking or insects.

 

Exterior step crack Toronto home

Exterior step crack

Settlement

A second big reason for basement cracks is your house settling into the soil.  Daniel Friedman is a construction worker who discusses this issue.  He says that floor slabs need to be poured into “compacted fill” as opposed to “soft fill.”  To explain what this means, he clearly illustrates, “my first job in construction was raking a huge dirt pile out to ‘level’ inside of an already poured and built footing and masonry block foundation wall.  Once the dirt was roughly ‘level’ via my hand rake, the builder went ahead and poured his floor slab.  ‘Compacted fill’ was not in our vocabulary.”

Floor slabs not poured in this manner are more vulnerable to settling into the soil, and in the vocabulary of the business, “floating,” moving as the soil moves.

Yet, it’s just as often that the culprit is not construction workers at all.  Mother Nature will damage your foundation if you give her half a chance.  Too much rain will cause the rising groundwater to squeeze the house’s foundation.  The bad news is that dry periods are problematic, too, since dry soil shrinks, in turn causing you foundation to settle.

In Winter, groundwater freezing also causes pressure on your foundation, pressure that may lead to cracking.

One thing to do to attempt to combat the sorts of pressure described above is to improve the tensile strength of your concrete.  Tensile strength is the ability to withstand force that could pull something apart.  Strange though it might seem, concrete actually has fairly low tensile strength.  Improving it can be a matter of a contractor adding rebar of fiber to the concrete.

 

Horizontal crack in Toronto foundation home

Horizontal Crack

Horizontal Cracking

If the cracks you observe are horizontal, you should take them that much more seriously, since they are indications of serious structural problems.  Consultant Gary Fuller explains, “if the foundation does not provide enough lateral support, the walls will deflect inward and create horizontal cracking.”

Mike Holmes, host of the TV show “Holmes Inspection,” alerts us that horizontal cracking higher on the walls calls from water or frost, as “water from your downspouts or sump pump saturates the area, it freezes and exerts pressure on the basement wall.”

While there may not be one cure for basement cracks or one correct course of action, just be sure not to ignore the problem.  Take a lesson from the poets and don’t let the cracks spread and leave you on a foundation of rubble.

Have Foundation Questions?

If you live in Toronto or the surrounding GTA, we offer a free in-home inspection and estimate for foundation cracks, basement waterproofing and related basement renovation projects.  You can contact us here.