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Old foundation needs replacing???

I own a 19th century house in upstate New York. It does not have a real basement, just a partial, rough-built cellar. Recently we noticed that the walls of the cellar were seeping water during heavy rain. We had a contractor look at it, and he said it could be repaired by digging down on the exterior and sealing it from there. After digging up our yard, he said that the foundation is made of loose stone (no mortar) and that we need to replace the entire thing. Is this really necessary? How can I be sure?

Re: Old foundation needs replacing???

With the age of your home and older you are bound to find unpleasant surprises. Many of those usually end up being major structural issues.
I'm still amazed at some of the things I've run across with older homes -- left wondering how the house still stands. With some issues it becomes a matter of *when* not *if* a major catastrophe will happen.


Is this really necessary?

From here sight unseen no one can say for sure. However, is it possible ? --- sure is.


How can I be sure?

Get a second opinion.

A structural engineer will give you an unbiased evaluation as to the condition of the foundation as well as recommendations to correct the issue.
It may also be more cost effective to replace what you have rather than trying to repair.

Timothy Miller
Re: Old foundation needs replacing???

Great time to have a soils/ structural engineer out to look and tell you the options you have for upgrading the foundation. Many options and prices from a full blown finished basement to pier and beam... Huge price range too. A crawl space foundation sounds like a good place to start considering. But first what matters if you do nothing other then maybe installing a sump pump to extract the water. Again ask Engineer and then get 3 or more bids before you spend $$$$$$$$$

Re: Old foundation needs replacing???

Your house is too old and with that kind of foundation I would suggest to replace it, because it’s not a promising one.

Re: Old foundation needs replacing???
ericburns4 wrote:

Your house is too old and with that kind of foundation I would suggest to replace it, because it’s not a promising one.

And yet if there are no structural issues (which the OP doesn't speak of) perhaps the original foundation is fine, and just the foundation walls need some help with waterproofing as originally thought. This is a rubble-stone foundation and while it may not meet today's codes or ideas about stability, hundreds of thousands of old homes have these holding them up just fine, thank you. Sometimes these can be grouted to solve water ingress problems. Sometimes it takes more.

If the walls and their base are sound enough and the ground is already dug out, an easy fix would be to wrap them with 6X6 wire mesh, form out to a 3-4 inch thickness, and pour a pea-gravel concrete mix all around to just above ground level or higher. Not only would this make for a solid ready-to-waterproof surface, it would also reinforce the rubble-stone structure somewhat. In itself it wouldn't be structural since it isn't carrying any load so you'd only need enough thickness for it to be crack-resistant. The existing graveled footing should handle the extra weight if it's good enough now or you could first pour a toed-out concrete footing outside the rubble-stone to carry the new pour.

Or you could go on the cheap and attempt to cover the underground area with a waterproof membrane, though sealing the seams will be an issue because of the uneven surface. Unless the foundation is failing structurally there's no real reason to replace it just to keep water outside where it belongs.

The average contractor or engineer will be of little help here. This type of construction hasn't been used in ages and falls totally outside of today's way of thinking. Yet with so many of these still holding up fine over a hundred years later you can't argue with their ability when they are still sound. Replacing these or anything just because it is different than what we do today is ludicrous- that's just trying to fix something which ain't broken. Now if there is structural failure that must be addressed- water ingression alone doesn't indicate that here.

My thanks to Tom and Norm for sharing many of these old techniques and technologies with us and for showing us how older technology like this works and still can fill our needs, even if new construction techniques have surpassed them over time. Good enough is still good enough as long as it's working as it was intended to- and that will never change.


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