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replacing mixed foundation on Lake house with erosion

We bought a house on a lake in central New York nearly 4 years ago. The house began as a tiny fishing cabin (circa 1930-40's)but was added onto once or twice (circa 1970-80's)prior to our ownership. The house is a single story 40'x42' "box" over varying crawl space elevations. There are no plans, permits, or records at the town hall regarding the original building or it's additions over the years.

The side of the house facing the lake is on a slop that is eroding away. The foundation is of mixed structures (wood on ground, wood on pier, wood on concrete block pier, etc.) We are also experiencing some interior cracking in a corner of the living room wall over the problematic foundation area.

We contacted a local Structural Engineer in April but he has still not gotten back to us with a plan. He seemed uncomfortable with the project and what to do. He wanted to start with exploratory drilling down to discover bedrock and get a topographical survey. (cost about $3000-5000)

Two years ago we got an estimate for a full basement & foundation for ($138,000) from a general contractor who specializes in similar lake houses in the region. It was an ideal "fix" but we could not afford it nor was it worth investing that amount in the house.

We are retired and with limited income. We can not spend more than we can afford but want to repair/replace the foundation before we sell the property to the next owner, probably within the next 5-10 years. In addition, our investment(bought high $ in 2008) has also declined in the RE market and we do not want to put too much money into this project.

Please suggest our next step. Who else could deal with this other than another Structural Engineer. An architect I contacted pointed us to structural engineers.

Many thanks for your input

Re: replacing mixed foundation on Lake house with erosion

The only sure thing I see here, is the erosion and the deterioration of the home condition, because they wait for nobody.

You contacted a local engineer, who is too slow to respond. Is he the only engineer in town? If not, contact other engineers. You can even look for one in near by towns.

Now to the painful stuff - the money. With dwindling equity and the possibility of selling in the near future, you don't know what to do.

Let me think out loud: a good fix would cost 138K, according to an old estimate you had. But you don't want to spend that much. Well, anything less than that amount, and the house will still be considered a "fixer upper". If it is a "fixer upper" no matter what you put into it, I would not invest.

When repairing the house, go for a complete job, not a portion here and a portion there, which will be good money down the drain.

Re: replacing mixed foundation on Lake house with erosion

Your vacation cabin is very typical of probably a million or so other lake cabins in North America. My family vacationed in Canada since the middle 1950s and I got to see a lot of these type of cabins along Lake Superior. Most folks just live with what they have - making repairs as needed. There were no building permits or inspections in those days and the quality was totally dependent on the skills of the homeowner and his friends.

All of these cabins are still standing today - none of them fell down or collapsed due to snow loads. A few of them were torn down and rebuilt after they served their purpose but most lake cabin owners love their tiny lake cabins and like yourselves can not afford to rework them for big bucks. Fix whatever you have too - ask the other lake cabin owners who they use. Local handymen/builders are usually well skilled in fixing what needs to be fixed in the area of lake cabins.

A. Spruce
Re: replacing mixed foundation on Lake house with erosion

I would recommend stemming any current problems and leave the replacement of the foundation to the next owner. Normally I don't recommend such things, however, you will never recoup one cent that you put into this structure, so you need to minimize your expenses until you are able to sell it.

I am not suggesting that you jury rig the problem, what I am suggesting is that you strategically assess your options and go with the least invasive and expensive business model.

If a portion of the foundation is failing, then address that portion. You can replace a section of foundation easily enough without too much trouble or disturbance to the rest of the structure. If the hillside is failing, then you've got bigger problems than what's going on with the foundation, and no amount of structural work is going to correct the ground giving way under it.

Re: replacing mixed foundation on Lake house with erosion

Additional info: This is a year round home for us and has been for the last 2 owners. None of the neighbors have a similar situation so we don't have a "go to guy".

Thank you for the three responses thus far. I'm still open for more specific suggestions of whom I should contact next (? professional).

I don't know if it is a coincidence or what but my husband got an email from the structural engineer this morning and he wanted to send over the fellow that does the exploratory drilling. That fellow just left the property and told me that the engineer wanted holes drilled on the slop. He wanted to know about soil density and location of bedrock (shale in this region). The driller will probably have a 2 man crew dig 2-3 holes to a depth of 20 feet along the wall facing the lake. A very rough estimate has been suggested that is affordable for us.

It has also been suggested to me that a mason could be called in to assess the situation. Since one of the responses here basically indicated "do the minimum", I'm now wondering if this is the next direction to follow. What are your thoughts on this?

Many thanks for your continued considerations and thoughts

A. Spruce
Re: replacing mixed foundation on Lake house with erosion

This could be a viable option to your shifting earth problem.


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