SAN ANTONIO - How solid is the house you are sitting in right now? For thousands of people in San Antonio… that's a troubling answer.
Cracked walls and broken concrete are often blamed on the shifting soil of south Texas. But there is often another reason: shifty homebuilders. Your home's foundation may be crumbling underneath you right now. And that may be because your homebuilder took a shortcut when constructing the foundation.
Sherman Henry has cracks in the walls, doors not closing properly and sticking. He even has cracks in the ceiling at his Southwest Side home. The house he's lived in since 1984 is crumbling.
“I feel like I got ripped off,” says Henry.
The 74 year old recently had to hire a company to level part of his house - for the third time. And it's cost him more than $20,000 just to fix this problem.
The problem is the soil underneath - which was brought in by the builder to fill the lot.
"A lot of it is the old clay soil. I mean there very expansive soils,” says Bill Gregson with Hy-Tech Foundation Repair. “These things dry out and you see right now, and you see right now it's got some moisture in it. But when they dry out, they shrink and that's the problem. The house is going up and down just like a yo-yo.”
But a foundation - too weak to handle the fluctuations caused by the expanding and contracting - is also to blame. So the house has to be propped up.
The City of San Antonio has one of the strongest city codes, dictating how a foundation must be built. But the Trouble Shooters uncovered a loophole. Builders can get around the code by simply hiring an engineer to design a new foundation - and get around those tough standards. That can save the builder thousands in construction costs.
Licensed home inspector Mark Eberwine says these foundations that are not built to city code - and are called "engineered foundations" - are turning out to be weak.
“You decrease the amount of concrete you need, the amount of cable, and the amount of steel, and the amount of soil compaction,” says Eberwine.
City records reveal builders have gotten permits for more than 43,000 "engineered foundations" over the past ten years. And a map showing every permit submitted to the city of San Antonio to fix a faulty foundation reveals the problem is equally spread throughout the city.
The home inspector says builders could make stronger foundations by just spending more money.
“It's anywhere from eight hundred dollars to two thousand dollars to beef that foundation up where it is pretty rigid and the likelihood of any foundation problems is minimized,” says Eberwine.
Attorney Bryan Woods specializes in representing homeowners who wind up buying poorly built homes.
“I personally believe that the foundation especially is not where you should save money,” says Woods.
The lawyer believes cracked foundations start with engineers being pressured by builders to keep up with their high volume construction.
“I’m finding the tremendous amount of work being put on engineers. I'm concluding from that there is no way due care can be exercised in both the design and the inspection,” says Woods.
We wanted to ask area home builders about the practice of using engineered foundations. When we contacted the spokesperson here at the Greater San Antonio Builder's Associations we were told they would find someone who would sit down with us for an interview, but that never happened.
To help you find out if your home is built on an engineered foundation, you can view a list all of the homes in the City of San Antonio where an engineer submitted a report. Click here for that list...
These are public records supplied to WOAI by the City of San Antonio in response to a request under the Texas Public Information Act. The fact that your home is on the list does not mean you have a faulty foundation, instead you should consider checking your home periodically for cracking. In the event you find cracks, you may consider hiring an independent engineer to evaluate the problem before contacting your builder or the company that provides your home warranty.