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Many of us remember mom wanting to call a repair contractor and dad’s prompt reply: “I’m not paying for that. I’ll take care of it.” Leaking sinks, broken dishwashers, clogged drains—no project was too big for dad. Until one was. Inevitably, even the most DIY dedicated among us eventually run into something outside our capability. The show Home Improvement with Tim Allen included these scenarios in almost every episode.

So here’s our question: is home foundation repair a do it yourself project, or is it best left to the professional contractor?

As with any repair, the answer depends on several factors.  But before we look at details, here’s the answer in a nutshell:

If your house is built on a cralwspace and it’s sinking in the middle rather than the exterior—you may be able to fix it yourself.

If your house is on a slab, or if it’s on a crawl space and is settling around the perimeter—you absolutely need a professional foundation repair contractor.

You may be wondering why. The answer, as simply as possible, is: repairing sinking walls that sit atop concrete requires tools and expertise virtually no homeowner has and involves risks not worth taking. Repairing sagging joists in a crawlspace, however, may be a manageable project for the motivated “do-it-yourselfer” if he/she has some handyman type experience.

Let’s walk through a process to see if you can potentially handle it yourself:

First: Identify Your Foundation Type

Is your home on a slab / basement or a crawlspace? You may know the answer right off. If you’re not sure, take a look at the outside walls of your house. If there’s an access door or a vent near the bottom of any exterior walls, your home is built on a crawlspace. These are especially prevalent in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Otherwise, your home is built on a concrete slab. Slab and basement constructions are also common. If you have a modular home, this article won’t be particularly helpful to you.

Second: Identify the Symptoms of Foundation Problems

You’ll want to be sure whatever you’re seeing is due to foundation settlement before you attempt a fix. Common symptoms include:

  • Cracked bricks or cracked foundation walls
  • Leaning chimneys
  • Windows / doors that stick
  • Sheetrock cracks
  • Sagging floors
  • Bowing basement walls

Third: Determine the Type of Repair Needed

The first two steps likely give you all the information you need to determine whether or not you can address the problem on your own.

Use this as a guide:

You need a foundation repair contractor regardless of foundation type if:

  • Your bricks or exterior walls are cracked
  • Your chimney is leaning away from the house
  • Your exterior doors or windows are sticking because they’re out of square with the rest of the exterior wall

These symptoms indicate problems with exterior walls that sit on a concrete footing or slab. You don’t want to try this type of fix on your own.

If your home is on a slab, you’ll want a professional evaluation with any of the symptoms listed above.

You may be able to do it yourself if your home is built on a crawl space and you’re experiencing:

  • Sheetrock cracks on interior walls
  • Sagging floors
  • Sticking room or closet doors (in other words, doors that don’t lead in/out of the home)

It could be that you have a floor joist in between concrete pillars needs support. An experienced do-it-yourself enthusiast can find post jacks at a local hardware store, and may understand enough to install one. If a floor joist needs support above a concrete pillar, shims can sometimes be installed for support. Other instances, however, require more advanced work such as rebuilding a pier. Please note, however, that it’s easy to over-lift the floor and cause damage.

To DIY or not to DIY

The bottom line is this: if signs of foundation failure appear on the perimeter walls of your home (whether inside or out), you’ll need a professional. If your house is built on a crawl space and the symptoms of settlement appear on interior walls, there’s a chance you can do it yourself. But before you dive in, consider that most professional estimates are free of charge

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