Opinion: Column: Engineering a Solution

Though not exactly "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill," ("The Beatles," 1968) but for those of you regular readers still interested in the presumptive outcome – in my lifetime, of my 250-year-old home's "structural integrity" – as it relates to my pending refinance application, we may now have liftoff, so to speak. (Hopefully Houston, we don't have a problem.) A structural engineer came by the house yesterday at my request and examined and measured the cracks in the concrete slab which "porches" the front of my house, after which he offered his professional opinion, a more detailed version of which will be emailed to me in a few days (copies of which I will forward to all the interested parties). According to this engineer, there is a concrete solution which, cost notwithstanding (or even known yet) will secure my home's structural foundation and assuage the appraiser.

The problem, as I understand it, concerns the possibility of my house falling down, from back to front. On my porch there are five wood pillars which stand floor-to-ceiling equidistant across the porch. They are not embedded in the concrete (nor are they cracked or rotting). They are supporting the weight of the house, but apparently are on shaky ground. What has happened is, due to the improper preparation of the soil onto which this concrete slab was originally poured (100 years ago – or whenever), the concrete has buckled under the pressure, and the house is tilting, sort of (and/or has the potential to slip further and fall). And if this happens, neither my wife nor I will be able to get up, whether we're owners of Life Alert medallions or not.

There is a solution, however, which doesn't require "a pick and shovel and 20 men" (to invoke a Three Stooges reference). Nor will it require any heavy equipment and/or cabling of my house in some way to lift it off the ground in order to break up all the length, width and depth of approximately 150 square feet of concrete (I don't know about the cubic exactly). The plan seems to be for the house to be temporarily supported by wood beams as it is raised up a bit, and then one-foot-square sections of the concrete surrounding each of the pillars will be broken up. According to the engineer, not a major undertaking. Then piers, which are structural engineering jargon for whatever I need to have supporting the pillars, will be placed on the ground/foundation beneath each pillar and then back-filled with concrete, and Bob's your uncle: structural integrity. At least that's as much as I can understand/explain, anyway. Orthotics for the house, you might say.

Now whether my description of the repair is at all accurate, the engineer was clear. Though the repair is delicate, he agreed, nobody is reinventing the wheel here, and the solution as proposed is not that complicated. (As for the "structural integrity" of our 100 year-old stable, another concern of the appraiser, the engineer said "We don't certify the structural integrity of 100 year-old buildings." Now as to whether this out-building situation becomes a deal-breaker, I can only hope that reasonable minds prevail. Check back to this space for future updates.)

At present, I fear there will be fits (by me) and starts (by the various external parties lining up to solve my home's structural problems) to get me to the refinance finish line with some financial integrity still intact. I won't lie, there's a bit at stake here, and I can't afford (literally and figuratively) any slip-ups. As I approach my 65th birthday, my goal is to simplify my life and secure my future, not complicate my life and "insecure" my future. I had hoped this refinance would accomplish the former. I had no idea that it would lead to the latter.

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