Here is a practical guide on basement wall replacement.
Whether poured concrete or cinder blocks, your basement walls are meant to be hard and sturdy. Remember they have hydrostatic pressure to deal with, which means they are constantly put under a lot of pounding.
Unfortunately, all the pressure over time can take a toll on even the most solid basement wall, and they would eventually need to be replaced.
Professional Basement Wall Replacement Options
If you feel you need to replace your basement walls but have no clue what it entails, then you’ve come to the right place.
Here I’ll be telling you all you need to know about basement wall replacement.
Stay with me!
What Damages The Basement Walls In The First Place?
Before you think of replacing your basement walls, you need to first understand the factors that can damage them in the first place.
This will give you a clear idea of what your walls are up against, and the kind of materials you will need to withstand these elements.
Here are the major factors responsible for basement wall damage.
Movement in the soil:
This is a natural phenomenon and there’s really nothing we as humans can do about it.
When the soil moves, it drags along anything on or around it, and this includes your basement walls.
Of course, the walls will try to resist the pull so you won’t notice the damage immediately. However, time and consistent soil movement are all it takes for the damage to become evident.
This is why it is recommended that you build your basement walls with high-quality, reinforced materials which to a great extent can resist the pull.
The second major reason why your basement wall may be damaged is hydrostatic pressure.
This is when groundwater tries to push its way through the foundation, causing cracks in the basement walls over time.
Some may wonder how water can generate enough power to crack a wall. Well, it isn’t that hard to figure out.
You know how heavy a 25-liter container of water can be to lift right? Now imagine the weight of thousands of liters of rainwater sinking into the soil and pushing through the basement walls.
The constant force will definitely leave its mark on the wall over time, especially if the walls were poorly built.
This brings us to the 3rd reason why your basement wall is damaged.
Use of cheap materials or inexperienced contractors:
Indeed, nothing lasts forever, but structures built with high-quality materials will surely last longer.
Soil movement and hydrostatic pressure aside, a poorly built basement wall will be susceptible to damage in no time. Hiring quack contractors to build the walls could also backfire in the short term.
How To Tell If My Basement Wall Needs Replacement Or Repair
Having compromised basement walls is bad for many reasons. A breach can allow water to come in and flood your basement, and this can damage the property you have in there.
A basement filled with moisture can also lead to mold growth. And as you must already know, mold is dangerous to human health.
With this in mind, it is in your own interest to be able to tell when your basement walls require some repairs. That could be the difference between keeping your basement dry and having it damp.
Here are the major signs to watch out for.
The first and most obvious sign of a compromised basement wall is a crack (or several cracks) along the surface.
They can appear in different sizes, and they are a result of either hydrostatic pressure or soil movement.
You need to take all cracks in your basement walls seriously, even the smallest ones. This is because cracks do not stay the same size forever, as they expand with time and become a bigger problem to deal with.
Separation in windows and doors:
Do you notice any changes in the way your basement windows and doors open? If they aren’t moving freely or latching properly, then it could be a result of shifted basement walls.
In this case, you need to call a foundation repair contractor immediately to come and assess the problem before more damage is done to other parts of your home.
Bowed basement walls:
Another obvious sign that your basement walls need to be replaced is when they are bowed.
Bowing too is caused by hydrostatic pressure (when groundwater pushes against the foundation walls). The water in the soil may also freeze and expand during the winter, equally pushing against the outer foundation walls.
It takes time for the bow to fully form, but it is very evident when it does.
What You Can Do
We cannot change the way nature works, but we surely can take steps to reduce its effects on our structures.
One of the things you can do to protect your basement walls from damage by external forces is to provide extra support.
Thankfully, there are steel beams and foundation anchors available for us to do this. A combination of the two will ensure that the pressure being put on the walls will be reduced.
If your basement wall has been severely damaged, then replacement might be the only viable option.
Replacing A Basement Wall Step By Step
Basement wall replacement is a huge project, which must be handled by trusted hands. It requires excavation, as well as the use of house jacks and supports beams.
Here’s what basement wall replacement entails.
Before the old wall blocks are removed, you need to support the structure which the current blocks are supporting. If a backup is not provided, then the ceiling can cave in while work is ongoing, and that would be disastrous!
Supporting the structure involves installing structural beams that are of the same distance as the portion of the wall being replaced.
Hydraulic house jacks can be used to keep the beams in place and must be firmly footed on the floor.
During excavation, it is recommended that a backhoe is used to remove the soil next to the foundation. This will create a trench that can be used to reach the blocks.
The contractors should ensure that there are no pipes or power lines in their way before they begin excavating. To be certain, they can simply call the utility companies in charge.
The backhoe operator can begin digging once the coast is clear.
Be sure to contact your municipality to see if you need a permit before you begin excavation.
Removing the Blocks
The most basic means by which you can remove the blocks is by knocking them off with a sledgehammer. Although more advanced contractors will use a rotary hammer to do this, as this consumes less energy and time.
If your contractor doesn’t have one, then it can be rented from a construction rental store near you.
In a case where only a portion of a block is damaged, a circular saw can be used to remove the affected part. The saw should be fitted with an abrasive blade so that a clean-cut can be achieved.
Depending on how the blocks were laid and fortified, you may find horizontal steel bars in-between each row of blocks. You can also find vertical bars in them too, although a reciprocating saw is all that is needed to cut through the bars.
Laying New Blocks
This is the final stage of basement wall replacement. Here, the new blocks should be laid just as the former blocks were, and steel or vertical bars will be placed into the grooves in-between the courses.
The mortar used to lay the bricks should be specific for structural use. The regular mortar meant for bricklaying by the side of the home is not ideal.
As the bricks are being laid, all voids in the blocks should be filled with the mortar or concrete mix.
After the top cinder blocks have been laid (the ones just under the house sill), you’ll have to wait for a few weeks before you backfill the soil beside the foundation.
You can then take off the support beams and house jacks.
What Does it Cost to Fix a Bowing Wall?
On average, it costs between $6,500 to $7,500 to fix a bowing basement wall.
Three main factors determine the cost of repair.
- The size of the affected area
- Level of expertise
Of course, you are free to contact as many contractors as you wish for the sake of price comparison. Your preferred contractor should inspect the wall, and this will give him/her a fair idea of what they are up against.
Basement wall replacement becomes necessary if the walls have been severely damaged by hydrostatic pressure or soil shifts. If not, then simple fixes may suffice.
Whatever the case, I advise you do not to try fixing or replacing the basement walls yourself, as one small mistake could prove costly down the line.
Let the pros handle it.