In our first installment of Billings Best, Nicole King sits down with Sam Hensler of Dynamic Analysis to discuss home inspection information. Together they go into more detail regarding home foundations, how soil contents affect house settling, common homeowner mishaps, and so much more. This video also shadows Sam on an actual home inspection with a new buyer.
This video is long, but the knowledge you’ll gain as a homeowner or a potential buyer is invaluable. Watch below or scroll below for the full transcript.
Home Inspection Information You Should Know In Billings, MT
Here is the transcript for the first episode of Billings Best, which discusses home inspection info you don’t want to miss. The transcript covers the first half of the video before Sam goes on a home inspection to show you what to look for.
Nicole: Hey there, I’m Nicole King, broker-owner of 41 Realty Group. I’m here at Dynamic Analysis with Sam Hensler, the owner, and we’re here to chat a bit about what is going on in the greater Yellowstone Valley Area.
Kind of the elephant in the room that everybody’s been hearing a lot about is some foundation and soil movement and things out in Copper Ridge. We are definitely not going to talk specifically about Copper Ridge today but Sam, and he’s going to give you all his credentials here in just a moment, but he is well versed in soils and foundations as a structural engineer and I just wanted him to tell us kind of what to expect from areas around the Billings Area as far as soils and structure and what people should really be looking for in homes in those areas and how they can best take care of their homes so it can last as long for them in the best condition possible. So thanks for meeting with me.
Sam: Yeah, absolutely.
Nicole: All right so tell us about you, your credentials and why we should rely on you as an expert.
Sam: Sure so MSU grad and graduated with a degree in engineering at MSU. Went on to design uranium processing plants for a company out in Bozeman for five years and worked on building designs and infrastructure and large industrial designs and then moved out to Billings where i got involved in more building and residential specific construction and the design for those. And something I had never heard of but the need for structural engineers to evaluate homes that were being bought and sold which was not something that I had seen before but apparently happens pretty often here. And then now I do about 800 of those a year.
Nicole: 800? Every year? So visiting existing residential structures to evaluate their structural integrity.
Nicole: Okay, so when you get called out what are the things that you see most often?
Sam: Yeah, yeah, it depends on the area. Certain areas have specific issues whether they’re relating to the soils in that area for instance if we go south of the river then the soil changes completely and now we’re worrying about heaving soils that are pushing up on slabs and pushing all the guts of the home up and potentially lifting that the floor the roof up off the foundation, so things like that are more concerning once we go there.
If we’re going along the rims then we’ve got issues with slope stability and rock fall and collapsible materials and air pockets and all sorts of weird shifting in the debris field of a former landslide for going out in areas where you have a lot of soil that was deposited by wind like the northwest portion of billings there’s a lot of of compressible and collapsible soils that can move foundations.
If we’re looking at the older part of town then we’re looking at a lot of foundations that may not have that many usable years left depending on how they’re originally constructed and how well they’ve been taken care of for the last 100 years.
A lot of times there’s homes that have been heavily modified because they used to build homes pretty small and would just add on to them and I see a lot of homes that have had bearing walls removed or portions of the walls that are meant to hold the building up in a windstorm. A lot of times people dig out there, underneath their floor and put upgraded utilities like a large furnace or water heaters or things like that and they’ll undermine their foundation because it was only six inches deep to begin with and then a simple hose being left on could cause the foundation to collapse at that point. So it really depends on the issue and what part of town you’re in and when your house was built and how well it was taken care of and what kind of soil it’s on.
Nicole: Okay, so if you’re thinking of giving homeowners, either people who are about to be homeowners or currently homeowners, some advice on things that they need to be doing, kind of no matter what area of town they live in, what are some major things that they really need to be doing to make their house last for them?
Sam: Sure, so the number one thing that everyone’s probably heard of by now is just keeping good drainage and there’s a lot of reasons why keeping good drainage is important for areas that have hydro sensitive soils, soils that will react when water is mixed in with them. So like a swelling soil like you have south of the river or a collapsing soil that we have up in along the rims or in the northwest part of town that will collapse when they get wet.
It’s really important that we keep the soil underneath the foundation dry to prevent it from moving, but also, for instance, if you’re in Laurel where there’s high alkalinity in the water and in the soil it will react chemically with the concrete and dissolve the foundation out from underneath the house.
Nicole: That doesn’t sound like a good thing.
Sam: No, it doesn’t and it happens to a lot of homes out there. It’s a slower process but a lot of those homes are in that age where I have seen foundations completely converted back to sand and we’ve had to replace foundations just because it dissolved, just disintegrated right underneath the house because water was pulling up and carrying sulfides into the, into the concrete where it would evaporate in the dry basement air and build up and disintegrate the concrete.
We get frost heave out here any time that you get freezing conditions which we can’t really avoid unless you heat a space so if you have an unheated garage, it’s an issue. If you have a shallow foundation, that’s an issue, if you have frost susceptible soils which are fine particle soils like silts and clays which we have all over and we have moisture, which also can’t really get rid of then you’re going to get frost heave so that’ll lift up on any slabs that are unheated throughout the year. So like garages we’ll see a lot of slab heave movement which will change the drainage of the slab and potentially cause all your watershed from your car to drain towards the foundation and cause further issues in the foundation.
There is lots of spalling like freeze-thaw spalling, just in concrete that gets beat by the Sun. Concrete’s really porous, the water will actually absorb into it, which is not something a lot of people know but water can pass through the concrete fairly easily, just really slowly. So if you have in the Spring while you’re getting lots of freeze thaw, the water will move into the concrete and the foundation and then freeze at night and can pop things off and you’ll get a bunch of spalling along your foundation as the thickness of the foundation wall just kind of erodes and then you can start to expose rebar which will get wet and then that’ll rust and expand and pop your foundation more.
So a lot of things mostly related to water damage to the foundation and the soils beneath the foundation.
Nicole: So what are some of the most common reasons that you see water go towards the foundation? Is it sloping towards, planting gardens next to the houses? Tell us what you’re seeing most often.
Sam: Drainage, for sure, and especially in new homes, it’s really common when they’re building a house they, you know, they dig down to the bottom of the foundation and they they build everything up from there and then they put the soil back in they backfill it up along the foundation wall.
And a lot of times it doesn’t get compacted very well in that spot so right along the foundation wall it can get pretty fluffy and you’ll have your landscaper set your landscaping drainage so that’s draining away from the home but within the first couple years it can, all that air that’s trapped underneath the underneath the surface there, can escape and all of a sudden that drainage starts to collapse and turn negative and now you’re draining back towards your foundation.
That’s probably the most common thing I see, especially in newer homes, is just over time that backfill slumps and now you have negative drainage and need to redo your landscaping.
Sam: Gutters are another thing a lot of people just let their gutters drip right next to the foundation and then water pools up there so you need some good extenders on there.
Nicole: How long should extenders go?
Sam: I like six feet, it doesn’t matter too much as long as it’s discharging the storm water in an area that has positive drainage is taking the water away from the foundation it doesn’t really matter how long they are if it just comes pouring right back to the house.
Nicole: Sure. I see a lot of times that they terminate inside gardens where it’s got like a concrete barrier all the water goes up against that and then it just stays in that garden so getting it on the other side of whatever edging someone might have, things like that.
Sam: Yep, ideally, so newer homes you’ll see where they have the concrete edging the little curving that’s five, between three and six feet around the home and so if you can kick it out over that that’s ideal in an area where you don’t need to remove it for lawn mowing because people tend not to put it back.
Nicole: Yes, I see that a lot.
Sam: Yeah, but a lot of places will do underground discharges okay so the downspout will actually go underground and it’ll either come out and pop up in the yard somewhere or it will go to an underground drain field depending on where the house is located. If you have hydro sensitive soils it’s generally not a good idea to inject the water underneath the surface because those sorts of soils don’t accept water very readily so if you can keep it on the surface it’s more likely to just roll away. But if as soon as you get it underground then it’s just going to percolate in and get into an area where it’s really not supposed to.
I tend to stay away with subterranean discharges if I can, if you can keep it on the surface and just let gravity do all the work it works out better, more often perfect.
Nicole: Sure. Anything that you see a lot that you wish people would just stop doing that we haven’t talked about yet?
Sam: So many things.
Nicole: Top two.
Sam: Let’s see, oh yeah think about that for a little bit. Let’s see so I work on both ends of a structural lifespan. So I design new things for people to build and I do forensic evaluations of things that are failing and it costs much more money to fix something that’s failing than it does to just build something correctly from the get-go. So I think the biggest thing is just making sure that even if you’re doing a simple retaining wall or just about any structure a lot of things are more complicated than people really understand. And even if they have a contractor who they think is really confident in certain areas, if you’re doing anything that’s outside the norm it’s a good idea to get a professional involved and have their opinion weigh in and see what really needs to be done.
A lot of people think it’s expensive to spend a couple hundred or maybe a couple thousand up front on a design but compared to spending tens of thousands of dollars to come back and fix it later, it’s much cheaper.
Nicole: Yeah, I see the tens of thousands to fix something when I enter the picture as a real estate agent a lot, so I would love it if they would get a hold of you first.
Sam: Yeah, absolutely.
Nicole: Let’s switch to not just getting water away from the house but what are some things – a lot of times I see ventilation not proper in attics, bathrooms that the vents discharge into the attic, what kind of structural problems can that cause?
Sam: So, I see pretty hefty mold and water damage in certain circumstances. I think the worst I’ve seen is either dryer vents or furnace vents venting into an attic or into a crawl space and completely demolishing all the framing. You can definitely get the same thing with bathroom vents because it’s a lot of moisture that you’re moving into the attic and that wood will soak up that moisture and you can get mold growth.
If you have OSB sheeting for your roofing that will soak it up right away and lose a lot of its structural integrity and start to grow mold pretty quickly. So in general keeping the moisture outside the building envelope is a good idea you don’t want to dump it anywhere inside of the area you’re trying to keep the environmental conditions out of.
Nicole: Okay, so if somebody is worried that they have some structural problems, things that they’re like, I don’t really know if this is quite right, if this is the way I should be doing it. When is the point that they should probably get a hold of you or someone like you?
Sam: Well, in general, if you’re going to build any sort of structure if you’re not working with a contractor that is reputable and understands what they’re doing and going through the appropriate permitting process because you need to permit almost everything. There’s a handful of things you don’t need a building permit for, but in general in order to get a permit you need to have a plan it’ll be reviewed by the city. If the city doesn’t feel that the contractor’s plan is done appropriately or isn’t considering all of the possible issues that could arise then they’ll request that an engineer take a look at it and then it comes to me. Or you can start there and have an engineer take a look at it first and develop a plan or an architect anyone who knows what they’re doing basically and going through the right channels to make sure that it gets done correctly
Nicole: Okay, sounds good. Is there, how do people get a hold of you and find out about your services?
Sam: I’m online you can Google “Dynamic Analysis” or “structural engineering and Billings” and I should pop up there somewhere and then my number you can email me through the website or reach out to me. I think I’m on Facebook but I’m not, I am on facebook but i’m not on Facebook often.
Nicole: I get to follow all your fun snow adventures and things like that on Facebook yeah that’s great, awesome. Thank you, Sam.
The second half of the video shows Sam leading a buyer through an actual home inspection so that you could see what to look for. To get more help from Sam Hensler and Dynamic Analysis, go to dynamic-mt.com.