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3 common cottage foundations and possible fixes

Different cottage foundations are prone to different problems. Here’s the place to start in finding the best fix for your situation.

Post and pad:
What is it? Concrete pads on grade, supporting vertical wooden posts 

What goes wrong: Fractured, sunken pads; weathered, rotted, leaning posts no longer supporting beams.

The fix: Problem areas should be replaced by professionals, usually by either levelling where allowed (using hydraulic jacks to raise sections that have sunk and resecure the footings below) or the more expensive option of lifting (where the structure is actually removed from its foundation or footing while repairs below are done, and then replaced). 

The cost: According to Dave Allwright of Absolute Leveling in Winnipeg, a ballpark price is $8,500 for levelling a 20’x36’ 4-beam bungalow cottage (depending on soil, municipal standards, and other variables); if the building needs to be lifted it would almost double that cost. Should a beam need to be replaced or upgraded they cost about $1,300 each. If the structure is not enclosed and heated, it will likely need re-levelling every five to ten years. 

Concrete piers:
What are they? Holes dug with a wide footing at the bottom, below the frost line, filled with concrete to or above ground level supporting posts or cottage beams 

What goes wrong: Damage and movement from frost if original placement was not below frost line, if the concrete was not properly mixed or cured, or if placed in unstable or moist soil. Extensive damage from frost heave may require replacing.

The fix: Installing or replacing pier foundations requires lifting and sometimes temporarily moving the cottage.

The cost: Jason Irving has paid as little as $425 or as much as $1,000 per pier replacement, which quickly adds up if you need more than 20. If terrain has no rock, look into pricing for helical screw piles (see ”Is this the fix for you?” opposite).

Masonry block or poured concrete (crawl-space or full basement):
What is it? Walls poured or built onto footings below frost level to create partial or full height space; heating and ventilation required 

What goes wrong: Cinder block joints and gaps, as well as holes in masonry blocks, increase susceptibility to water accumulation (and more freezing and cracking) if not parged or properly constructed. 

Cracks in poured concrete (unavoidable) should be monitored for expansion.

“Inevitably, our Canadian climate guarantees movement,” says home inspector Milo Petrovic, an education specialist at Carson Dunlop Home Inspections in Toronto, Ont.  

The fix: If masonry block walls lean, bulge, or show major or growing cracks, seek professional advice to consider excavation for rebuilding, or replacing the wall. Some cracks in concrete walls can be repaired with cement or epoxy mixtures but walls that bow or buckle or have cracks that expand and grow should be investigated by a structural engineer. 

The cost: The price just for lifting a cottage would “start at $12,000 to $15,000,” says Joe Crowley, and “go as high as $50,000.” The total cost can easily balloon up to six figures once you add in windows, doors, heating, ventilation, drainage, plumbing and landscaping materials, and labour. 

This article was originally published as as part of  “Dear Cottage, Why so down in the dumps?” in the May 2021 issue of Cottage Life.

Read more: Cottage foundation problems 101

Read more: Do I need a permit to fix my cottage foundation?

Read more: Foundation trouble? Are helical screw piles the fix for you?

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