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  1. #1
    Jack Lin's Avatar
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    Default Untreated wood foundation (<18" from ground): code compliance suggestions

    Hi All,

    Does anyone have experience with building wood foundations in Houston? I have a rather dire situation I find myself in and would very much appreciate your advice.

    I recently hired a contractor to build a small (286 sqft) one-story addition onto the back of my house for me (I'm living elsewhere right now) and things progressed magnificently for about a week. They put in the cement block piers, wood beams (2-2x10) and joists (2x8), plywood sub-floor, framed the walls and roof, and installed the hardi-board siding and roof shingles.

    The problem is, they worked so fast that I wasn't able to schedule the wood foundation inspection until all the work mentioned above had already been done! As a result, we got "red-tagged." Now, the inspector was pretty reasonable and asked us to remove a couple of sheets of plywood so he can see what's going on when he comes back and allowed work to continue in the meantime.

    Well, when he came back to re-inspect, he found that they did not use treated lumber for the floor joists and beams as required by code!! As far as I understand it now, if any wood floor joists are less than 18" from the ground (or 12" for girders&beams), then pressure treated lumber MUST be used .

    The dilemma is that, obviously, I would be ruined if I need to tear down the entire structure and rebuild from scratch . So, given the gravity of the situation, I'm curious if anyone here is/has been a building inspector and if there are any alternative paths toward meeting this particular code requirement . I'm thinking of vapor barriers, in-situ weatherproofing sprays, or anything else that can be done without tearing down the entire (essentially finished) addition.

    I've already thought of asking the builders to re-do what they've done but they're not insured or bonded and it's going to be next to impossible to have them redo everything. Replacing some floor joists or installing a vapor barrier, yes, but not the whole thing over again.

    I will also be talking to the folks at the inspections dept for advice...

    Any help would be much, much appreciated!!

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  2. #2
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    Default Re: Untreated wood foundation (<18" from ground): code compliance suggestions

    Ask the building inspector what your options are.
    Many inspectors are quick to offer helpful advice.
    Chances are this has happened before and what to do is already known.

    ' correct a wise man and you gain a friend... correct a fool and he'll bloody your nose'.

  3. #3
    Ron Bibler's Avatar
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    Default Re: Untreated wood foundation (<18" from ground): code compliance suggestions

    See if you can install a vapor barrier with sand and then cover the sub-area with a thin 2inch coat of concrete. This will make the Sub-framing of your new room over a slab floor and if you look up the code for sleeper floors you should find your treated wood is not required. Check the code in your area.

    Best

    Ron


  4. #4
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    Default Re: Untreated wood foundation (<18" from ground): code compliance suggestions

    How about lowering the ground? Crawl space digouts are a pretty common thing in my area for this exact reason.


  5. #5
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    Default Re: Untreated wood foundation (<18" from ground): code compliance suggestions

    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Lin View Post
    I recently hired a contractor

    I would be ruined

    Just curious why "you" would be ruined ... the "contractor" is responsible, no you.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
    Construction Litigation Consultants, LLC ( www.ConstructionLitigationConsultants.com )
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    Default Re: Untreated wood foundation (<18" from ground): code compliance suggestions

    I think he is acting as his own GC.

    ' correct a wise man and you gain a friend... correct a fool and he'll bloody your nose'.

  7. #7
    chris mcintyre's Avatar
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    Default Re: Untreated wood foundation (<18" from ground): code compliance suggestions

    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Lin View Post
    I recently hired a contractor to build...

    I've already thought of asking the builders to re-do what they've done but they're not insured or bonded...
    Are you sure they are licensed? The builder should be responsible for making sure that the inspections are meet and that the building/addition is to code, not the homeowner.
    Why would you not ask the builder to take of the problem? Neither insurance or a bond cover incompetence.

    In addition to the above options, a closed cell foam might be an option and would take care of the insulation at the same time.


  8. #8
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    Default Re: Untreated wood foundation (<18" from ground): code compliance suggestions

    Some of the OP's terminology is misused and you guys are making assumptions. The "contractors" are not licensed or insured. I think the term "builder" is being used to describe the guy that stood the sticks up and nailed them together... not a company or "builder" that we are all familiar with (who would typically have a bunch of insurance).

    I hesitated to mention this in my first response because I didn't want to rub salt in the wounds.... but, I would hope the OP has realized the true "cost" of saving a few bucks by going with an unlicensed person.

    Sure, they are responsible for their work.... just good luck holding them to it.


  9. #9
    Ron Bibler's Avatar
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    Default Re: Untreated wood foundation (<18" from ground): code compliance suggestions

    Quote Originally Posted by Matt Fellman View Post
    How about lowering the ground? Crawl space digouts are a pretty common thing in my area for this exact reason.
    Its a small room that he has constructed. If you try to excavate the soil you just may undermine the foundation earth bed...

    Best

    Ron


  10. #10
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    Default Re: Untreated wood foundation (<18" from ground): code compliance suggestions

    Quote Originally Posted by Ron Bibler View Post
    Its a small room that he has constructed. If you try to excavate the soil you just may undermine the foundation earth bed...

    Best

    Ron
    Keep it undistrubed within 45 degrees down and away from the footing and pier pads... it's a common thing around here. Any AHJ that would deny approval based on that small amount of soil should be tied up in the town square


  11. #11
    Jack Lin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Untreated wood foundation (<18" from ground): code compliance suggestions

    First of all, thanks to everyone for replying. Since I initially posted, I've actually spoken with the code interpreter for the city of Houston and he was very courteous, if not particularly helpful in suggesting any possible solutions. He did encourage me to call him back if I have any further questions, which I think I will after getting some ideas from the thoughtful comments here.

    Ron, your suggestion of pouring a slab so that the entire foundation can be reclassified and avoid triggering the treated wood requirement is very creative. But I suspect the slab inspection will involve its own complications, such as requiring poured concrete footings, anchor bolts embedded in the concrete, etc. that will make this as difficult as replacing all the non-treated wood. I will ask about this tomorrow when I call the code interpreter back.

    Matt, lowering the ground seems like a great idea as well. I would need to remove about 8" of dirt over a 200 sqft area, which would not be too bad. However, I think I will also need to add an extra block to each pier after excavating and perhaps line the perimeter with a short retaining wall (see attached pdf of plan-review approved sections)?

    Both you and Rick are correct in that the guys I hired were not contractors per se. They are experienced framers, but obviously either not knowledgeable or willfully ignorant of local building codes. However, I am acting as my own GC and am therefore assuming that I will need to take full responsibility. I talked with them today and they actually agreed to replace all the yellow pine with treated lumber while keeping the rest of the structure in place. But I'm not counting on that at this point. I have to prepare a backup plan.

    I have definitely learned a lesson here, which is to complete all the due diligence for inspections before nailing together a single stick of lumber. As far as using licensed contractors, correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think the state of Texas requires contractors to be licensed?

    This gets into a different topic entirely, but I am actually renovating this house as an investment which I'll be selling when finished. I formed a company a few months ago to take on these projects. Although I recently graduated with a master in architecture, I've never had much field experience in construction management, so I've been on quite a learning curve here. Hopefully someone else will eventually read this thread and save themselves quite a bit of stress and headache!

    Thanks again and I'll update later with the results.

    Best,
    Jack

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  12. #12
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    Default Re: Untreated wood foundation (<18" from ground): code compliance suggestions

    Matt, just saw your latest post. Yes, I think if I did as you suggest, I wouldn't need to lower the pier blocks and pad. However, wouldn't the newly dug out pit under the addition gather water every time it rains and eventually wash out the piers? I think I will call my field inspector tomorrow and run this by him as well...


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    Default Re: Untreated wood foundation (<18" from ground): code compliance suggestions

    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Lin View Post
    First of all, thanks to everyone for replying.

    This gets into a different topic entirely, but I am actually renovating this house as an investment which I'll be selling when finished. I formed a company a few months ago to take on these projects. Although I recently graduated with a master in architecture, I've never had much field experience in construction management, so I've been on quite a learning curve here.
    What? A first time flipper with no construction or project management experience? I bet that is the first time this kind of thing has ever happened. Golly. I hope Lassie is around to bring help when the unsuspecting person falls in the proverbial well.

    "The Code is not a peak to reach but a foundation to build from."

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Untreated wood foundation (<18" from ground): code compliance suggestions

    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Lin View Post

    Ron, your suggestion of pouring a slab so that the entire foundation can be reclassified and avoid triggering the treated wood requirement is very creative. But I suspect the slab inspection will involve its own complications, such as requiring poured concrete footings, anchor bolts embedded in the concrete, etc. that will make this as difficult as replacing all the non-treated wood. I will ask about this tomorrow when I call the code interpreter back.
    Jack this is standard for rat proofing. it is not a structural part of the foundation. its only a then 2 inch slurry no rock just sand and cement.
    no steel or mesh required.

    Best

    Ron


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    Default Re: Untreated wood foundation (<18" from ground): code compliance suggestions

    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Lin View Post
    Matt, just saw your latest post. Yes, I think if I did as you suggest, I wouldn't need to lower the pier blocks and pad. However, wouldn't the newly dug out pit under the addition gather water every time it rains and eventually wash out the piers? I think I will call my field inspector tomorrow and run this by him as well...
    As long as your gutters/downspouts are properly routed away and the grading is correctly sloped away from the house it shouldn't be a problem. Worst case you'd have to install a sump pump but in most cases that wouldn't be necessary.

    If it were me I'd redo the interior concrete pads just to prevent having to leave the soil around them. If you're only needing 8" you could leave 1 foot laterally in from the foundation around the perimeter... it would barely even be noticeable once the vapor barrier was in place.

    Be ready though, it's a lot of work I'd hope the "builders" will be helping out.


  16. #16
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    Default Re: Untreated wood foundation (<18" from ground): code compliance suggestions

    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Lin View Post
    Ron, your suggestion of pouring a slab so that the entire foundation can be reclassified and avoid triggering the treated wood requirement is very creative. But I suspect the slab inspection will involve its own complications, such as requiring poured concrete footings, anchor bolts embedded in the concrete, etc. that will make this as difficult as replacing all the non-treated wood. I will ask about this tomorrow when I call the code interpreter back.

    I doubt you would need anything in that concrete because: 1) it is not supporting anything, thus no reinforcement is needed; 2) it is not holding anything down, thus no anchors of any type.

    You would basically be using the concrete as "cover", so a 6 mil plastic moisture barrier on the soil, followed by 4" of concrete, and *most* of you problems may be resolved. I say *most* as doing that slab will not address the soil around the outside foundation walls, that may cause some consternation with the inspector.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
    Construction Litigation Consultants, LLC ( www.ConstructionLitigationConsultants.com )
    www.AskCodeMan.com

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    Default Re: Untreated wood foundation (<18" from ground): code compliance suggestions

    If you are worried about having strength in the slurry or concrete, whichever you use, you can up the portland cement content and or add "Fiber-Mesh." You can also add a water-reducer like "Rheobuild" that will turn the mix to a slurry to make it flow/level without compromising the strength of the mix.


  18. #18
    Jack Lin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Untreated wood foundation (<18" from ground): code compliance suggestions

    Just want to give everyone who's tracking this thread a quick update on what I've learned and where I am on the project. There's some good news. I think my problem has been resolved . But first, I'll fill everyone in on the city's response to your suggestions.

    I spoke again to the code interpreter for the city of Houston yesterday and what he told me as far as excavating under the foundation (as suggested by Matt) was this: as we all know, the code states that the wood foundation must be at least 18" above *grade* to use untreated wood. Now, grade is defined as the elevation of the ground 6' out from the perimeter of the structure. Therefore, the inspector could insist that I excavate the entire area 6' beyond the addition.

    He also shot down Ron's solution of pouring a slab. Since the load bearing elements are still pier and beam, the slab does not get around the treated wood requirement.

    So, what ended up happening was that I convinced the guys who did the work to come back and replace all the beams and floor joists (the fact that they still need to collect on some money I haven't paid them probably made it a bit more persuasive ). They are working on it now as I type this. What seemed like a pretty tricky task wasn't so bad after all. They jacked up the walls, cut up the existing beams, and pulled it out in pieces. The new beams were then pounded into place. It's been raining here, so it's all a muddy mess but it's getting done .

    Thanks to everyone for your kind suggestions and comments. All the best.

    P.S. Bruce, this is actually my second rehab - and you gotta start somewhere, no?


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