• Do I need a French Drain System?

    A question that I get when working with clients with drainage issues is the following:

    Do I need to install a French Drain System?

    A lot of people see standing water in their yard and ask me to install a French Drain System.  We feel that that is not always the necessary answer.

    Ewing & Ray feels that if we have a surface water issue, water running off a hill and sitting in a low area, then we need to address the problem with a surface water repair system.  We would recommend starting with the installation of a swale which is re-grading the area to allow the water to drain away from the area.   We typically recommend you contacting a landscaper for the installation of this system.

    The next option would be to install a catch basin system to capture the water and drain it away.  The concerns for this system is they require maintenance (cleaning out so the water flows correctly) and also if the soil settles in another area then now the drainage system is not functioning properly.   The final concern is that if not installed correctly, they can hold water or not be installed with a big enough pipe to handle the water and get it out of the area properly.

    Our philosophy is a surface water issue requires a surface water solution.  This allows us to feel that we are providing the client with the most economical solution to their drainage problem.

    If you have any questions about foundation repairs or concerns for a foundation problem, please call us and we will be glad to assist you.

  • What is a J Drain System?

    Some additional questions that I get when working with clients with Drainage Issues is the following:

    What is a J Drain System?

    There are different types of subsurface drainage systems, and this is one of them.
    It is sold as an easier, better french drain system. You dig a trench, install the J drain, and then backfill with the original soils. The concept is that the J drain has more surface area than the pipe at the bottom of the french drain system.
    In looking at how these drains function over time, the following is what we have found. Since the drains are backfilled with the same soil that is removed (yazoo clay), the water does not drain thru the soils. Overtime, the drainage system gets clogged up with clay. We have seen some installed with no discharge pipe or wrong elevations that do not allow the water to drain out properly.
    When you compare a french drain to a J drain, the main thing that stands out to us is the following. A french drain system has more capacity to carry the water because you have to consider the volume of the pipe and voids in the gravel. The drainage system is better protected because there is a commercial grade filter cloth around the entire drain system that helps protect the gravel from the clay. Again, there is more surface area for water to enter the drainage system because the drain is wider. Finally, you can install a clean out on the pipe to check to make sure the drain is functioning properly or cleaned out if needed.
    Sometimes you have to realize that the original way is the best because it has stood the test of time and still working properly.
    If you have any questions about foundation repairs, or concerns for a foundation problem, please call us and we will be glad to assist you.

  • Helical Piles Versus Concrete Push Piles

    Some additional questions that I get when working with clients with Foundation Issues are the following:

    What is the difference in helical piles versus concrete push piers?

    The best way I have learned to explain is we are looking at the difference between a nail and a screw. The push piers are like nails that are being pushed into the ground by the weight of the house, and a helical pile is a bid wood screw that is installed by a hydraulic drive head.

    Since the push pier system uses the weight of the house, there is a concern for the safety factor that you get with the piles (meaning there is not much extra capacity on the piles). Also, the depth of the piles is very dependent on the condition of the soils where the piles are being installed.

    Concrete piles are friction piles, so they use the friction between the soil and the concrete to obtain the strength to support the house. So, if the soils are wet, they can go deeper than if they are dry. Since most settlement occurs during a drought, or when the soils dry out, they are probably not installed as deep as during the wet season. So, the house has potential to move when the soils get wet and loses it friction coefficient.

    As far as a helical, again it is a bid wood screw. Just like a screw, the helical piles, once they are started, actually pull themselves down so they can go deeper than the push piers (since we are not dependent on the weight of the house). We also can use the torque (strength of twisting force) to determine the capacity of the helicals. This also allows us to know what capacity the piles are so we get a higher safety factor to properly support the foundation.

    They are also not dependent on the condition of the soils, so if it is wet or dry we can install the piles thru the soils into the stabile soils. We typically install the helical piles to a depth of 28’. Since the helicals have the ability to be installed deeper, this allows us to get higher capacity piles so we have more safety factor.

    We have installed and tested piles to a depth of 110’ in NOLA and Load Tested Helical Piles in LA for Grain Silos to 245-kip Ult. Capacity (245,000 lbs. or about 5 loaded semi-trucks).

    If you have any questions about foundation repairs or concerns for a foundation problem please call us and we will be glad to assist you.

  • Is There Ever A Need To Lift Your Foundation to a Heave?

    One of the things that concern me the most in performing foundation repairs for the last 15 years is seeing someone recommend lifting a foundation to a heave.

    There is a logical reason why we don’t recommend this as a viable foundation repair technique.

    Let’s start with the science behind the reason.

    What Typically Causes a Heave?

    A heave on a residence is caused by water getting under the building and causing increased moisture content in the soils, which cause the clays to expand. This expansion is like getting a sponge out of the packet and tossing it in water and watching it get bigger. That is the same way that our Yazoo Clays can react with changes in moisture content.

    The remedy for a heave is to address what is causing the increased water content. To do this, you have to start diagnosing to see what the source of water could be. We have seen it range from the following plumbing breaks/drainage/improper construction/other water problems. This can be the hardest part of the repairs.

    After the water problem is addressed, the residence should not continue to heave and over time has the potential to come back down but never to the original elevations. Then you monitor the residence to make sure that the source is found and the residence has calmed down on moving. If this is done, then we can determine if something needs to be corrected/lifted to make the residence blend better and not feel so out of whack.

    What if you do lift to a Heave?

    What if you have used a company that lifted the entire foundation to the heave? The residence will continue to move and they will have to come back and continue to adjust the foundation to the high area that is still moving so you are lifting to a moving target.

    If you have made this mistake, then step back and start looking for the cause of the movement. Once that is determined and corrected, you will monitor the residence to make sure it is stopped moving. If it’s coming down, then you need to continue to wait until it has stabilized. Once it’s stabilized, then if needed, you can call the previous company back to make any adjustments to the existing foundation system.

    If you have any questions about foundation repairs, or concerns for a foundation problem, please call us and we will be glad to assist you.

  • Do All Cracks Mean My Foundation is Settling?

    One of the most common statements that I have gotten in my 15 years of working with clients is:

    I have a crack in my sheetrock or brick, so it must be foundation settlement. Or even better, someone came over and walked around my house and saw a crack in the brick and told me that we need to lift the corner of the residence. (I call them the Crack Jackers)

    We have found that not all cracks mean that your foundation has settled. Just like there are different types of breaks to a bone, there are different types of cracks for different movements of the foundation.

    Well, how can this be determined?

    1). You have to do your due diligence to properly perform a site visit. This includes a sketch of the residence and elevations that can be used to determine what is moving and what isn’t moving at the residence.

    2) You need to note where the cracks area in relationship to the elevations and changes in elevations.

    Using this will allow you to make an assessment of what is happening at the residence. If the cracks and the low area of the foundation are not in the same area, it may not be settlement. If someone is not smart enough to determine this, than they probably don’t need to be working on your foundation because they are probably about to mess it up.

    Finally, if you are not sure what is happening, the best thing to do is to monitor the residence for a period of time, like over a few months to a year, and then compare elevations from past to present.

    This is like looking at your health records from the past year and seeing what changes have happened. Then we really know what is happening.

    This means that you may need to be patient to make sure that you are doing what is best for the situation.

    If you have any questions about foundation repairs or concerns for a foundation problem please call us and we will be glad to assist you.


    One of the most common questions I’ve gotten in the 15 years of working with clients with Foundation Issues is the following:

    What is the best way to properly repair my foundation? We believe the question should be, “what are the things that can be done to make my foundation repairs as permanent as possible?”.

    We have found 2 things that can extend the ability of a foundation repair to last.

    1. Depth is the main key.
    2. Increase the safety factor for the repair system.

    1). Depth is the key.

    We hear people say that we are installing the piles into the bedrock soils. In the Jackson MS area, there is no bedrock. We are on clays that extend from 125’ depth and greater. What we have found in being in business for 50 years is that you have to install the piles into the un-weathered yazoo clay (blue clay). It is called that because clay at that depth has never had water intrusion. Oxygen reacts with the clay so the clay is a baby blue color.

    If you install your piles into this soil layer, the piles are more permanent and are properly supported on a soil that is less likely to shift/ move with the changes in the moisture content of the soils under your foundation.

    If this is the case, then which pile system can we use to reach the necessary depth to underpin, lift and support my foundation?

    1. Hydraulically Pressed Cylinder Piles (Push Piers)

    Image result for nail clip art Hydraulically pressed cylinder piles use the weight of the structure to “push” the cylinders downward.

    Pressed cylinders use skin friction along the exterior of the pile to resist movement, similar to a nail. Once the skin friction is greater than the weight of the structure, the residence begins to lift. Depending on the weight of the structure (1 story or 2 story) and conditions of the soils (wet or dry), the depth that this is achieved varies. To be most effective, the pressed cylinders should be pushed to “refusal”.

    Using the comparison of a hammer and nail. The hammer is the weight of your house and the nail is the concrete cylinder. The heavier your structure the deeper the piles are installed and if the soils are wetter this decreases the skin friction that allows the piles to be installed to a greater depth.

    The concern we have with this system is you cannot control the moisture of the soils and weight of the residence. This can affect the pile depth, and if the piles are not deep enough, the residence could shift when something changes (extreme wet season, drought, change in weight of residence, etc.)

    1. Helical Pier System

    Image result for nail & screw clip art Helical piles resemble a wood screw in that it uses hydraulic drive heads on equipment capable of producing high torque forces to advance the pile into the ground. The piles are constructed in 5’ to 7’ section that connect together to allow the piles to be installed to the desired capacity and depth before a bracket is used to connect the pile to the foundation and the structure is lifted. When properly installed, the helical pile functions like a screw.

    The advantage of a screw pile is that it does not need the weight of anything besides the equipment to be heavy enough to resist the torque of installing the pile. With the proper equipment and materials capacity of helical piles can reach an ultimate capacity of 250 kips (250,000 lbs). The other advantage is that the configuration can be adjusted to achieve the necessary depth and capacity of the piles.

    We recommend a minimum tip depth of 28’ for the Jackson MS Area and maybe more depending on the capacity of the pile that you are installing.

    2) Increase the safety factor

    This is done when the residence is lifted and you create a void under the foundation. The foundation is now supported solely on the foundation system only. We have found that if you fill that area with a soil cement or polyurethane foam, it will bring the foundation back in contact with the soils and thus increases the safety factor, decreasing the chance for a call back on repairs.

    Filling this void also prevents water from getting under the foundation and creating the same issues, or issues in other areas of the residence.

    In working in the Jackson area since 1968, we have found that a deep foundation system to a minimum depth of 28’ and filling the voids after a lift to place the foundation back in contact with the soils, decreases the chance of a call back on our foundation system to less than a 1% chance.

    If you have any questions about foundation repairs or concerns for a foundation problem please call us and we will be glad to assist you.