Decorative Soil Nail Plates Used To Support Retaining Wall
A recent experience in my ever evolving and changing career as an independent consultant brought me back to an article that I wrote in 2017.
This current piece is an expansion of those thoughts accumulated over a 25 year career and the impressions observed 6 years ago continuing to the present day. This recent unpleasant experience has made me appreciate more the advanced education and training that I have received from the engineering community as well as top business professionals, clients, referral partners, and work-related relationships that I have built up in my network over the years.
Foundation Repair Skills Level Has Gotten Worse
Unfortunately, the situation for the public has certainly not improved. If anything, the situation has deteriorated and gotten much, much worse. With the introduction of Covid-19 into the general public realm a serious situation is beginning to develop in the foundation repair trade discipline. In Charlotte, North Carolina as with many cities and regions of the country, Trade disciplines are in a steep decline with an ever-increasing shortage of qualified personnel available to fill production teams, sales teams, and especially, operational management teams in the foundation repair arena. Over the last 3 years during the pandemic, there has been a cascade of manufacturer driven corporate buy outs of small to mid-size companies located along the East Coast of the United States, as well as the Southeast and Gulf Coast regions. This in return is creating a mass exodus of experienced business owners, sales people, and/or key experienced employees and production people into early retirement. And they are not being replaced. There are now fewer and fewer experienced, independent, family-owned operations left in the various markets for the public to utilize. And they are getting harder to find. Discussions with fellow remaining experienced colleagues and professionals left in the industry all migrate to the same discussion and conclusions with the grim reality of finding, training, and retaining experienced, motivated, and/or qualified personnel to take on key leadership positions inside the companies. The most serious shortage in personnel is in the ranks at the Forman / Superintendent level in the field. It is nearly impossible to find qualified candidates with experience, with valid driver’s licenses, or that can pass criminal background checks, and/or pass insurance required drug testing. Some companies are so desperate to fill the rolls of production teams they are now hiring ex-cons. As that is all they can find willing to do the work. Even more troubling is the majority of the new business owners, sales managers and operations managers for these larger consolidated companies are new to the trade. And a finance degree does not make one an expert in the trades. Ever. Many have little to no industry experience in construction in the first place, yet are given a free hand in developing key internal systems, training, sales strategy, and policy decisions without a real grass roots understanding of the complexity of the industry as a whole. They do not understand or process important industry challenges at a 3-dimensionall level and often make two dimensional, linear decisions due to lack of experience. Even worse, an almost elitist arrogance persists with management teams by failing to listen to experienced sales and operations people if available, production personnel, and/or the customers themselves. If anything, the most experienced employees are driven out of the company and replaced with inexperienced personnel as they are easier to control and/or work for cheaper salaries. Perhaps both. A huge disconnect can and often develops. These corporate “officers” are nothing more than privileged elitists, taking in large compensation packages while contributing little to nothing to the bottom line and/or maintaining the quality, morale, and/or the development of new ideas, processes, product lines and/or services. And it is assured that none of them have ever worked in the field or performed and inspection on a building. Ever. There is no creativity and/or out of the box thinking in problem solving. And common sense is becoming non-existent industry wide. More of a franchisee based “copycat” formula with a top-heavy management model with one franchisee copying another facilitating a general race of mediocrity and failure right to the bottom. The employees see this linear mentality developing in the management teams quickly creating toxic cultures and resentment quietly manifesting and brewing inside the ranks of the company from within with quality standards dropping and morale slipping away like a fog into the endless abyss. And the general public being clueless for the most part in having no idea of what danger they are really in by failing to do enough detailed research ultimately blindly choosing to work with the wrong company for such expensive and critical repairs. It is literally the wild west all over again.
It takes at least 10 years to be a qualified production Forman in the foundation repair trade. An apprenticeship being the most effective way to gain field experience under a seasoned expert that has 20 plus years of experience or more. The industry has changed drastically over the last 25 years and certainly the quality of the work installed in general has changed as well. Manufacturer manipulation thru corporate franchising has flooded the market with a variety of products and services related to foundation repair. A new manufacturer appears to “pop up” each quarter attempting to cash on what they see as the lucrative franchisee market. A Manufacturer / Franchisee relationship encourages the franchisee to couple a model of aggressive, expansive growth into the matrix. These companies wish to have multiple production crews out in the field at all times to increase profit margins. No matter what the training levels and quality standards are. Production managers put a large amount of pressure on production teams to make unrealistic timelines. Yet, there may be only 1 of the crews on staff that have been properly trained or even possess any real field experience at all. So, the customer in return takes all of the risk. Short cuts are encouraged, discoveries ignored, applications and means errors recommended, while poor decisions get made in the field to achieve production bonuses. And the mistakes can and do occur on a regular basis. We see it all the time in our inspections in the field. Turnover rates in these same production teams are a constant issue. Installation and sales teams are now showing up on inspections and job sites with less than 3 months experience which is now quite common place throughout the industry. The franchisee will often use expensive corporate on-line and/or in person seminars to train sales and production people quickly. This is done hastily, usually being completed within 3-7 days with the general basic’s platform being introduced, but with little to no emphasis on field training to apply to those applications in real world scenarios and/or the development of those key common-sense problem-solving skills needed in the field to resolve unforeseen conditions that we call “discoveries”. And you do not get that training in a tech manual or training seminar. Ever. Only years and decades of extensive field experience. As a seasoned colleague in the industry has said to me constantly, “You can’t teach experience” so the recipe for making critical mistakes is obvious using this problematic corporate model commonly used today. Unfortunately, the manufacturer and supporting training facilities may be located thousands of miles away across the country or perhaps even overseas with absolutely no knowledge and/or understanding of the local construction techniques, construction styles, local code requirements, and/or the soils that these buildings are constructed on. This creates errors from a design, and applications and means perspective. Homeowners need to be aware of these important issues and have a better understanding of how to navigate this terrain when choosing a potential foundation repair contractor to work with. The very success of the project may depend on it.
The most important step a homeowner can make is to hire an independent, local structural engineer to inspect the property first before getting any contractor bids. The engineer will perform the onsite inspection and write up a plan of repair that all bidders are required to follow. The link below shows an example of a qualified, local structural engineering firm in the Charlotte, North Carolina market that we have worked with for 15 years developing projects.
As with all decisions homeowners should do extensive research on the contractor in question. How long have they been in business? Has the company been bought out recently? Do they still honor the old warranties? What is the overall experience level in the production teams? Talk to someone in production if possible. Find out how long the job Forman’s’ have been doing the work in the field. And verify what is reported with 3rd party verification from the local engineering community. Check on line reviews with google and always look at the BBB tutorials and ratings as well as Angie’s List, Yelp, and/or other on-line sources of information. The top 5 companies that show up on a google search may have many reviews, a nice website with a glossy brochure, but in actuality, have very little actual real experience in foundation repair. Be aware that franchisees hire commissioned based sales teams to perform the onsite evaluations. They are not professionally trained consultants. These same sales people may have never worked in the construction trades, and/or have little to no understanding of how homes are put together. They are there to sell something. Plain and simple. The sales person is compensated between 10-15% of the contract value once the contract is signed. This can create disingenuous activity. These same commissioned based sales people are taught high pressure sales techniques in training modules and attempt to convince the customer to make an onsite decision right away by applying fear tactics, strategic discounting and/or in house financing options as a hook to move forward with the work without competitive bidding. Never make any decisions on the initial site visit. Always look at several companies and ask a lot of questions about credentials. Over the last two decades many waterproofing companies have also jumped into the foundation repair arena. This can also be franchisee driven. Water proofers are not foundation repair experts. They are good at waterproofing. They tend to have a more linear understanding and approach to the foundation repair industry and this allows for critical mistakes to be made. The more complex the job, the higher the risk for installation challenges. It is better for homeowners to use companies that specialize in foundation repair, and can prove the advanced level of competence and experience in the production teams. At least 10 years of installation experience is a plus. It is also more advantageous to use Independent non-commissioned based consultants for site evaluations instead of in house commissioned based sales people.
Foundation Repair can be a scary and stressful exercise. The most important thing to do is not panic. If foundation settlement, interior wall cracks, cracks in the masonry, and/or rocking or deflecting concrete is observed on the home and/or adjacent retaining walls, you will require more information on the following topics:
- Installation of a Deep Foundation
- Installation of Helical Piers
- Installation of Micropiles
- Pressure Grouting / Mud Jacking
- Soil Injection Grouting
- Foam Injection
- Basement Wall and/or Retaining Wall Repair
- Carbon Fiber Reinforcement
- Installation of Soil Nail Retaining Systems
- Limited Access Drilling
- Installation of Helical Tie-Backs
- Installation of Rock Anchor Retaining Systems
- Crack Repairs
- Masonry Repairs
- Spall Repairs
For additional information on these topics please feel free to contact us directly for more information about your symptoms as well as discussing the most qualified contractor and/or engineer to work with on your project. The foundation repair professionals in our network are completely independent with no affiliation with franchisees. This allows for independent diagnosis and analysis that objectifies the process and allows the customer to potentially save thousands of dollars on the overall project. We are here to help!