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Guidelines for Diagnosing Heave Subsidence and Settlement – DIAGNOSES

Which Way Is It Moving?

Guidelines for Diagnosing Heave, Subsidence and Settlement

Ron Kelm, P.E. | Nicole Wylie, P.E. | Forensic Engineers Inc. | Houston TX |


Who can properly diagnose the type of movement that has occurred?

Only experienced forensic engineers that carry out Level C investigations have a reasonable chance to properly diagnose the movement type. We find others who perform Level A or B investigations tend to misdiagnose the type of movement.

What is a Level C investigation?

In accordance with Section 3.3 of the Foundation Performance Association’s Document No. FPA-SC-13-0, Guidelines for the Evaluation of Foundation Movement for Residential and Other Low-Rise Buildings, published 15 Jul 07 at: , a Level C investigation includes, but is not limited to the following steps:

  • Interview the occupant, owner and/or client, if available, regarding a history of the property and performance of the structure
  • Document visual observations made during a physical walk-through
  • Review pertinent documents including geotechnical reports, construction drawings, field reports, and repair documents
  • Observe factors influencing the performance of the foundation
  • Determine relative foundation elevations to assess levelness and establish a baseline
  • Document locations of large trees and other vegetation
  • Determine whether site drainage issues exist
  • Document the analysis process, data and observations
  • Site specific soil sampling and testing, if applicable
  • Hydrostatic leak test, with leak location and flow test, if applicable
  • Material testing, if applicable
  • Post-tensioning cable testing or steel reinforcing survey, if applicable
  • Aerial photographs to determine prior land usage or construction issues
  • Observations of cut and fill

If the client requests a report, it should contain the following as a minimum:

  • Scope of services
  • A list of the reviewed documents
  • Description of factors that affect soil moisture
  • Observations
  • Scaled drawings
  • Site photographs
  • Survey elevation plan
  • Detailed phenomena plan
  • Results from any testing done as part of the investigation
  • Discussion of factors identified as influencing the foundation performance and rationale in reaching opinions concerning the foundation
  • Conclusions and recommendations for further investigation, remediation, or preventative measures

Why is monitoring used?

A single site visit provides only a snapshot of the foundation’s condition. Only by making more than one site visit to document distress and foundation elevation changes can an engineer determine whether a foundation continues to move. If monitoring is pursued it should follow the procedures outlined in the Foundation Performance Association’s Document No. FPA-SC-12-0, Guidelines for Evaluating Foundation Performance by Monitoring, published 9 Jan 06 at:

By correlating time-change elevations with events such as climate, change in drainage patterns, distress observations, etc., it is possible to correctly ascertain the direction of movement even when an interior datum is used. When an external deep benchmark is available, it becomes easier to determine the direction of movement. Monitoring is also used to determine when heave has ended so that repairs to the superstructure can be made.


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