August 31, 2016 - ?
When I was working on the rock
walls on the east side of the house during
Jan - Feb, 2015, there was a section of the
wall that looked like it was tilting over.
I attributed this to what I thought was the
erosion of rock at the base of the wall.
This erosion being caused by rain water from
the roof hitting this area for a few decades.
Area of rock wall that looked like it was
falling over. Photo taken Dec 29, 2014.
wall being repaired, Jan 20, 2015
wall being repaired, Jan 20, 2015
wall being repaired, Jan 27, 2015
wall repair completed. Photo taken Feb 5, 2015
During the spring and summer of this year
(2016), I saw it
for what it actually was. The wall is being
pushed over by the land next door.
cracking on rock wall. Photo taken Aug 10 2016
also along lower section of rock wall. Photo taken Aug
Earlier in the year, I noticed
the comings and goings of plumbers and other
contractors at this neighbor's home. I asked
the owner of this property what was going on.
In broken English, I managed to discover that they
had water that kept coming out of the ground in
their crawl space. They did not know where the
water was coming from.
During a second conversation, a couple months later,
I further discovered that they were "told" that the
water table was below their property and they needed
to install a sump pump, to remove the water.
Now.... the whole water table thing does make sense
in a way. El Paso does sit on top of a huge aquifer
that straddles the border with Mexico.
However, our property is lower and we have never had
any water in our crawl space. No damp ground.
No water issues. Then again, there could be some
rock formations beneath our property that are
blocking the water. I don't know. I am
not going to hire a geologist or a structural engineer
to find this all out.
Did the neighbor install the sump pump like they
were told? Hell no! What happens to all
of the water? It gathers under their house and
is now pushing on a section of a retaining rock
wall, that is next to a cement slab on my
property.........that is now pushing that slab into
the side of my house.
I did notice the rock wall
cracking. I figured, no problem. Easily
repaired. Until, about a month ago. I went to
open a gate on this side of the house and it was
sticking at the upper latch side. Making it hard to
open. In eighteen years, we have NEVER had a
problem with this gate. In fact, we had to
make sure it was closed and latched to keep it from
banging open in the wind.
Bricks pushed in at bottom of gate post
Gate that is now sticking
I looked up and down the gate to
figure out what was going on. At the bottom of
the gate the bricks had shifted. Which means,
the post attached to the wall had moved outwards at the bottom
making the top of the post lean inwards toward the
Which means the gate was now sticking at the upper
edge of the latch side.
I then looked along the brick wall below the kitchen
window on this side of the house and noticed some
new cracks that had appeared. It was then that
I realized that what was happening to the rock wall
was now also pushing on the cement slab next to the
house causing the mortar and bricks to form cracks.
My husband questioned this theory. I reminded
him that the bricks on the outside of the house are
attached to a wood frame on top of the cinder block
foundation. With enough force, a slab of
concrete could easily start pushing in the bricks on
the outside of a wood frame.
There already existed a few places where there were
cracks in the mortar. This happens over time.
I had filled these cracks while I was working on the
rock walls. No classic foundational stair
step cracks in this location. Just some areas
were the mortar had weakened. So I knew that
all of the cracks I now saw, were all
cracks that had appeared under kitchen window across
from rock wall. White lines following cracks
continuation of photo above. Area under where
hose was stored.
crack on side of kitchen window sill that appeared
sometime between Aug 23 - Aug 27, 2016
Profile of area
Profile showing damage
I could hire a structural engineer to come and do a
study of the foundation. Yea, right. Fat
chance of finding one of these critters in El Paso
to do this for a little old lady's house at a
reasonable rate. In fact, there are very few
in El Paso period.... and none of them returned my
I went to my computer and searched on the web for
others in the world who have had the same type of
problem. More specifically I was looking for
information where a wall was pushing a cement slab
into the side of a house. I wanted to know how
the problem was solved. What steps were taken?
Who helped them correct the problem? Type of contractor?
If there is anyone else out there with this specific
problem, it is not on the web. I could not
find anything like this specific problem. I
did find a lot of retaining walls failing.
did find street or sidewalk creep referring to slab
movement. But not a wall pushing a slab of
concrete into the side of a house.
The next step was to figure out some options to keep
the side of my house from becoming damaged any
Here are some of the
options I came up with:
1) The obvious thing is
for the neighbor to install a sump pump and remove
the hydrostatic pressure. Trying to explain
the importance of doing this to the next door
neighbor is pointless. It would not be understood
and if it was, ignored.
2) Repair the rock wall. Unless the
pressure is removed, this would be pointless.
3) Tear down the existing rock wall on this
section and build a stronger wall (cinder blocks,
with rebar, filled with concrete, etc). OK...
this would work, but who is going to pay for this?
The wall is a two party wall. It lies on the
property line. Each home owner is responsible
for their half of the wall. I would be willing
to pay for half of a stronger wall, but they would
4) Build another wall on my property
against the side of
the failing rock wall. Since the second wall
would be on my property I would have to pay for it.
BUT, in the long run, who's property am I
supporting?.......Theirs. So I would be paying
all that money for an additional supporting wall that benefits
them. Forget that!
All of the options above, dealt with the wall.
What about my cracking mortar and bricks on my
house??? This is where I needed to shift my
thinking to damage control. A damaged house
foundation would cost a heck of a lot more to repair
than a rock wall.
As far as I could tell, the cracked mortar and
bricks on the house were being caused by the cement
slab being pushed into it. All of the cracking
was directly across the area where the rock wall is
A simple solution to fix this, was to
release the pressure of the cement slab against the
house. How would I do this? Cut it.
What if I cut a trench right through the cement
slab? As far as I could tell, this slab of
cement is just that. A slab of cement.
It is not connected to the foundation of the house,
it just butts up against it.
1) Cut the cement slab to release the pressure
against the house. Wait a couple of months to
see what happens. If the cracking of the
mortar and bricks stops, then I have solved the
problem with the cracking.... for a nominal cement
cutting fee. Much cheaper than repairing the
foundation of the house. I can easily fill the
new cracks that have appeared on the brick wall myself.
2) As for the rock wall.....wait and see what
happens. If the whole wall falls over, it is
obvious who is to blame for this. The
neighbor's property. They will now have to pay
for the entire wall to be replaced. If I am
forced to repair the wall and remove the debris on
my property myself, they will be sued. If they
don't pay, I will have their wages garnished.
I know where the couple works.
3) If the wall stands, but still shows signs
of pressure and failure....and the neighbor's are
willing to play nice... AND install a sump pump to
relieve the water pressure AND agree to a stronger
retaining wall, I am willing to pay for 50% of the
Step One - Cut the
Concrete - Remove the Pressure on the House
Instead of contacting contractors
that did general cement work, I looked specifically
for contractors who's specialty is cutting cement.
The first company I contacted on Aug 29, 2016 in El
Paso was JMR Demolition. I was told that my
job was too small for them.
They referred me to
El Paso Concrete Cutters.
I spoke with their estimator David Leyva.
David came by to do the estimate on Aug 30, 2016.
A few hours later he provided me with an estimate of
$250 to cut a 14 foot long trench, one foot wide on
the cement slab. Whether this is a good price
or not, I don't know. I just got paid and
compared to foundation repair that can run into the
thousands of dollars and the peace of mind I would
have from doing "something" about the
cracking, whether it worked or not.....$250 seemed
like a good deal. The work was scheduled the
I decided on a 12 inch wide trench with some
thought. If I made a trench of only a couple
of inches wide and this closed up, I would have to
cut again. At 12" it would take a while for it
to close up, if it ever did. I would also need
to cover or fill the trench. After looking
around on the web, there were more 12 inch wide
options for materials than other sizes.
Aug 31, 2016 - Antonio and
Fernando from El Paso Concrete Cutters showed up
around 8:30 am this morning. Before they
had arrived, I went out to the slab to decide where the
cut would be. I decided to make the cut two
feet from the rock wall. I wanted to keep any
footer for the rock wall intact.
The first thing they did was chalk their cutting lines.
(l) and Fernando (r) chalking cut lines
They wanted to use their larger
cutter for the cut, but the side gate was too narrow
to get the equipment through. They had to use
the hand held cement cutter.
finished in the cement
making the cuts in the concrete, they jack
hammered the cement into chunks that were
The concrete they removed was only four
inches thick. There was no rebar, no
screens. The cement slab was placed
straight on top of the soil.
The soil underneath the cement was bone dry.
No signs of moisture even though El Paso has
had a couple weeks of off-and-on rain.
The cement chunks were all removed and the
area cleaned up.
When they left I replaced my tree bed edges and swept the area good removing
some smaller chunks of concrete they missed.
Jack hammer to break up cement
chunks being removed
area cleaned up
Measurement of trench. Photo documented to monitor
any possible movement
I also took measurements of the trench.
This way I can monitor if there are any
movements of the cement slabs.
Whether cutting the cement or not
was a big mistake, time will tell. The down side of
this, is that I now have a trench in the middle of
what was a sound piece of concrete. Not a
big problem, the trench can be filled again with
concrete. In the meantime, I will fill or
cover it with something. When I do, I will add
a picture to this page.
When something else happens to the side of the house
or the rock wall, I will update this page.
Sep 2, 2016 -
I came up with a temporary solution to
covering the trench, until I do something
more permanent.....and I did not have to buy
I had a bunch of these little plastic garden
fences that were taking up 1/4 of my shelf
space in my backyard storage shed. I
did not have any future plans for them.
So I cut them up on my table saw and made a
grid cover over the trench.
Plastic garden fence
NO, you cannot stand on them.
Yes, they can easily be kicked out
I cut one set a little smaller and
placed them on the bed of the
trench. The second layer is
laying on top of the cement edges of
I still need to get a few pavers for
the step edge to keep the soil in
place. You can see the light
colored soil that ran out during
some recent rains in the lower right
corner of the picture to the right.
Two layers of plastic fencing
Temporary trench cover
To be continued.....if....when....