Meet: Structural Engineer Mike Montgomery
To Michael Montgomery of Buyers Protection Group, an inspection by a structural engineer does more than help people avoid unnecessary or misdiagnosed repairs: It helps them be good stewards of their money.
The only dedicated structural engineer at BPG, which also offers home inspections, Montgomery brings 20 years of experience in construction to his work diagnosing what causes bowed walls, wet basements, cracks in foundations, termite damage, and other structural problems with houses people want to buy or want to sell.
All too often, he says, people call specialized contractors who advertise their services fixing specific problems. But their expertise is doing the work, he says, not identifying what work needs to be done.
“What I really like is keeping people out of trouble,” he says. “I see myself as a consumer advocate.” One former client had paid a contractor to fix two walls — but they were the wrong two walls. Another had received a $12,000 bid from a contractor to dig around and reinforce his foundation, when the real trouble required a repair that cost less than $200. Another wanted to fix cracks in her foundation before putting her house on the market, and got a bid of more than $13,000. Mike’s diagnosis: a $600 repair.
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Most of the time the problem isn’t unscrupulous contractors, Montgomery says, but people who do only one or two kinds of work and propose to do it for everyone who calls. “A bid from a contractor just describes the work they will do, it doesn’t assure you it’s the work that needs to be done,” he says. “If you were sick, would you ask the doctor what was wrong, or the drug rep?”
BPG’s inspectors help sellers identify any problems that need to be fixed, and help buyers find out if they want to purchase a property at all. Owner Bob Becker says most structural problems in Ohio Valley homes are caused by the hard clay soil, which expands when the weather gets hot and dry. “If the foundation isn’t deep enough, you get movement,” he says, and that movement eventually causes cracks, bowing, or other problems.
Shallow basements, age, and natural damage from water and insects cause common problems in older homes, he says. In newer homes, modern construction materials can mean different problems. “Switching from heavyweight cinder blocks to hollow cinder blocks, and from masonry to a wooden frame with cladding, caused a lot of structural problems. The weight of the old materials would hold back pressure from the soil,” he explains. Typical problems from newer construction include bulging walls and heavy cracks.
According to Montgomery, another common difficulty homeowners face is that grading and other problems outside a home are often misdiagnosed as problems with the house’s foundation. One of his most memorable cases was another “after the fact” consultation from homeowners who had spent $10,000 to have the back wall of their garage reinforced, only to have it continue to bow. The problem wasn’t with the house, it was with pressure from the driveway, which was in turn being pressed toward the house by the street was laid out. “A parallel cut across the driveway with a concrete saw would have cost less than $300 and solved the problem” by relieving the pressure, he says.
An engineering inspection costs $295, and for an additional fee Mike will provide design plans property owners can use to bid out repairs. Spending money up front, he says, can save tens of thousands of dollars later. That’s where good stewardship comes in.
A member of St. Ignatius parish in Montfort Heights (OH), Montgomery understands how important it is for families to contribute to their churches, parishes, and charities. “Using your income well means being able to take care of your family and have money for the needs of the church and the poor,” he says.
And you can’t do that if you’ve paid thousands of dollars for repairs you don’t need, or you buy a house that needs repairs you didn’t know about.
For information about how to get a engineering inspection from BPG, click here.
Photos by the author and courtesy Mike Montgomery at Buyers Protection Group.