The Rhetoric Of Foundation Reports

The Rhetoric Of Foundation Reports

By rhetoric, I am referring to the words and phrasing used in many engineering foundation performance reports. Why is this important? Simply this: these reports can be easily misread and misunderstood if you do not understand the rhetoric.

Should engineering reports be written so anyone can understand them?

Now I know what you are thinking: why not just write these reports in simple language that anyone can understand? The main reason is that any foundation report will almost certainly have several audiences, some of which you have probably never thought of and some that have the legal authority to put the engineer out of business for good.

Here are some examples: other engineers, foundation repair contractors, real estate agents, other sellers / buyers, lawyers, trial judges, appellate judges, Texas Board of Professional Engineers (TBPE) staff members and board members.

Consider this: An engineer makes a foundation performance assessment for a buyer. During the inspection, the engineer notes that the pool decking is sloped so that it creates a drainage issue for the foundation. The buyer tells the engineer not to out that into the report because it has already been addressed with the seller and to mention it in the report would just make an angry seller even more angry. Under the TBPE rules that the engineer is legally required to follow, the engineer has no choice but to not mention the drainage issue in the report.

Now imagine that the buyer decides, for whatever reason, to not buy the house and another buyer’s offer is accepted. Since the seller knows of the previous engineering report, he or she is legally required to disclose the report to the new buyer. The new buyer reads the report and concludes that there is nothing wrong with the foundation. Of course, what he or she did not read is wording to the effect that anyone other that the client is not authorized to rely on the report.


An irregularity is simply something that is not normal. It might be a slight bow in a wall, a door frame that is slightly out of square, a cracked tile, a roof ridge that is not straight, level and true, a noticeable slope in a floor or ceiling or any of thousands of other things where something just does not look or fit right.

Every house has some irregularities, even those with very high price tags. Most irregularities are cosmetic, meaning they affect only the appearance of the house. Some are more serious or could lead to serious repairs if not corrected in a timely manner. For the most part, irregularities fall into one or more of the following categories.


The term distress is used to describe an irregularity that is minor and has no clear cause. A sagging rafter could be an example. Wall board that bulges slightly outward with no obvious cause would be another.


This term refers to an irregularity that is more severe that distress. Sheetrock or wall board that is fractured is an example. Anytime something is broken and not just stressed, it is generally fair to say that it is damaged.


Deterioration is a special type of damage; it is damage that is due to the passage of time. Wood frame structures of all kinds are subject to sagging over time through a process called creep. Wood and wood products that come in touch with water or moisture and rot over time is another example. Another example is the grout that covers the ends of post-tensioning cables. The grout is exposed to the weather and will deteriorate until it must be regrouted.

What certain phrases mean

This report is a preliminary report

So what is a preliminary report? If is just what it says: preliminary, meaning subject to change if new facts are brought to light.

Not based on any codes

This phrase is often used to make it clear that the inspection is not a code inspection. ideri

No warranties or guarantees

All any engineer can do is give you an unbiased, independent opinion as to the performance of the foundation.

Other professionals may hold different opinions

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