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Q: We have a Victorian house that has a stone foundation that appears to be crumbling. The foundation is about 18 inches high. What do you recommend about repairing or replacing the foundation, and which is the best way to get estimates? - F. Longfellow

A: Although there is a good possibility that the existing stone foundation can be "capped," or encased in new steel and concrete, chances are that because you list your address as Napa, Calif., in earthquake country, the safest way to proceed would be to replace the stone with a new concrete and steel foundation.Contrary to popular belief, 50 percent of the time a home doesn't need to be torn down in order to replace the foundation. And if the job is performed by someone who does this kind of work routinely, the level of disruption can be surprisingly mild.

While replacing the foundation is more costly than capping it, the costs to repair damage that your home could sustain from an inadequate foundation could easily be tenfold.

The best place to start is with an inspection of the existing stone foundation by a licensed structural engineer. He or she will examine the condition of the stone, mortar, surrounding soil and any anchoring devices that may exist, and will provide recommendations with respect to its repair or replacement.

Your best bet in locating a contractor to perform this work is to get recommendations from others in your community who have had this type of work performed. You can also seek referrals from engineers, architects, trade associations like the National Association of the Remodeling Industry or even from contractors who don't specialize in this kind of work but who know of someone that does.