Of all aspects of construction, one of the most important is the foundation. The foundation is not only responsible for solidly supporting a structure in place, but it protects against cold and moisture and should last for many years. Unfortunately, this is not always the case…
Over time, cracks and leaks can occur, soil can shift and water tables can render a once-solid foundation leaky and dangerously unstable. Repairing and restoring foundations requires a very high degree of expertise, the right equipment to handle massive projects and a strict set of safety procedures. Fortunately, Bisson Expert has decades of experience in handling even the most demanding residential and commercial projects.
Bisson Expert is based in Quebec’s historic Saint-Hubert, a borough in the city of Longueuil and is the province’s undisputed foundation expert. Its market is primarily in Montreal – one of the oldest cities in North America – but the company will travel across the province of Quebec and east of Ontario for specific customer demands.
“Our main market has been residential, but with our expertise growing, we also invest in commercial demands,” says Raymond Bisson, president of the company for the past twenty-one years. “We now have a distinct team of engineers and manpower workers dedicated to commercial demands.”
The company was founded by Raymond’s father, Roger, in 1955. At the time, the senior Bisson was engaged in house moving, starting with small wood frame structures and working his way up to heavy masonry buildings. The demand increased in the late 1960s and 1970s, as local expropriations of land to make room for new highways and roads required houses and other structures to be moved and relocated. In time, when budgets for road building ended, the company focused its efforts on house-raising for foundation replacement and foundation repairs.
The company celebrated its sixtieth anniversary in 2015 and continues to lead in professionally-managed residential and commercial foundation services. While operating with the utmost respect to safety, the company determines the cost-effective solution needed for each client. Because it has its own on-site engineering department and machine shop, the company can design and manufacture specialized parts as well as carrying out all required work.
In addition to repairing and replacing foundations, performing basement excavations and lifting and transporting buildings, the company also has years of expertise in underpinning works, excavating under existing buildings to create sub-basements, repairing sagging foundations with patented hydraulic driven piles, commercial roof-raising and slab levelling using micro-piles.
Customers deal with highly-skilled staff and a company that stands proudly behind its work. Of the total 120 dedicated employees, forty work in the company’s offices in sales, accounting, administration, IT and its engineering department. The company is privately-owned by five shareholders, with Raymond holding the majority share. All five are not only owners but actively work full-time in the business.
Bisson Expert typically offers a five-year warranty on most of its services and a twenty-year warranty on foundation underpinning with hydraulic driven piles.
For building owners, the risks of using amateur or unlicensed companies to take on foundation repairs, underpinning, waterproofing and stabilization far outweigh any potential benefits. When it comes to the foundation of a structure, it is critical to work with seasoned professionals who have years of practical and technical knowledge as well as the equipment, machinery, industry partners and safety guidelines and practices to ensure the work is performed professionally, up to code, on time and within budget.
The need for proper foundation construction has been known for hundreds of years. Structures face the same challenges now as they did long ago, such as ground vibrations, water tables, tree roots and unstable soil conditions. Because of the complexity of the work involved, professional estimates must be done to determine the scope of a foundation project and estimate the costs of the work involved, including labour. Improperly done foundation work can be disastrous and result in everything from workers being trapped when the ground collapses to structures shifting and even cracking.
“Bad luck can and does happen,” says Bisson. “Non-licensed, amateur, non-warranted companies can cost the owner his lifetime investment. We are called every year in urgency to secure buildings that have been worked on by amateurs; for many, we call support and salvage, and some are left to be demolished due to the extreme danger of restabilization.”
Among its many services, Bisson Expert provides repair and replacement of existing foundations, structural reinforcement, stabilization and alignment of foundations on steel piles, lifting, moving and transportation of structures, slab upgrades, basement (crawl space) excavation with foundations underpinning, waterproofing and French drain (weeping tile) installation. Another issue, in parts of Quebec, is pyrite removal.
Widely known as ‘fool’s gold’ because it has caused countless prospectors to believe it is the precious yellow metallic element, pyrite (also known as pyrrhotite, or iron sulphide) is anything but foolish across parts of Quebec for many homeowners and businesses whose structures have been affected by the mineral. Pyrite is often found mixed with gravel and used as backfill beneath concrete foundation slabs. Water and oxygen eventually reach the pyrite, causing crystals within the mineral to expand. This leads to concrete foundation slabs heaving and cracking, with a fine white powder emerging from the cracks through a process known as efflorescence. Vapour travels through the concrete, bringing soluble salts to the surface. Worst of all, this can affect the structural integrity of buildings.
Fortunately, clients dealing with Bisson Expert are in the best possible hands. Its staff have decades of combined experience in properly diagnosing foundation issues associated with pyrite such as basement cracks and the presence of white powder. If laboratory tests reveal the backfill has a risk of swelling, they create solutions to remove the existing backfill and any contaminated soil, replace it with crushed stone and create a new concrete slab. Bisson has its own team of qualified engineers and is often asked for professional opinions or design contributions.
“Many areas in the province of Quebec are soil sensitive,” says Bisson. “The Montreal region is mainly clay, which in times of severe drought causes foundation sagging. Quebec City and Gatineau have specific areas also.”
The company has taken on a very wide range of foundation projects over the decades. Among the most challenging were the levelling of the Centre Hospitalier Cloutier Durivage in Three Rivers. “A ten-year-old extension was built to the hospital, and the elevator cage was sagging one inch per year since construction, creating major structural stress on the four levels. With our team of engineers and technicians, we proposed a solution consisting of sinking six hundred piles to bedrock at one hundred feet deep. And, using sophisticated hydraulic equipment, we raised back to level the entire middle section or the hospital. We won the ‘Project of the Year Award’ from the Pile Driving Contractors Association (PDCA), and we were proud to receive our trophy at the annual convention in the US!”
Bisson Expert today has two locations: St. Hubert on the south shore of Montreal (head office) and a regional office in Three Rivers. Together, the sites provide the ability to handle specialised engineering, limited access, hydraulic, supporting, underpinning, specialised excavation, risk management, stress, and danger training projects of all sizes with the utmost professionalism and safety.
“These daily activities are adrenaline for us,” says the company’s President. “All our teams are constantly reminded of the risks and dangers of this line of work. Safety is a constant and daily preoccupation.”
Although it celebrated its sixtieth-anniversary last year, the company is looking to the future. Bisson says the company is developing its commercial division, with plans to open regional offices in the Gatineau area. The company has a vision of growth and expansion, with a secure and solid strategic plan.
“We want to stay in business for another forty years at least,” says Bisson. “Bisson Expert has a distinct human culture, where each employee is encouraged in self-development, learning about his own specific talents and working daily in this zone of pleasure and productivity. Our values are competency, integrity, team working and professionalism.”