As Steve Hunter supervised foundation repair work on an east-side home Tuesday, he could see another down the street that he had worked on when his father, John, was the Hunter in Hunter and Son Construction.
“That's when we used to do it by hand,” Steve Hunter said.
It's still hard, physical labor, but today the job is more reliant on technology than ever, including some that Steve Hunter invented.
Hunter said he received a utility patent on a type of steel pier used to lift foundations with the brand name Stabilis three weeks ago.
“That's Latin for stable,” Hunter said.
Hunter Construction was started by Steve's grandfather, Frank, in 1928. It became Hunter and Son when his father joined the business in 1951.
“When my dad took over, he had to buy my grandfather out, and when I took over, I had to buy my dad out,” said Steve Hunter, who did that three years ago.
Hunter said he shares his father's interest in innovation, which is why he started working on the Stabilis piers a decade ago. John Hunter had started a line of piers called Atlas.
“I figured there had to be a better way of doing what we were doing,” Steve Hunter said.
To repair foundations that have settled and shifted, his crews dig holes around a building, then use machinery to drive pilings deep into the earth – an average of 40 feet, Hunter said, though sometimes much deeper – until load-bearing strata are reached.
Charts and gauges tell them exactly how deep the pilings must go to support the building above. The Stabilis pier is a kind of bracket that hooks under the foundation, allowing it to be lifted. Hunter said it's more effective and simpler to use than similar devices.
Hunter said his company has installed about 5,000 Stabilis piers on buildings – homes, schools and commercial and military facilities. Hunter does most of his work in Wichita and around Kansas, though he's done jobs as far away as Los Angeles.
“More than anything, it's just bad soil,” he said of the demand for foundation repair here. “We're still in a drought. Drought really drives this business.”
Soil and subsoil that lack moisture are more likely to shift, causing the structures on them to do the same.
So far, there's not a fourth generation of Hunters working in the company.
For his part, Hunter majored in journalism and marketing at Wichita State University before joining the family business. He said he's put that experience to work by doing things like redesigning the company logo and making a YouTube video about the Stabilis pier that has drawn industry interest from as far away as Australia.