Surprisingly, foundation settlement problems are very common. Why? Well, mainly because buildings are heavy and many types of soils beneath their foundations have poor load-bearing capability.
How It Happens
Your home rests on multiple layers of soil; each with it’s own thickness, density, and load-bearing characteristics. Some of these soils were placed by wind, water, or glaciers over thousands of years. Others layers were brought in by contractors as your home was being built to create a level resting surface for your foundation. Settlement occurs when these layers of soil under your foundation can no longer support the weight of the home. There are three main reasons why this happens.
1. Drying & Shrinking Soils
Drought: When there are prolonged dry periods, the soil around your home can dry out and shrink significantly. As this happens, your foundation will settle downwards which may lead to structural damage.
- Maturing Trees: If the branches of maturing trees extend over your home, it’s probable their root systems have spread under your foundation. As these extensive root systems draw up hundreds of gallons of water each day, the soil begins to dry up and shrink.
2. Wetting & Softening Of Soil
Heavy Rain & Flooding: When clay soils come in contact water, they act as a sponge soaking it up. When the amount of water is excessive, the soil becomes very soft, which is bad for it’s load-bearing ability. In turn, heavy objects such as your home, sidewalk or patio will sink down into the soft soil.
- Poor Drainage: If your home has poor soil grading, or clogged gutters, water is unable to drain. The soils will then absorb the water as it begins to “pond” around your home. If the soils are clay, then they will soften over time, and the home may sink.
- Plumbing Leaks & Broken Water Lines: Similar to poor drainage, when there are plumbing leaks under or around your home, the soils will begin to saturate the excess water. As this happens, the soils will become soft which weakens their load-bearing capacity.
3. Poorly Compacted Fill Soil
When your home is being built; to make a level surface for your foundation, builders may bring in loose soil from another location, using it to fill in the hollow or depressed areas. This recently excavated “fill” soil is much looser and lighter than the dense, hard-packed soils already present. To compensate, the builder must compact the fill soil before placing a foundation on top. If this compaction isn’t done, or done improperly, the weight of your home may cause the soil to compress, leading to foundation settlement issues.
How Foundation Settlement Damages Your Home
When a foundation settles, sections of the structure will shift unevenly and eventually break, causing cracks. These broken sections of foundation will start to drift, or “rotate,” which only furthers the damage creating larger or more uneven cracks. A foundation with serious settlement damage may have tilting chimneys, jamming doors or windows, bulging walls and uneven floors. You may even find cracks in drywall, stucco, and other finishing elements inside the home. If the issue is not corrected right away, pests may find their way through the cracks, leading to infestations. The damage will never stop and only get worse over time.
Common Symptoms of Foundation Settlement
- Tilting or cracked chimneys
- Horizontal or stair-step cracks along walls
- Leaning, bowing or bulging walls
- Uneven floors above crawlspace
- Sagging or bouncy floors
- Doors and windows that won’t shut/open
- Cracks along windows & door openings
- Seeping water or dirt in basement
- Tilting or cracked chimneys
- Concrete slabs that have cracked & shifted (garage, sidewalk, patio)
- Warping of hardwood or uneven wear marks in carpet
- Floor tiles lifting or cracking
- Standing water around perimeter of home
- Cracked brick on a building exterior
- Sunken or shifted exterior precast stairway
Foundation Underpinning: (Helical Piers & Posts)
Often referred to as “piering,” this technique involves driving steel piers, (either helical or standard “push” piers) into the earth beneath a settled foundation until they reach solid, stable soil or bedrock. A bracket at the top of each pier connects to the foundation, which enables the installer to raise and stabilize the settled masonry. Underpinning is extremely effective for raising settled foundation walls and slabs.
This technique involves injecting a “geotechnical” foam into loose or weak soil which then expands to consolidate, stabilize and improve the soils load-bearing characteristics. Sometimes this method is used in combination with underpinning but by itself, polymer injection is an effective technique for raising settled sidewalks, walkways and concrete slabs.
Grout Pumping: (Mudjacking)
Often referred to as “mudjacking,” this technique involves pumping a liquid concrete, (slurry) into voids beneath settled concrete. Grout pumping can be used to raise sunken sidewalks and slabs, or to fill voids left after raising a settled foundation with piers.
If you recognize one of the symptoms listed above, it’s crucial to call a foundation repair expert rather than a general contractor. You want someone who is best-equipped to repair foundation settlement damage. Unlike general contractors who suggest demolishing and then reconstructing damaged masonry, a foundation repair expert has the ability to raise settled foundations and close settlement cracks without demolishing walls and slabs. These types of nondestructive repairs are faster, more cost-effective, and less disruptive to your daily life!
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You can rely on a Foundation Technology expert to determine the severity of your foundation damage and recommend a proper course of action.