Is That Normal Settling, or Does Your Home Need Foundation Repair?

August 28, 2020

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The thought that a home might need foundation repair can be upsetting to many homeowners, as this work is sometimes a bit costly and not always covered by your homeowner’s insurance. However, investing in foundation repair keeps that house in good condition and structurally safe. It’s also vital to note that not all foundation damage is as serious as homeowners assume, and your home might only need some patching or cosmetic repairs!

The size of foundation cracks determines if your home needs repairs; if those cracks are more than a quarter inch deep and a few inches long, you’ll need patching or underpinning. Interior wall and ceiling cracks, an uneven floor, and gaps between walls also indicate needed foundation repair and not just normal settling.

Every homeowner should become familiar with signs of foundation damage and needed repair, as well as its common causes. Knowing how to prevent foundation damage and when it’s time to call a foundation repair company near you ensures your home is always safe and in good condition.

What is Foundation Settling?

Foundation settling is the downward movement of a foundation or supporting structure, often caused by soil settlement. This occurs when the soil underneath the foundation can no longer support the weight of the structure. This can lead to cracking, settling, and even total collapse of the foundation if left unchecked. There are several factors that can contribute to foundation settling, including poor drainage, excessive rainfall, and overloaded foundations. In some cases, it may be necessary to excavate around the foundation and install additional support to prevent further settling.

How Much Foundation Settling is Normal?

There is no definitive answer to this question since it can vary depending on a number of factors, such as the type of foundation, the soil conditions, and the weight of the building.

However, settlement of between 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch over the course of a year is generally considered normal. If you are concerned that your foundation is settling more than this, you may want to consult a professional to assess the situation. If left unaddressed, large amounts of foundation settlement can eventually lead to serious structural problems.

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It’s also helpful to know a bit more about various foundation repair methods, so you better understand your options and can make the right choice for your property. You can then better discuss suggested foundation repair methods with your contractor and invest in what’s best for your home’s overall condition.

Foundation Settling vs Foundation Problems

Most homeowners only think about their home's foundation when there is a problem. It's important to be proactive about foundation care and understand the basics of how your foundation works and know how to determine if you have minimal settlement or problems.

Foundation settlement is when your home's foundation sinks into the ground. This can happen for a variety of reasons, including soil expansion and contraction, poor drainage, and even tree roots. Foundation problems occur when there are structural issues with your home's foundation, such as cracks or uneven settling.

If serious problems go untreated, they can lead to your home becoming structurally unsound and unsafe. So, it's important to be able to identify the early signs of foundation problems so you can seek professional help before the situation gets worse.

Here are some common signs that you may have foundation problems:

  • Cracks in your walls, floors, or ceilings
  • Gaps around doors or windows
  • Uneven or sloping floors
  • Sagging or bowing walls
  • Water damage in your basement or crawlspace

If you're not sure if you have foundation settlement or problems, it's important to have a professional inspection. They will be able to determine the severity of the issue and recommend the best course of action.

Does Your Home Need Foundation Repair?

Not all foundation cracks need repairs, as some minor cracking is actually normal and doesn’t indicate structural damage. Water leaks, age, and poor-quality drywall installation can also lead to interior wall and ceiling cracks so these also don’t necessarily indicate foundation damage. To know when your home needs foundation repair, note some vital information about foundation damage and signs it’s time to call a foundation repair company near you.

  • Foundation damage usually leads to a home settling and sinking along one side; in turn, the home actually becomes a bit lopsided! When this occurs, interior and entryway doors, including cupboard doors, no longer hang evenly in their doorjamb, so they might then stick or refuse to stay closed.
  • As window frames also shift along with a home, they become slightly crooked. Window panes then might stick or become very difficult to open or close.
  • When a home settles along one side, walls tend to separate from each other or the ceiling above. You might notice cracks and gaps in corners and crevices, or see crown molding separate from the wall.
  • Basement wall cracks extending from the floor to the top of the wall, or at least several inches in length, signal severe foundation damage and the need for repairs.
  • As a foundation shifts and weakens, this puts undue pressure on basement walls which might then bow or buckle. If you notice your home’s basement walls seem less then level and even, it’s time to call a foundation repair contractor.
  • As foundation cracks allow moisture into a home, don’t overlook a damp basement and especially standing water! Some homeowners assume that basements are always just damp and unpleasant but this often indicates severe foundation cracking and the need for repairs.
  • Moisture seeping in from a damaged foundation can then make its way into the living areas of a home. If you notice an overly humid interior and have checked for roof leaks and damaged insulation, it’s time to check for potential foundation damage!
  • Standing water especially tends to get musty and dirty, creating unpleasant odors. You might not see that water or notice excessive dampness in the basement; however, if you notice a musty or moldy smell in the home, it’s time to check for plumbing leaks and, if you can’t find a leaking pipe, potential foundation repairs!
  • Excessive dampness also leads to mold growth in the home. Again, if you’ve ruled out a plumbing leak or other such potential cause, call a foundation repair contractor after you’ve addressed needed mold cleanup and removal.
  • If your home does have a plumbing leak, this might also indicate foundation damage. As the home settles on a weakened foundation, it can put pressure on pipes or pull them from connectors. If rust and corrosion, poor installation, or other such factors are not the cause of that leak, have a foundation repair company near you check your home’s foundation for potential damage.

Common Causes of Residential Foundation Damage

Knowing what causes foundation damage can ensure you’re doing everything possible to avoid that damage in the first place, and can help you prepare for added costs after foundation repair as well! If you don’t address residential foundation damage causes, your home’s foundation is likely to keep suffering cracks and chips over the years.

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Expanding and contracting soil as well as excessive moisture and inadequate drainage are common causes of residential foundation damage. As soil gets damp and expands, it puts pressure on a home’s foundation; as it dries and contracts, this allows the foundation to then expand outward. This constant shrink-expand cycle weakens a foundation, leading to cracks and chips.

Poor-quality foundation materials and installation also allow for damage over the years, as does adding to foundation stress without properly strengthening it. As an example, a homeowner might install a sunroom, a new roofing layer, heavy stone flooring, and other such features to their home, not realizing that the added weight of these additions puts undue stress on a foundation. Without underpinning or otherwise strengthening the foundation, it can then begin to crack and chip.

How to Avoid Foundation Settling & Damages

One of the most effective ways of avoiding residential foundation damage is to ensure proper soil drainage on your property. Residential properties are typically graded or sloped slightly toward the street, to allow for water runoff, keeping that excessive moisture away from the home’s foundation. In some cases, your property might also need retainer walls, to create an actual dam on the property and control moisture levels.

Even if your property is graded properly, note that certain landscaping features, pavement installation, and other such additions might affect drainage. If you were to expand your driveway, for example, or add a tennis court, built-in pool, and other such feature, these can block that moisture drainage and cause it to back up to the home, increasing the risk of foundation damage.

A homeowner might not associate clogged gutters with foundation damage but consider that a home’s gutters direct rainwater and melting snow falling from the roof to connected downspouts, which then direct that moisture away from the house itself! Clogged gutters allow rain and melting snow to wash over their sides so that it then pools around the foundation, risking water damage. Invest in regular, professional gutter cleaning as needed, to avoid clogs and the risk of foundation cracks, chips, and other such damage.

It’s also vital that a homeowner consult with a structural engineer before any major home improvement project and especially something that will add significant weight to a house. A homeowner would also do well to avoid removing or reworking walls in the home if they’re not sure which are load-bearing, as these walls help hold up a home’s weight, alleviating some pressure on its foundation.

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Note, too, that excess moisture leading to foundation damage often comes from outside a home but can also originate in the home! Poor insulation and ventilation can mean trapped humidity and moisture inside a house, which might then collect in the basement, as basements often have very little ventilation and air circulation. Basement walls and floors might then absorb that moisture, leading to foundation damage. Improved ventilation and a sump pump, as needed, can protect your house from this damage.

Age also weakens a foundation, which is why it’s vital a homeowner schedule a foundation inspection if their home is more than ten years old. An inspection can note developing damage, small cracks and chips, and other such wear and tear. Addressing those issues as they develop keeps them from getting worse, saving you potential repair costs.

Common Foundation Repair Options

If your home has suffered foundation damage, consider some common repair options. You can then discuss these with a foundation repair company near you, and choose the best one for your home.

  • Steel piers provide added support for foundations and help disperse the weight of a home. These piers are very durable and typically offer the most support, making them an ideal choice for larger homes or those with added weight, such as several roofing layers or interior stone floors.
  • Helical piers, similar to corkscrews, provide support for smaller foundations such as under porches or small, vinyl-sided structures.
  • Concrete piers are also useful for repairs and added bracing but do require lots of digging and disruption. These piers are falling out of favor with foundation repair contractors and homeowners due to the difficulty of pouring concrete on a residential lot without disrupting landscaping.
  • High-density polyurethane foam provides support in the form of a checkerboard, offering a fast and affordable repair option for homeowners. This method might not be suitable for all forms of damage, however.
  • Underpinning, or adding concrete or actual pins to the outside of a foundation, provides structural support and is often preferred for homes in tropical areas, with overly moist soil at risk of forming sinkholes.
  • House leveling lifts a sunken, settled home back to its original level and even position, helping to close cracks and gaps along its foundation.

When choosing a foundation repair option, remember that investing in a high-quality repair is the best choice for avoiding future damage and otherwise unnecessary repair costs. Your foundation repair contractor can also provide you with personalized advice on the right choice for your home.


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