Causes of Foundation Problems
A stable building depends on a strong foundation resting on a stable, level base. Any instability in that base can cause the foundation to sink or settle, resulting in a lower, unlevel foundation. That instability can be caused by loose soil or by freezing and thawing patterns in the soil. Some types of soil and some climates are more prone to these problems.
Whatever the cause of your foundation sinking or settling, it’s important that you learn to recognize the signs of those problems so they can be addressed. Foundations are designed to evenly distribute the pressure caused by the weight of the house. When the foundation isn’t level, that pressure is not uniformly distributed, which can consolidate pressure and cause damage in certain areas of the foundation and parts of the structure itself. The longer the problems remain unaddressed, the greater the potential damage and the higher the cost of repairing that damage.
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Foundation SinkingA visibly tilting home and slanting floors are obvious signs of a sinking foundation. Less obvious signs include: doors and windows that stick and become difficult to open and close, a tilting chimney and cracks in the foundation, basement walls, floors, sheetrock and stucco.
Cracks in FoundationStructural damage can be visible within the foundation itself. There are three different types of foundation cracks to look for: step, vertical and horizontal.
Horizontal Foundation CracksA horizontal crack is a sign of hydrostatic pressure, or too much water pressure building up behind the foundation, and a good indicator of foundation damage.
Cracks in StuccoCracks in stucco are common and are not necessarily indicative of a structural concern, however any cracks exceeding â…›â€ can be a sign of significant foundation shifting.
Bowing WallsBowing walls occur when there is excessive pressure pushing against the foundation wall from the outside. That pressure will keep pushing and can cause the wall to collapse.
Cracks in FloorsFloor cracks are one of many signs that there may be problems occurring in your homeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s foundation. Cracks in tile and other flooring types found in the living area can occur as a foundation sinks or shifts.
Basement Floor CracksWhile some cracking in basement floors are due to natural shrinkage, basement floor cracks that run parallel to the walls and footings and vertical movement associated with the cracks are cause for serious concern as they can indicate structurally compromised foundations.
Basement Wall CracksCracks in basement walls can be a sign of excessive stress on a wall, caused by foundation settlement. Excessive displacement, continuing movement, differential settlement and certain combinations of cracks are cause for serious concern.
Cracks in Walls & SheetrockA jagged crack running off at a forty-five degree angle is a sure sign that your foundation is seriously shifting and has resulted in actually tearing the sheetrock apart. This is one of the primary indicators that your foundation has been compromised.
Stair Stepping Cracks in BrickProbably the most obvious and easy way to diagnose a settling home is through a stair-step crack. A stair-step crack is a diagonal crack that migrates to the mortar joints, mortar is usually not as strong as concrete block or brick, as it zigzags along a path of least resistance.
Sagging Crawl SpaceGaps between the floor and baseboards, between the floor and the wall paired with a sagging floor or crawl space are all indicators of foundation settling.
Uneven FloorA sloping, sagging or uneven floor can be indicative of foundation settling.
Foundation HeavingBowed slabs are the most common indicator of heaving as well as slab cracks that resemble spider webs with at least two intersecting cracks. Most of the damage will be in the ground level flooring materials.
Sticking Windows & DoorsA door or window that will not close properly, needs a further push or gets stuck while trying to open it could indicate issues with the home. Small cracks, openings or gaps around the border of the frame could indicate foundation settlement as door and window frames twist due to shifts in the foundation
Collapsing Retaining WallYou may have a collapsing retaining wall if a retaining wall is falling away from adjoining walls or shows signs of tilting, buckling, cracking or crumbling.
Street Creep DamageA fully compressed expansion joint between the driveway slab and foundation walls, foundation walls on either side of the driveway that have been pushed inwards, gaps present at either the curb or garage door and cracks in front foundation walls can be signs of street creep.
Tilting ChimneyA sinking chimney that has begun to separate from the house is an indication of unstable supporting soils beneath your home.
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Signs of Foundation Problems
Settling or sinking is usually not sudden. In fact, it can be so gradual and small that it can be hard to notice it. Once it starts to affect the structure above the foundation, the signs become more obvious. You might notice “stair-stepping” cracks in brick or vertical cracks in stucco or drywall. You might notice doors and windows becoming more difficult to close or open. You might notice a slight, irregular slant to floors and other surfaces.
Some people’s instinct is to plaster over these problems as soon as they show. However, doing so does nothing to remedy the fundamental problems with the building’s foundation that are causing the problems. You have to be careful not to focus too much on the symptoms and not on the conditions that caused the symptoms. Plaster over a crack and other cracks will appear. Not until you take action to correct the settling or sinking of your foundation will these problems really be gone for the long-term.