Most homeowners have experienced some degree of foundation settling. When a home is new, it may settle a little as the newly excavated site compacts under the weight of the structure. This is not a critical problem and the small cracks and misalignments that result can be easily repaired and shouldn’t reoccur.
However, when a home’s foundation experiences settling years after it was built, that’s far from normal and can indeed be critical for the home’s continued stability. This typically occurs when the soil around and under the foundation becomes over-saturated, which causes it to swell or expand. In dry times, such as the ongoing drought that was so troublesome in 2012, moisture is withdrawn from the soil and it compacts or collapses, causing the foundation to drop.
This type of movement causes many problems with the foundation itself and the structure it supports – cracking, separating of masonry walls, jammed windows and doors, water intrusion and many others. The resulting damage from a settling foundation can be minimized, however, if the homeowner acts quickly to re-stabilize the home. To do this, he or she must be familiar with signs that something has gone wrong.
11 Signs of a Settling Foundation
- Windows stick in position, open or shut, and are difficult to move.
- Interior trim or moldings pop off the walls or separate around doors or windows.
- Inside doors won’t open or close easily and/or show gaps around the jamb, especially at the top.
- Window and door trim or fascia board pulls away from exterior walls.
- “Step cracks” have appeared in exterior brick or stone work. Step cracks occur in a stairstep pattern in mortar joints, often with large gaps and separation.
- Stone, brick or siding has pulled away from exterior doors and/or windows, leaving gaps.
- The chimney has cracked and/or is tilted or leaning off plumb.
- In the basement, cracks have appeared in poured concrete walls. Angled cracks that radiate down from the upper corners, usually accompanied by a vertical crack in the middle, are a sign of serious foundation settling.
- If the walls are concrete block, they have bowed or bulged near the center, with cracks running through mortar joints.
- The foundation walls are no longer aligned with the framing of the aboveground structure. Foundation walls that have separated from the sill plate can be identified from either inside or outside.
- Water is seeping into the basement. Of course, seepage can occur in a sound foundation but is almost always present when the foundation is seriously damaged.
If foundation settling has occurred, the remedy is to raise the foundation back to level and stabilize it against further movement, a process called underpinning. There are various methods of underpinning but the one that offers the most effective and least disruptive result is to install steel hydraulic push piers. These piers are driven to a load-bearing stratum in the earth and are used to hydraulically lift the house back into position and hold it there permanently.
If you see one or more of the signs listed above, there’s a very good chance that your foundation is settling and that you will need the help of an experienced professional to fully diagnose the problem and repair it permanently. At U.S. Waterproofing, our team of specially trained advisors and installers know how to spot serious foundation problems and repair them before they get worse and cause more damage to your home. Please ask for a free consultation if you’re concerned about your home.