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Will Rain Fix my Settling Foundation in Chicago?

Aug 16, 2013 • By Matthew Stock.


Rain has often been a sign of hope and renewal.  Farmers, of course, need rain for crops.  Around the world, water supplies rise and fall depending on rain that does or doesn’t come.  Old Boston Braves fans will remember the saying, “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.

So, rain brings on the harvest, slakes the thirst of billions and maybe, back in the 1940s and ‘50s, helped lead the way to baseball glory.

One thing rain won’t do, however, is fix a settling foundation that has been affected by drought.

Why Rain (and Increased Ground Water) Won’t Fix a Settling Foundation

It may seem a strange thought that rain could fix a foundation but there is a certain logic to it, albeit incorrect.

A healthy, stable foundation is supported and kept level by the compacted soil underneath it.  When a home is built, the excavation and foundation contractors ensure that the foundation is built on undisturbed soil as much as possible and that it is level, plumb and supported at all points.  As does all soil, the soil under the foundation contains water at a certain level, known as the water table.

As long as the water content of the soil remains more or less the same, the foundation will remain stable with only minor settling.  Fully hydrated soil absorbs enough water to become what is called “expansive,” meaning that sufficient water and air have combined with the soil to cause it to swell to its maximum size.  Should a sustained drought occur, as it did in Chicago in 2012, significant amounts of this moisture may be removed from the soil and cause the soil to dry out. 

When this water removal occurs, often caused by the root systems of trees and plants extending deeper in search of water, the soil can collapse and leave a gap under the foundation.  Now unsupported, the foundation will crack and drop out of level and plumb, causing it and the house it supports to become unstable.

Here’s where the theorizing about rain enters the picture:  Some may think that, if lack of rain caused the soil to compact and the foundation to drop, more rain will re-hydrate the soil and cause it to expand and raise the foundation back to its original level.  That would be great but, unfortunately, the soil under a foundation isn’t like a flat tire that can be re-inflated; all the rain in the world won’t raise a sunken foundation.

Raising a settling foundation back to level and stabilizing it requires a mechanical process called underpinning.  The most effective method of underpinning is using steel push piers, which rest on a load-bearing stratum below ground, to level and stabilize the house.  The piers are connected to the foundation with steel brackets attached to the foundation footings, through which they are driven into the ground hydraulically.  Once they have reached the appropriate level, hydraulics is again used to lift the entire structure back to level and the piers are secured in the brackets. 

There are other, older methods of underpinning using concrete piers but they are generally inferior to the steel push piers.

Since even rains of biblical proportions aren’t going to fix settling foundations, Chicago homeowners whose foundations have been damaged will need the help of a professional foundation repair contractor.  At U.S. Waterproofing, our foundation repair experts are trained and experienced in the most effective methods of foundation repair and always use engineering data rather than a “good eye” to recommend and implement foundation repair plans.  Please ask us for a free consultation if your foundation has settled or otherwise been damaged.


Tags: settling foundation chicago, chicago settling foundation

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