For Homeowner
What is an Easy Way to Tell if Your Home’s Foundation is Moving?
Mar 04, 2020
Exterior view of a double storied house lined by a concrete and metal grill fence, a roofed garage with a wooden door at the right side front and main door to the left.
Exterior view of a double storied house lined by a concrete and metal grill fence, a roofed garage with a wooden door at the right side front and main door to the left.

Are you finding cracks in your home’s walls and floors? Do the doors and windows not seem to fit their frames as they’re supposed to? If you are noticing these defects, it is likely that your home’s foundation is in trouble. Identifying the symptoms of foundation damage and knowing when to take appropriate action can help you address the problem before it’s too late.

First, you need to know what foundations are and how they work.

A foundation supports the weight of the entire building. It’s the base that connects to the building’s structure and transfers live and dead loads to the ground below. A well-designed foundation will:

  • spread the weight of your home evenly over the groundM
  • anchor the building to the ground
  • brace your home against lateral forces of earthquakes and winds

While the use of foundations dates back to humankind’s earliest structures, their design has evolved significantly over millennia to accommodate various soil conditions, environmental hazards, and buildings constantly getting heavier and taller.

Nowadays, foundations for buildings big and small are typically made of reinforced concrete - a material known for its tremendous compressive strength.

Apart from a material that can hold up the weight of an entire building, foundations also require firm, stable soil beneath them, and a design that spreads the weight evenly. These three factors ensure that the foundation, along with the building above, can remain stable.

Why is a stable foundation important?

Stability allows a building to retain its center of gravity and stay upright. A stable structure can transfer gravity and lateral loads as it’s designed to, whereas unlevel buildings may suffer from structural and cosmetic damage. The stability of a building comes from a well designed, strong foundation that’s placed on level soil with an adequate bearing capacity.

What happens when foundations move?

Sometimes, a building’s foundation can sink, upheave, and/or shift. While such a movement will make the home unlevel, it may not be obvious to the untrained eye. Instead, your early warning signs may include:


Concrete cracks naturally, and often enough, a crack in your walls may result from the foundation settling for the first few years, or concrete curing and shrinking in the process. Such cracks are harmless, and if you find them, there’s usually nothing to worry about.

Natural cracks are typically narrow and run on a vertical or diagonal plane and stay the same size after they appear. Although these minor flaws don’t point to a structural defect, you should still try to seal them to prevent water from getting inside your home.

A crack in the foundation wall above a door frame corner extending towards the ceiling which can be sign of problems with the foundation
A crack in the foundation wall above a door frame corner extending towards the ceiling which can be sign of problems with the foundation

Horizontal cracks in concrete, cracks in floor tiles that cover a concrete slab, as well as cracks around windows and doors are signs of trouble. Horizontal cracks may develop due to poor drainage and the ensuing moisture saturation of the soil around your foundation, whereas cracks in the floor, or around doors and windows usually point to foundation movement. If you notice cracks of this nature, get advice from a licensed engineer. You will probably need to perform significant foundation repairs, and because the foundation may keep moving, the sooner the issue is addressed the better.

Sticking doors and windows. When your doors jam in the summer, you probably don’t give the issue too much thought - high relative humidity expands the wood, and the doors no longer fit in their frames. However, doors and windows that jam regardless of the weather may be a symptom of foundation movement. When a home’s foundation upheaves or sinks, the house becomes unlevel, causing door and window frames’ horizontal and vertical members to lose their parallel and perpendicular alignment with the ground. This misalignment is the culprit behind jamming doors and windows.

If you suspect this condition in your home, place a level on top of the door or window frame; if the device confirms your suspicions, call a licensed engineer to inspect your foundation as soon as possible.

Sagging floors. Whether it’s the wooden floor assembly of your upper floors, or the concrete deck in your garage - uneven, or sagging floors typically point to a structural deficiency in your home. Often, it can be a sign of a foundation that’s moved out of level, or shifting columns in the crawl space. In old homes, the condition can also stem from old, failing floor joists. In either scenario, you need a professional assessment to determine the cause.

How do I fix my home’s moving foundation?

Several remedial measures may be used to repair moving foundations. Depending on the severity of the problem, some may be more suitable than others. Before recommending a course of action, the engineer who inspects your home will have to consider the root cause of the symptoms you observed.

Foundation movement may happen for a number of reasons. The most common ones are: unstable soil, poor drainage, and growing tree roots.

Unstable soil. There are many types of soil, and some provide better foundation support than others. For example, loam - a mix of sand, silt, and clay in equal parts - works well under foundations, as it doesn’t experience significant contraction or expansion cycles. Various types of rock are also suitable, given that their surface is level. Clay, on the other hand, can absorb and release large quantities of moisture, a process which causes the soil to expand and shrink considerably. Such soil movement may in turn cause your home’s foundation to shift, or crack under pressure.

Even the most suitable soil type must be either undisturbed, or adequately compacted before a foundation is laid down. Poor soil compaction can cause the foundation to settle unevenly.

Poor drainage. If your site’s grading design doesn’t include an effective drainage strategy, rainwater may pool around your home. As the soil beneath gets saturated with water, the resulting hydrostatic pressure may cause the foundation walls to shift or crack; faulty plumbing may cause a similar scenario.

Growing tree roots. While tree roots themselves will not damage a modern, reinforced concrete foundation, the change in soil properties they cause may lead to foundation movement and cracks. Because a tree’s root system grows larger than the tree itself, the roots can create a lot of pressure in the soil, which may consequently harm your foundation.

If you’re looking for signs of foundation movement, chances are that your home has already sustained some degree of damage. The inspecting engineer will determine which repairs are necessary, and what may be done to address the cause of the problem. Repairs can range from installing a steel bracing to a complete replacement of the foundation, in addition to other measures, such as an improved drainage strategy, root barriers, or foundation underpinning.

If you suspect that your home’s foundation is moving, or is otherwise damaged, you don’t have time to waste. Contact us (888) 512-3152 or to discuss your project and receive a quote today.


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