A home is a prized possession that should last a lifetime. But over the years, it loses its shine and begins to show signs of damage. Many minor issues can be ironed out with some basic repair work, but a major one – like sinking – is a cause for concern. It’s something that can’t be taken lightly, especially when you expect the structure to remain in mint condition for a long period.
There are scenarios where the homeowner has not noticed any signs that reveal the problem of settlement. But if there is some suspicion that the same may not have been revealed, it’s advisable to take professional help. Issues can crop up due to the age of the structure, climatic changes, or even construction errors. Here are some warning signs that indicate the probability of a settlement.
The foundation starts settling
Age, climatic conditions, and soil-related issues can make a foundation settle. Every structure is expected to settle a bit, and uniformly, after construction. The tolerance level depends on the soil type and foundation design. The properties of the soil layers can change, and the same may not be able to support the weight of the structure. In many cases, the expansion or consolidation of the soil results in foundation movement. This, in turn, can make the entire building sink gradually. If you spot cracks or gaps in the foundation many years after construction, it could be a sign that your house is settling.
The walls get cracked
Cracks can often appear near the windows and doorways on walls. Minuscule cracks can become significant in due course of time. If plastered cracks reopen, it’s time to give it a serious thought! A sinking foundation puts a lot of stress on the walls, and they start cracking or curving.
Even the direction of the cracks matters a lot. Vertical and diagonal cracks on concrete walls could be due to foundation movement. It’s better to take expert advice for the same.
The floors become uneven
When floors begin to dip or sag, it could be a sign that the foundation is giving way! This is a prevalent problem in older houses. Rotting floor system supports can also be a reason for this. If left unattended, the damage could become hazardous to the inhabitants of the house; children and senior citizens in particular because of the creation of tripping hazards. Since this is usually a foundation level issue, it has to be fixed as soon as it comes to the fore.
The doors & windows don’t open
The sinking of a structure affects windows and doors adversely. Even a slight change in alignment makes it difficult to open them. Put simply, they are no longer a perfect fit for the frames they sit on! Double-door alignment change and gaps in window frames are also a sign of foundation settlement. Usually, interior doors get stuck at the top and exterior doors drag at the bottom.
The pipes start bursting
When foundation settlement happens, sometimes the water pipes get broken. This leads to cracks and water leakage that can become a severe issue if overlooked. A leaky pipe can spill water into the foundation, and this is the worst thing that should happen. Additionally, the leakage can damage other parts of the house eventually. Sudden damage to a wall is a case in point.
What to do when settling is happening?
When a house shows signs of sinking, professional help has to be taken without delay. A licensed foundation repair contractor or a structural engineering firm will be able to perform a visual inspection of the structure and suggest the way forward. Experienced builders and contractors are aware of the local soil conditions. They should be able to assess the damage and tell you if it is within the permissible limit. They would also know that every structure will settle over the years. The question here is: How much is too much?
Some DIY tactics can also help in getting a clue; if not the real gravity of the situation. Check if post bases are touching the floor in the basement. Look for insect damage on joists, beams, and poles. In some cases, the stair steps crack and chimneys become slanted. Also, don’t forget to check the floor-level uniformity across the building. If in doubt, do not try anything that you are unsure about.
Once the foundation damage has been confirmed, it is essential to appoint a contractor for the job. But competitive quotes have to be taken before proceeding. The task involves lifting of the house by slabjacking or piering. In slabjacking, gout is pumped beneath the slabs to create a pushing effect with pressure. This restores the foundation to its original position. In the case of piering, steel posts are planted in unstable soil. Then hydraulic jacks are used to lift the slabs till they become even. This is usually done in case of severe damages.
The method of repair in each situation has to be evaluated separately. It depends on multiple factors including the intensity of damage and the real cause of the same. That said, it is important to know the difference between foundation problems and foundation settlement. The former is typically minor, and the same can be ironed out with either quick-fixes or with slightly advanced methods of repair. On the contrary, foundation settlement is precisely what we are talking about. A few inches of settlement is acceptable as long as it is spread across the entire area of the structure. If it gets worse over the course of time, action has to be taken without a second thought.
You also need to check with your insurance company to understand the extent of damage they cover. It is good to take the advice of a lawyer if you know that the damage has been caused due to the negligence of the builder or other individuals/authorities. This would help in case you need to take legal action against the offender. Last but not least, prevention is always better than cure. So, it makes better sense to make sure that periodic inspection is done after a house is constructed, or bought from another homeowner.
Got questions on building settlement or repair? Our team of experienced California-licensed engineers can help you with the right advice and services.
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*Note: The content published above was made in collaboration with members of Design Everest.