House in California with no signs of foundation damage

Have you noticed that lately the doors are sticking, or there’s an unusual amount of moisture in your crawl space or basement? Are you observing cracks in the foundation that weren’t there before? Do you feel that the entire house is leaning to one side? These scary symptoms may be pointing to a flaw in your home’s foundation or the soil beneath it. Luckily, most such faults can be resolved with timely professional assistance. 

What is a foundation, and why is it important?

A building’s foundation is an integral part of the structure. It transfers the weight of the building to the soil, braces the building against environmental forces, and acts as a barrier to ground moisture. 

If a foundation settles, shifts or breaks due to soil movement, the entire structure of a home may become out of level.

For a foundation to perform well and last long, its design must be tailored to the site conditions, and the soil on which it rests needs to be stable. If these two requirements are not met, foundations may deteriorate and lose their structural integrity over time. There are several ways for foundation defects to manifest themselves. If you notice any of the anomalies described below, your home’s foundation may need a professional assessment to prevent further damage. 

House slanting to one side

Foundations are designed to rest on soil, and their ability to support the building relies on the soil’s stability. When homes are built on unstable soils that shift or go through significant expansion/contraction cycles due to changes in moisture content, foundations may sink or upheave. This condition may cause the house to slant to one side. 

If you suspect that your home is settling, use a level to verify your hunch. Place the instrument on a window sill, door casing, or any other horizontal surface that should run parallel to the ground. If the test shows that your home is unlevel, you don’t have much time to waste: the longer you wait the less safe your home will be, and the more your repairs will cost as the issue progresses. Call a structural engineer to evaluate your foundation and issue a foundation engineering report without delay. 

Cracks in foundation walls 

This defect may also occur due to shifting, expanding or contracting soil, but poor site drainage is another likely culprit. When rainwater doesn’t drain from the site, it accumulates in the soil and gradually begins to exert pressure on structures below grade. A foundation’s concrete walls that are subjected to extreme hydrostatic pressure may develop cracks. You may notice these cracks along the foundation walls. If you have a basement, you may observe cracks with water leaking through them. If you become aware of this issue, the best course of action is to get a professional assessment of the home’s foundation.  

A crack in the wall of the house indicating possible foundation damage

Sagging floors

If a foundation settles, shifts or breaks due to soil movement, the entire structure of a home may become out of level. When this condition occurs, the floors in the home often sag. If your home has a slab-on-grade and the soil beneath it shifts, sinks, or rises, the concrete is likely to crack in response to the movement. Either scenario is an indicator of serious soil issues and requires professional evaluation. 

Sticking doors 

Crooked and sticking doors may be a nuisance to deal with, but more importantly, they point to the house being out of balance. If you encounter this anomaly in your home, it’s probably because the foundation has shifted, sunk, or upheaved. 

When is a foundation report required? 

If you observe any of the indicators described above, chances are that your home’s foundation and structure are in trouble, either due to poor soil properties or inadequate drainage. Now is the time to take action to protect your home from expensive and potentially irreparable damage. First, get a licensed structural or civil engineer to perform an inspection and provide you with a foundation engineering report. 

A foundation engineering report is typically based on a visual inspection of the home’s substructure - the portion of the structure located below grade. During the inspection, the engineer will: 

  • examine the visible defects 
  • identify any unlevel areas of the foundation 

  • visually assess the site’s drainage 

  • identify the underlying issues

  • recommend corrections

To pinpoint the problem accurately, and to recommend a suitable course of action, the engineer has to consider several factors beyond what’s visually obvious. For example, the age of the building and the type of construction may contribute to the issue. The type of soil upon which the building stands is of equal importance, and in certain severe cases, a geotechnical report may be needed to gain a full understanding of the soil conditions. Invasive investigative methods, on the other hand, are rarely employed as their high costs seldom justify the findings. 

Once the issue affecting the foundation is identified, the engineer may propose an appropriate rectification measure. For example, inadequately drained sites may need a new grading design. Sunken foundations may be raised and/or replaced if the concrete is structurally compromised. Areas where the soil had settled, may be filled with new concrete. Cracked slabs may likewise be replaced, depending on the severity of the cracks. With either scenario, the earlier the problem is identified, the less extensive the repairs will be. 

How We Can Help 

If you’re finding signs of foundation problems in your home, we’re here to help. Our experienced engineers will visually assess the conditions and issue a foundation engineering report, which will pinpoint flaws and recommend ways to fix them. Contact us at (877) 892-0292 or info@designeverest.com to discuss your project and receive a quote today.

*Note: The content published above was made in collaboration with members of Design Everest.

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