Being informed about common foundation issues and spotting them early on will save you a lot of time, money, and worry. The longer you leave a foundation problem unfixed, the worse it can get and the more money you’ll need to fix it. Without a strong foundation, your house will also begin to have all sorts of other problems, which can eventually lead to leaks and, in the worst cases, collapse of the structure.
Despite the many types of foundations, they all have similar causes for deterioration.
- The soil: Under the foundation, the soil’s volume can change. If too much weight is put over it, the soil may consolidate more than expected, causing the home to sink in some areas. Alternatively, the soil could expand if it contains minerals that absorb water (known as expansive soils), which also causes damage to the foundation.
- Poor drainage: If the land around your house is not allowing water to flow away, the water may pool around your foundation. This can cause the foundation to weaken as the soil expands and the concrete may deteriorate. Water damage to the foundation may also occur if the foundation was improperly waterproofed. Concrete is porous, and without waterproofing, water can seep through the concrete and affect any adjacent wood structures and basement interiors.
- Tree roots: Depending on the placement of trees on your property, roots may be able to cause significant damage to your foundation by putting pressure on it or taking water out of the soil. A similar occurrence can be seen on sidewalks close to trees.
- Material and size: Some homes built in the early 20th century have concrete foundations made with a large proportion of dirty or salty sand, or with a high water-to-cement ratio, which makes the foundations much weaker than the ones of today. Other homes may have foundations that are too small for the home or do not meet modern building code standards. This may warrant a whole new foundation or at least an upgrade, particularly if the foundation seems weak.
- Overloading: When adding levels or rooms to a house, this increases the load on an existing foundation beyond its capacity. Adding new openings like those for a stairwell or a skylight will also require reinforcement, which may stress the foundation further and cause even more issues.
Look out for these warning signs in your home. If you have major instances of one, or a combination of signs, contact a building contractor or structural engineer as soon as possible. You do not want to let the problem get worse.
Cracks in your walls: Inside your home, look out for large cracks that span the height of a wall (especially in the basement), form above doorways or windows, or run along the junction of a wall and the ceiling. Large cracks on the outside of your home, especially ones that zigzag or ones in brick, are also signs that your foundation should be checked.
- Cracks in tile: Many things can cause cracks in tile, but if you have a good number of them, especially in areas all over the house, it could be a sign of foundation issues.
- Tilted or cracked chimney: While other more localized things can cause a tilted and cracked chimney, it may be a sign of a bigger problem with the foundation as a whole. At the very least, a tilted chimney means some soil may have settled, so may have happened elsewhere around your home as well.
- Cracks in the foundation: You don’t need to worry much about hairline cracks between blocks, but cracks wider than ¼ of an inch in any foundation can be serious.
- Doors and windows that stick: If a door or window begins to stick and it hadn’t before, that may be because a faulty foundation is warping the walls. Crooked doors and windows will also point to something wrong with a foundation. If a door or window frame is starting to pop out of the wall, your foundation may be in serious trouble.
- Sagging or uneven floors: Slight tilting of floors may not be much cause for alarm and can be a natural result of settlement. However, if you notice your floor is at a worrying angle (greater than one inch change in height per fifteen feet), call in a professional. If you have a crawl space foundation, your floors may start sagging toward the middle of your home, which means a support post may need repair.
- Moisture: Foundation cracks can let moisture into your home, which can further damage the structure. If you notice persistent water under your house, a wet crawl space, too much humidity indoors, or strange smells from the basement, they may be signs that your foundation is deteriorating. Moisture also attracts insects and bugs, such as centipedes, cockroaches, and silverfish, as well as promotes mold growth and wood decay. If you notice a lot of bugs or mold in the basement, this may point to foundation problems as well.
Go to a professional
If you notice any of these warning signs, hire a professional to inspect your foundation and determine if they are part of the natural settling of the house or if they are signs that the foundation is damaged.
The home inspector or engineer you hire can perform tests and look for more telltale signs that your foundation is deteriorating. Some tests will include checking for a straight foundation, leaning walls, collapsing supports, and moldy and watery basements. They will also test the foundation itself for cracks and for strength, and can perform a level survey to check for differential in settlement of the foundation.
Contact a local contractor to begin the repair process. Fees will vary based on the type and extent of damage. Fixing a few cracks can cost a couple hundred to a few thousand dollars. Major fixes, like lifting a sinking foundation or installing a whole new one, will cost from a few thousand to upwards of around 40,000 dollars.
Notice any of these warning signs in your home? Don’t wait! Call Design Everest today at 877-704-5687 for a free consultation and to schedule a structural evaluation.