Your property’s foundation is absolutely crucial to its health and well-being. If your foundation is weak or damaged, the rest of your home will suffer. Unfortunately, foundation damage can also be notoriously difficult to fix; foundation repair is incredibly tricky and intensive to undertake. This is why there are foundation specialists across Colorado and the U.S. as a whole. Foundation settlement is just one of the issues that these experts address, but it is undeniably one of the most common.
What is Foundation Settlement?
Foundation settlement is the process of uneven sinking that can occur in a property’s foundation as a result of unsuitable soil or damage to the structure of a property. Most commonly, it occurs when something causes the soil beneath a home to shift, leaving certain parts of the foundation unsupported. As a result, the weight of a property is really what causes the damage; the lack of proper support causes strain as the foundation struggles to support the weight of the structure alone.
Over time, this can cause serious and worrying damage to the rest of your structure. Properties with advanced foundation settlement at work have been known to have deep cracks that run from their foundation all the way to the upper floors. If left alone, a property dealing with this kind of pressure will eventually collapse. Of course, this process could take decades, so don’t panic.
Like most foundation problems, settlement is easiest to fix when it is noticed and addressed early. As such, learning to spot the early signs of settlement and foundation damage in a property is something every homeowner should prioritize. The most common signs of settlement are:
- Uneven floors
- Spreading cracks
- Extreme humidity and dampness
- Sticking doors and windows
- Sagging floors
- Gaps between walls and floors
These are just some of the signs you should be on the lookout for when it comes to foundation settlement, but they are the most common and serious. Recognizing the damage is just half of the battle, however; it is important to understand what is causing it in the first place. Understanding the forces at work will help you spot the difference between other kinds of structural damage and genuine foundation damage.
What Causes Foundation Settlement?
To boil it down to its simplest elements, foundation settlement is caused by incompetent soil underneath a property. This can mean many things, of course, and each can display itself in slightly different ways. The only exception to this hard-and-fast rule is when mistakes are made during the design or construction of a building. When this happens, the repair process is far more complex. However, these cases are also in the minority. The vast majority of foundation problems start in the soil and require soil-based solutions to restore the property to a stable and safe state.
Weak or Unstable Soil
There are some soils that are simply not strong enough to withstand the property placed on top of them. Certain kinds of loam, for example, can be too soft for large properties (or properties of any size, in some cases). When the soil under a property is simply too weak to support it, the foundation will begin to sink into the ground.
Generally speaking, the foundation of a building in areas with this kind of soil should have proper footings to spread the load, but soil type can vary widely in even a small development space. As such oversights can happen. Of course, properties rarely, if ever, sink in an even manner. This means a property that is sinking into weak soil will soon notice a range of issues cropping up. There is very little that you can do to rectify or manage this issue as a homeowner. In fact, most homeowners are unaware that their home is built on weak soil until the damage is already done.
Expansive soils are the leading cause of many kinds of structural damage including, but not limited to, foundation settlement and bowing walls. Expansive soils are those that are highly reactive to moisture (or a lack of moisture). This term includes soils that are heavily clay or peat-based. Because of the way these soils react to water, they frequently swell and shrink.
This means that a property that is built upon expansive soil must constantly cope with increases in pressure and decreases in the amount of support provided. When expansive soils are saturated, they can become soft and marshy, leading to a heavy property sinking into them. When incredibly dehydrated, however, they shrink, and this can leave sections of a foundation unsupported. As such, they can sink into the void left behind, causing damage to the structure of the property.
If you are aware that your home was built on expansive soil, you can take measures to manage moisture levels in the soil. By eliminating peaks and pits in saturation, you may be able to avoid settlement. Once it has occurred, however, professional intervention will be needed.
Poorly compacted soil is most commonly an issue that leads to excessive hydrostatic pressure around a property and the creation of a clay bowl of sorts. This is usually seen in homes with basements. These are not the only homes impacted by poorly compacted backfill, however. Developments that have made use of uneven, sloped, or hilly land will often use backfill soil to level out the ground. This leaves a flat space suitable for a property, but if the soil is not well compacted, settlement is very likely.
If the soil under the property’s foundation is poorly compacted from top to bottom, it will become quickly evident. This is rarely the case, however. Usually, the top few layers of soil seem well compacted, and it is only over time (usually with a few rainstorms) that the weaker layers of poorly compacted soil further down start to affect the health of the property. Once again, there is very little that you as a homeowner can do to manage this issue; you are unlikely to be aware it is an issue until your home is showing signs of foundation settlement.
As well as these very common issues, there are some less usual causes of foundation settlement and damage that it pays to be aware of. Tree root growth and spread, for example, can cause foundation settlement because of the way it disturbs the soil underneath your home. Of course, if tree roots come this close to your home, it is just as likely that they will take the path of least resistance and end up invading your garage or sewage line.
Likewise, sudden cold snaps can cause water in the soil to freeze and expand quickly. Called frost heave, this is most commonly known for damaging small and light properties by causing the foundation to heave upward and crack. A sudden heave and collapse as a result of a quick freeze and thaw, however, could cause settlement in a heavier property; this is not common, but it can happen. In this case, the initial settling would most likely be mild, but once a property’s foundation has been disturbed, the issue is only likely to grow.
Of course, as a homeowner, there is little you can do to identify the true cause of settlement in your home, and you really should not attempt to address the issue alone. That doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do; the most important thing you can do is call a professional. There are many options open to homeowners dealing with settlement these days.
To put it simply, your foundation is one of the most important parts of your home. When your foundation is damaged it can have an effect upon the rest of your home with alarming speed. A damaged foundation can lead to bowing walls, spreading cracks, and even sticking doors. Furthermore, foundation problems do not resolve themselves or settle down over time.
Foundation Problems Grow Over Time
Any issue with your property’s foundation will only grow over time. Unlike other issues that may stabilize or even resolve themselves over time, foundation problems will only worsen with time. In fact, they can grow at an exponential rate, meaning it will never be easier or cheaper to deal with a foundational problem than the day on which you discover it.
This is largely because of the way in which foundation damage occurs. Unless your foundation is damaged by an unusual event, such as a strong earthquake, the cause is most likely to be in the soil under your home. Weak, unstable, or expansive soil will not stop affecting your home once foundation damage sets in. Rather, it will have a more pronounced effect on a foundation that is already weakened.
Settlement Can Cause Damage to the Rest of Your Home
While the most obvious issue caused by settlement is the cracks in your foundation that inevitably let water into your home, the process of settlement can cause more widespread damage over time. First and foremost, the large cracks that are likely to form in your foundation will let water seep into your home. This will cause issues with dampness and humidity.
As these cracks become more severe, however, your foundation will be destabilized. This can lead to many different problems, but the most common are bowing walls and sagging floors. These issues will, over time, cause tertiary problems. So, as you can see, it pays to address foundation settlement as quickly as possible, even when you think it’s relatively mild.
Recognizing signs of foundation damage is incredibly important if you are to nip issues in the bud before they snowball. There are many different potential signs of foundation damage that you can be on the lookout for, but the two most obvious are sagging or uneven floors and spreading cracks.
Uneven flooring is one of the most pressing signs of foundation damage you could find in your home. The ways in which the flooring is uneven can also be symptomatic of the kind of foundation damage at work. For example, a property that is sinking is more likely to see a consistent tilt from one side of a room to the other (and from one side of the house to the other).
Settlement, by contrast, is far more likely to present itself as a series of sags or dips in your flooring. If you have concrete slabs in your home, you may find that full slabs sink as a result of subsidence. Wooden floors, however, may start to sag because the beams that support them are left “floating” in certain areas of a property.
While it is true that cracks are normal to a degree as a result of the settling process after a house has been constructed, these kinds of cracks are very specific. First and foremost, cracks that form during the natural settling process should remain static. That is to say, they should not grow any further after the property has fully settled.
Spreading cracks, by contrast, are active and continue to grow either in length or depth. These kinds of cracks are symptomatic of instability in a property. Unfortunately, spreading cracks can be a symptom of many different issues within a property. As such, you should schedule an inspection after seeing them to ensure that you know exactly what is happening on your property.
In short, no. There is nothing you, as a non-professional, can do to safely repair or halt settlement and the damage it causes. This is an intensive, specialist task that requires advanced tools and skills. Should you try to deal with the issue alone, you run the risk of making things much worse.
DIY Solutions Can Be Dangerous
Trying to implement a DIY solution for a problem as serious as foundation damage and settlement is almost guaranteed to go wrong. The most obvious way a DIY fix can go awry is by causing more damage to your property. This can happen because the solution is unsuitable for the problems that are actually at work.
Even if you find the correct solution, however, you run the risk of injuring yourself or anyone helping you. This can happen while excavating, while installing a solution, or even while restoring the flooring that sits over the foundation. All in all, it is far better to let an expert who knows what they are doing undertake this work for you.
Professionals Offer Quality
Letting a professional take care of your property’s foundation damage is far better in the long run for many reasons. As well as safety concerns, there is a matter of quality to think about. Professionals are far more capable of undertaking this kind of intensive work quickly, safely, and effectively. This means you can expect a better result.
As well as having the skills and experience to undertake work to professional standards, experts have access to tools and products that are not commonly available over the counter. Because they are able to use industrial or professional-grade products that are more efficient, more durable, and have longer usable lifespans. This means you get a better result overall.
Can Foundation Settlement be Rectified?
There are many different solutions that can be utilized to stabilize and repair homes that have been impacted by foundation settlement and damage. In almost every case, the first order of business is to stabilize the property and ensure that the settling process is halted. In order to do this, professionals have a range of tools that are designed to help the soil under a home bear the weight of the structure properly.
Foundation piers are the most common tools used by foundation specialists who are dealing with properties experiencing settlement or subsidence. There are two main types of foundation piers, but they share a common goal: to transfer or spread the weight of a property to competent soil or load-bearing strata. Push piers, sometimes called resistance piers, do this by using the weight of the property to drive them into the ground and hold them in place. Helical piers, by contrast, work in much the same way that a screw does and distribute the weight evenly through many layers of soil. This makes them preferable for small properties and weak soils. Additionally, a third type, slab piers, can be used specifically on homes with concrete slab foundations.
In some cases, a professional may also attempt to lift your property back into its original position, but this can be risky. If the risk of causing more damage outweighs the benefits of the process, there is a chance they will recommend simply stabilizing the property in its current position. This will halt the process and prevent further damage without putting unnecessary strain on your property.
Once your property has been stabilized, they will begin to consider any co-occurring issues within your property, such as large cracks or bowing walls. The complexity and potentially dangerous nature of these issues and their solutions mean that, for obvious reasons, you should not try to deal with them alone.
Choose Complete Basement Systems for Your Foundation Repairs
If you have noticed signs of foundation damage in your home and you want to know whether settlement is at work, we urge you to call Complete Basement Systems directly. As one of the most respected foundation specialists in Colorado, we know just how daunting foundation problems can be for a homeowner. We also know how to make light work of even the most complex of situations. No matter how advanced the problem is, no matter what kind of secondary or tertiary issues have formed, our team of skilled professionals will be able to help you find a solution that works for your home.
All you need to do is contact us to schedule a free, no-obligation property inspection with one of our team members. These inspection appointments come with a same-day written quote for all our suggested repairs to ensure that you are able to shop around for the best possible price effectively. Our team will never pressure you to book repairs with us; we want our work and reputation to speak for themselves (and we feel that they do).
Better yet, we offer permanent solutions that guarantee peace of mind; once you have had a Complete Basement Systems team in your home, you are a part of our family. This means that should something go wrong, you can rely on us to take care of it and keep your family safe.