4 Signs Your Home Has a Sinking Foundation

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It's no secret: Dirt settles.

In fact, your home is positioned on multiple layers of soil that have formed gradually, starting with the Earth's original formation. Each layer has different characteristics, including varying moisture content and soil types. 

When different soil layers can't bear the weight of your home, the foundation will begin to sink and settle into the earth. When this happens, your home can experience damage in many different ways. When you know what to look for, the warning signs of foundation damage are unmistakable and taking action before the damage is key. 

These are the top four signs your home has a sinking foundation. Let's get into it.

1. Foundation cracks

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One of the biggest signs of foundation issues is the presence of cracks in your foundation walls. But it's important to note that not all foundation cracks are bad. In fact, some cracks are entirely normal. So how do you tell the difference? Several factors come into play, including their location, direction, and size. 

Shrinkage or hairline cracks are common in poured foundations and typically measure less than 1/16" in width. They develop during the concrete's curing process and often signal that the concrete mix had an excess of water. Luckily, these cracks are mostly harmless and don't pose a significant threat to your foundation. 

On the other hand, if you notice new cracks appearing year after year, or observe them growing bigger over time, it could indicate underlying movement and your foundation settling. Specifically, foundation wall cracks that are wider at the top than the bottom can suggest that a portion of your foundation is shifting and separating from the rest. 

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If you notice this issue, it might be tempting to fill the cracks. But we advise refraining from doing so for two important reasons:

  1. Filling the cracks doesn't address the root cause of the problem: the soil. 
  2. Premature crack-filling can prevent a contractor from raising the foundation back into place.

2. Cracks in walls, door frames, and window frames

Finding cracks inside your home can be a significant indicator of a sinking foundation.

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Drywall and plaster cracks may seem relatively easy to patch, but it's important to understand what caused them in the first place.

These cracks can result from a few factors including excess moisture, or a subpar mud and tape job. But they can also signal potential foundation issues. 

If foundation settlement is the cause, you'll notice the cracks reopening even after you've attempted to repair them. So, how do you know which cracks are genuinely problematic? There are several key indicators.

  1. Drywall cracks around the corners of windows and doors. These are often attributed to the foundation moving. If you notice a crack like this, it's advisable to have your foundation professionally inspected. You can also place a level on the window frame and if it's unlevel, then it's most likely your foundation is settling. 
  2. Examine past repairs. If you're not the original homeowner, check the crack to determine if it's been patched before. Often times, you will notice a rougher finish or a small hump in the area where the crack was previously repaired. 
  3. Watch for nail pops. Nail pops occur when the drywall shows damage where the nails or screws were placed. If the drywall shifts, the mud covering the screw may dislodge and pop off. Multiple nail pops can be a sign of foundation settlement, especially if you see more than one.

3. Sticking doors or windows

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Doors and windows that are hard to open can be a sign of a few things. It can be a sign of a moisture-related problem due to humidity or the wear and tear on the window or door, especially if the home is older. But it could also be a sign your foundation is sinking and causing the frames to get out of alignment.

To determine if your sticking doors or windows are because of a sinking foundation, follow these steps: 

  1. Level check. Place a four-foot level on the top of the frame. If it's level, then the issue likely stems from a different problem related to the window or door itself. 
  2. Consider the season. If the problem seems to be seasonal, it may be moisture-related. Monitor whether the sticking coincides with periods of high humidity or precipitation.
  3. Inspect door frames. Run your hand across the top of the door. If you detect a rough texture, it may indicate the doorframe has been shaved down. If this is the case, it's likely your home's foundation is undergoing shifting or settling, which can affect the alignment of the door frames.
  4. Age of windows. If your windows are older and stick, we advise getting them inspected by a window contractor. They can identify and address any window-specific issues. 

4. Uneven Floors

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Uneven floors should be a cause for concern, as they often indicate an underlying foundation issue. 

If you notice your basement concrete floors aren't level, then your foundation is potentially settling. Similarly, when your wood floors on upper levels are uneven, there could be several potential causes. It might signify foundation settlement or shifts in interior columns within the basement. Another possibility is sagging floor joists, which are particularly common in homes with crawl spaces. 

While uneven floors almost always signal a foundation problem, it's important to note that the severity and complexity of the issue can vary. Some problems may be easier to address than others. Therefore, if you have uneven floors, we strongly recommend to get them inspected by a professional. Their expertise can help determine the exact cause and the best course of action for rectifying the problem and ensuring the stability of your home's foundation. 

Foundation damage gets worse over time

If these warning signs worry you, the best thing to do is take action. Have a professional visit your home and inspect your foundation. They'll determine if there's a problem or not. 

If you do have a problem, you'll learn what repairs are necessary to fix it and how to prevent further damage. 

Unfortunately, foundation problems get worse and cause more structural damage over time. This means the cost of repair will also increase with time.

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If you notice symptoms of foundation sinking or settlement, you can contact us for a free in-home inspection and same-day, no-obligation quote for repair. If we determine you don't have a foundation problem, we'll be happy to share that good news, too.

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