How To Spot Damage Caused By Foundation Sinking And Settlement
It's no secret that dirt settles. The soil underneath your home has settled in many different layers over many, many years. Every layer has different characteristics, and this has a major effect on the foundation and structure above. When these soil layers are unable to bear the weight of your home on top of them, the foundation can begin to sink and settle into the earth.
When this happens, your home can experience damage in many different ways – some more obvious than others. When you know what to look for, the warning signs of foundation damage are unmistakable, and taking action before the damage increases is key.
1. Foundation Cracks
One of the most obvious signs that you've got a problem with foundation sinking or settling is finding noticeable cracks in your foundation walls. However, not all foundation wall cracks are bad – some are, in fact, normal. So how do you tell the difference? Location, direction and size are all factors.
When can foundation cracks be a sign your foundation is settling?
Shrinkage cracks in poured concrete foundations are normal. They happen while the concrete cures within the first year after construction, generally do not change over time, and are mostly harmless. However, when cracks appear years after your home is built, or grow longer or wider over time, it usually means something is moving, i.e. foundation settlement.
Foundation wall cracks that are wider at the top than at the bottom can indicate that part of the foundation is falling away from the rest. If you notice this problem, it's best not to fill the cracks with anything until you determine if the foundation needs to be stabilized. Filling the cracks may prevent a contractor from being able to lift the foundation back into place.
Another thing to keep in mind: some foundations that are moving or sinking have one large crack, while others have many small cracks. If you see many small cracks, just imagine how large the gap would be if all of those small gaps were put together.
2. Crack In Walls Or Above Windows And Door Frames
Drywall and plaster cracks are relatively easy to patch, but what causes them in the first place? It could be excess moisture or a poor mud and tape job, but it could also mean that your home has foundation problems. If foundation settlement is the cause, you will usually see the cracks re-open after they've been repaired. How do you know which types of cracks are a real problem? There are several key indicators that mean you should take action.
How can you tell if wall cracks are caused by foundation settlement?
Drywall cracks that occur around the corners of windows and doors – on any floor of your home – are often due to foundation movement. If you see a crack of this nature, it is best to have the foundation inspected by a professional. If you set a level on the window frame and it is un-level, this can be a sign of foundation settlement as well.
If a crack has been repaired once before and has opened again, it is likely a sign that the foundation is shifting or settling. If you are not the original owner of the home, take a close look at the area around the crack to determine if it has been patched in the past. Often times you will see a rougher finish or small hump in the area where the crack was once patched.
Another thing to watch for when it comes to drywall: nail pops. Nail pops occur when the drywall shows damage where nails or screws were placed. If the drywall shifts, the drywall mud that covers the screw will sometimes pop off. This may be a sign of foundation settlement, especially if you see more than one.
3. Sticking Doors Or Windows
Sticking doors and windows are more common on older houses than new ones. Sometimes it may be a moisture issue caused by high humidity or internal parts of a window system being worn out. On the other hand, it could be a sinking or settling foundation that is causing the door or window to fall out of square.
How do you know if sticking doors or windows are a sign of foundation settlement?
One way to try and determine if your sticking doors or windows were caused by a foundation settlement issue is to place a four-foot level on the top of the window or door frame. If it's not level, it's a good idea to have the foundation inspected by a professional. If it is level, you may have a different problem with the window or door itself.
For really old windows that stick, you might have them looked at by a window contractor. If the problem is seasonal, it could be an indication that the problem is moisture-related since increased levels of moisture in wood will cause it to expand.
When it comes to doors, if you're not the original homeowner, run your hand across the top of the door to see if it has been shaved down before. The wood will feel rougher if it has been shaved. If it was shaved to fit once before and is now rubbing again, it's likely that your home foundation is shifting or settling.
4. Uneven Floors
The floors in your home are made of wood on the upper levels and concrete in the basement. An uneven floor on any level of your home can be cause for concern.
If the basement concrete floors aren't level, it is usually caused by foundation settlement or heave. In either case you, should have it looked at by a pro because those types of problems will usually get worse over time.
If the wood floors of the upper levels are out of level, it could be caused by a couple of different issues. It could be the foundation settling or interior columns in the basement or crawlspace shifting. Another potential issue could be sagging floor joists, which are especially common in homes with a dirt crawlspace.
Do uneven floors always signal a foundation settlement problem?
There is almost always some sort of foundation problem associated with uneven floors, but some problems are easier to fix than others. When you have floors that are out of level, you should always have them inspected by a professional.
Regardless Of The Cause, Foundation Damage Gets Worse Over Time
If any of the foundation settlement warning signs we've outlined above have you worried about your home, the best thing you can do is take action now. Have a professional out to your home to inspect your foundation and determine if you've got a problem or not. If you do have a problem, you'll learn about what repairs are necessary to fix it and prevent further damage.
Foundation problems get worse and cause more damage throughout your home over time. This means the cost for repair not only on your home's foundation, but on the additional damage it causes, only increases with time.
Learn more about how foundation problems and subsequent repair affect your home's value, and if you notice symptoms of foundation sinking or settlement, 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.