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Foundation Settlement 101 – Guide for Homeowners

Foundation settlement can be extremely damaging to your home. Read on to find out what causes it and how to prevent it from occurring.

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A foundation is the “cornerstone” of a building as it holds the load above and ensures the building stays stable. However, it’s under constant assault by different forces, which can lead to structural problems. One of these is foundation settlement, which can result in deformities and cracks. While these issues usually start small, if not mitigated, they can lead to expensive structural repairs.  

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What Is Foundation Settlement?

Foundation settlement is the downward movement of the underside of the home, which is the foundation. Settlement occurs when the soil beneath your foundation starts shifting and creating voids. This makes the soil weak and unable to bear the weight of the house above it. As a result, your foundation may start to settle into the ground, leading to significant structural damage. 

What Causes Foundation Settlement?

Foundation settlement is not usually a sign of construction flaws. Instead, this phenomenon occurs when the soil beneath the foundation expands, contracts, or shifts making it hard to support the entire structure. Some common causes of foundation settlement include:

Moisture content significantly impacts the soil. Generally, when the soil loses all its moisture content, it tends to shrink in volume. As it shrinks, it creates voids, which your foundation settles into ultimately. This phenomenon is more common during times of moderate-to-severe drought or unusually hot summers. 

Wetting and Softening

Just like drying causes unstable soils, so does wet weather. During periods of drought, the ground forms cracks and crevices that are usually a result of shrinking soil. Once the rains return, these cracks make it easier for the water to go to deeper places under the foundation than it could before.

When the soil under the foundation becomes overly saturated, it softens and loses its load-bearing capacity, resulting in settlement. The same water may wash away or erode the soil below your foundation, creating voids for the structure to fall into.

Poor Soil Compaction

Another common cause of foundation settlement is poorly compacted soil. Just like wet soil, poorly compacted soil is unstable soil. Before building a structure, the site has to be excavated, filled, and leveled for ease of construction. When soil compaction is done properly, the ground provides a perfectly stable base for supporting foundations. If, however, it is poorly compacted, the soil will compress under the building’s weight and cause your foundation to fail, leading to structural damage.

Signs of Settlement

Some of the notable signs of a settling foundation include:

Foundation cracks: Cracks due to foundation settlement usually form at points where there is a hole or gap on the foundation walls, such as along windows and door openings. 

Leaning or tilting chimneys: A tilted chimney, or one that is separating from the home, is a sure sign of foundation settlement.

Cracks in the concrete slab floor: Cracks in your slab floor is another sign that the foundation is settling.  

Jamming or sticking doors or windows: The walls surrounding your home’s windows and doors are weak points. So, signs of a sinking foundation tend to show up here first. 

Types of Foundation Settlement

Foundation settlement is classified into three main categories:

Uniform Settlement: Sometimes a building or structure settles at a uniform rate without the formation of cracks. This type of settlement occurs when the structure is built on the same layer of soil up to foundation depth and does not have any major impact on a structure.

 Tipping Settlement: With this type, one portion of a structure settles down to a certain depth. It’s extremely damaging and can cause the entire structure to collapse.

Differential Settlement: This type of settlement occurs when a structure is built on soil containing different layers. As such, different areas of the structure may settle differently causing cracks to appear on different elements of the structure. In severe cases, differential settlement can lead to the collapse of an entire building. 

How to Resolve Foundation Settlement

Foundation push piers: Foundation push piers prevent cracks from spreading. They are great to use for heavier structures. In some cases, these piers can lift a sunken foundation and close the gaps permanently. 

Helical piers: Also known as screw piles, helical piers help to stabilize your foundation. These piers are installed down into stable soil, permanently stabilizing your foundation. These piers are ideal for lighter structures, and contractors use them to help lift foundations and restore floors to their original position. 

Slab piers: These hassle-free systems are suitable for homes with concrete slab foundations. They are installed deep into stable rock soil to stabilize and help level the foundation. Slab piers can help lift the concrete slab and the interior walls. 

At JES Foundation Repair, we offer long-lasting underpinning solutions for structural issues of all types. If your home has issues with foundation settlement and you’d like to learn more about restoring its structural stability, contact us today to schedule a free foundation inspection and repair estimate.

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