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Foundation Settlement 101: A Guide for Homeowners

foundation settlement cgi

The foundation is a home’s cornerstone, supporting the load above and ensuring stability. However, foundations encounter various elements that can cause structural problems, including settlement. These issues often begin small but can lead to costly repairs if not addressed.

This guide outlines the causes and signs of settlement, prevention methods, and foundation repair options for long-term structural support.

What Is Foundation Settlement?

3-D image of home foundation settlement

Foundation settlement refers to the downward movement of a home’s foundation. This occurs when the soil beneath the foundation weakens and loses its ability to support the house.

As a result, the foundation may begin to sink into the ground, causing significant structural damage. Home foundation settlement is classified based on the pattern of movement, as outlined below.

Three Types of Foundation Settlement

Foundation settlement is classified into the following three categories:

concrete slab crack

Uniform Settlement

Uniform settlement occurs when the entire home or building structure settles uniformly and at an even rate. This settlement type is generally less concerning than others, especially if it is minor. Uniform settlement causes slab cracks, drainage issues, and utility leaks.

misaligned door

Tipping Settlement

Tipping settlement occurs when one side of the foundation settles more than the other, causing the entire structure to tilt in one direction. This settlement type causes misaligned doors and windows, among other problems.

stair-step brick crack

Differential Settlement

Differential settlement is the most common, occurring when various foundation areas settle at different rates or depths. This settling can cause stair-step brick cracks, uneven floors, and structural concerns.

What Causes Foundation Settlement?

Foundation settlement is caused by many factors, including:

soil and grass
  • Soil Moisture Content: Soil shrinkage during droughts and soil expansion from heavy rains cause foundation settlement by creating gaps and uneven pressure beneath the foundation.
  • Poor Soil Compaction: If soil isn’t compacted correctly before construction, it compresses under the building’s weight, causing foundation failure and structural damage.
  • Weak Soil: Unstable, weak soil causes foundation settlement, as the soil struggles to support the structure’s weight.
  • Improper Drainage: Poorly designed or clogged drainage systems allow water accumulation near the foundation base, weakening the soil and contributing to settlement.
  • Invasive Tree Roots: Mature tree roots growing near the foundation can absorb soil moisture, causing shrinkage and settlement.
  • Construction Issues: Construction errors, such as using poor-quality materials or not following proper building codes, can cause settlement.

The Signs of Foundation Settlement

Foundation settlement has many damaging effects on a home, including:

JES foundation damage 3D model

Addressing the initial signs of foundation damage is crucial to prevent further damage and costly repairs. Contact a foundation repair expert like JES for a free inspection.

How to Resolve Foundation Settlement

The foundation repair method used depends on the location and severity of the settlement damage. Here are a few of our foundation repair methods:

push piers in dirt

Push Piers

Foundation push piers are steel tubes hydraulically driven into the ground until they reach solid, load-bearing soil. This transfers the home’s weight from the unstable soil to the deeper, stronger layers, permanently stabilizing the foundation.

slab pier

Slab Piers

Slab pier systems are suitable for homes with concrete slab foundations. They are installed deep into stable soil to stabilize and level the foundation. Slab piers can lift the concrete slab precisely back to a level position.

Helical Piers

Helical piers stabilize foundations by screwing deep into the ground until they reach a suitable load-bearing stratum, providing permanent support for your foundations. Repair experts lift and level foundations using helical piers.

JES Foundation Repair offers permanent foundation underpinning solutions for all structural concerns. If your home has foundation settlement issues and you’d like to learn more, contact us to schedule a free foundation inspection.

JES Offers Permanent Foundation Repair Solutions

JES work truck in neighborhood

JES offers foundation repair solutions, ensuring your home’s stability and your family’s safety. Our exclusive piers systems, professional installation, and lifetime warranties provide long-term peace of mind. If you reside in Virginia, DC, Maryland, or Northeastern North Carolina, contact us today for a free inspection.

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    Foundation Settlement FAQs

    It is generally recommended to have your foundation inspected at least once every few years, especially if you notice any signs of foundation problems such as cracks in the walls, uneven floors, or doors and windows that stick. Regular inspections can help identify any potential issues early on and prevent them from escalating into more significant problems. Additionally, if you live in an area with unstable soil or experience extreme weather conditions, more frequent inspections may be necessary. 

    It’s not the best idea to try and fix a settling foundation on your own. As your foundation succumbs to damage, it can become dangerous for you to move throughout your basement or crawl space, let alone try and take on the damage without help. Not only do you put yourself in danger when you try to fix your foundation on your own, but the work may be too much for one person to bear on his or her own. 

    Missing Tools and Protective Materials 

    Consider this: The process of fixing a settling foundation often involves full-exterior excavation. To even start fixing your home, you’d have to spend weeks to months digging out your foundation in the face of the elements, not to mention your other responsibilities. 

    Implementing the kinds of solutions you might need to bring your home back up to snuff often requires power tools you may not have access to. When trying to stop your home from settling, for example, you may need to invest in underpinning or piering solutions. While there are some piering solutions, for example, that are more affordable than others, it is extremely difficult to dig down below your foundation to the point where you can safely install these solutions in a way that’ll ensure they work in the long run. 

    Making Mistakes on the Job 

    Furthermore, fixing your foundation on your own can cause significant problems for you down the line. If you try to implement a DIY solution to stave off settlement or other forms of water damage, it is possible that you may do more damage to your foundation than good. In fact, you can often make the damage done to your foundation worse than it was before you acted at all. Should you have to call a professional later on, you may wind up spending more money on your eventual solution than you would have had you reached out for guidance sooner. 

    Professional contractors contending with a DIY job will first have to remove the solution you attempted to implement. Only when that solution is out of the way will they be able to go about the process of fixing your foundation properly. If you want to save money repairing your foundation, then reach out to a professional contractor in your area for an inspection and evaluation.

    Foundation pier installation is a specialized task requiring expert knowledge, skills, and equipment. It is not advisable to undertake this task independently. Rely on JES Foundation Repair’s expertise for assured quality installation of foundation piers.

    Shaye Glisson

    Shaye Glisson

    Shaye is an SEO Content Writer for Groundworks with over twelve years of experience creating helpful content across various industries, including home services and retail. She is a Gulf Coast native and writes from her firsthand knowledge of the area's hurricane and flood impacts on the local community. In her free time, Shaye enjoys exploring the local food and music scenes.

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