Foundation Repair

Cracked bricks, sticking doors and windows, and cracks around door frames are signs of foundation problems.

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Causes

There are numerous reasons your house may have these problems. Most of these causes stem from the ground.

Expansive soils create foundation damage. Expansive soils, including, clay soil, shrink-swell, and heavable soil, are all different names for the same thing. Expansive soils are responsible for more damage to buildings than any other natural hazard.

This type of soil contains minerals like smectite clays, which absorb a lot of moisture. As the expansive soil soaks up water it expands – up to 15 times its dry volume. Furthermore, the expanded soil then pushes against your foundation and creates cracks or waterproofing problems.

In fact, as the expansive soil dries, it shrinks. The soil shrinkage gives your foundation room to move around. Consequently, this extra room removes the support from your foundation and will cause cracks, settling, and other foundation damage. The pressure of expansive soils against your foundation can exceed 30,000 pounds per square foot.

Deep foundations require a type of foundation repair that has support columns, pillars, or piles. These piers are driven deep into the ground or until they reach bedrock. This is done to provide additional stabilization when the surface soil can no longer support the weight of your home.

These types of foundations require solutions which address problems like settlement or stair-step cracked bricks. For example, if your home has cracked bricks caused by settlement, push piers or resistance piles may be installed. The piers are installed beneath your home’s foundation footing and then driven into bedrock or stable soil.

The piers are installed into stable soil or bedrock because it prevents further settlement and movement. Furthermore, the resistance provided by the stable soil can even help lift your home back to its original level.

When the soil your home is built on can no longer support the weight of your home, the structure will start to settle. An expert may recommend installing a deep foundation system to stabilize your home.

Deep foundation soils and deep foundation systems are best understood by starting with the ground. Soil is made up of obvious layers which have different qualities and are a good indicator of how deep you need to extend your foundation. 

The top layers of soil compress and easily compact – this is where settlement occurs and where you’ll find problem soils like expansive clay. The deeper soil layers, like parent rock, are stable and less likely to move. This is why a deep foundation pier system is installed into competent load bearing soils or bedrock.

Can flooding cause foundation damage? Absolutely. In fact, foundations in wet ground almost always end up with cracks and other structural problems. Even if you don’t think you have lots of wet ground around your foundation, even a slight increase in moisture can prove dangerous.

There are many different types of flooding, and unfortunately, most of them can contribute to your foundation cracking. Whether through an act of nature or because of a plumbing problem, these types of water damage may seriously impact your home.

  • External Flooding

This type of flooding doesn’t happen inside your home; it happens on the outside. It may be because of a monsoon, a plumbing issue in the neighborhood, or just poor drainage in your area. Regardless of the reason, it’s going to mire your foundation in wet ground, which is never a good thing.

If the area around your home has been dealing with a lot of water recently, it’ll start sinking into the soil. That will make the soil expand and push against your foundation, creating extreme hydrostatic pressure that can easily lead to foundation cracks and water leaks.

  • Snow Melting 

Heavy snowfall can be a problem for foundations, but it’s not always for the reasons you might think. Many foundations can survive the extreme cold and even the weight of the snow. However, when heavy snow starts to melt, it creates excess flooding.

Similar to other excess flooding, snow melting can create lots of problems for your foundation. If your foundation has any existing cracks, even small ones, water will almost certainly find its way in. As the water starts to evaporate, this can lead to water damage not only in your foundation but in the rest of your home.

  • Plumbing Leaks 

This type of flooding is almost exclusively internal. If you’re dealing with a plumbing leak, it’s very possible that the leak will end up traveling under your home or inside the walls, which is where most plumbing exists. Many plumbing leaks, then, end up leaking into your basement or crawl space area.

Sometimes, it can be even more difficult to catch foundation issues due to plumbing leaks because you may have to deal with much more visible problems first. If you have a plumbing issue, even if the water mostly impacted the inside of your home, it’s a good idea to schedule a foundation inspection to make sure it didn’t also create foundation problems.

If excess water is a problem, why does the foundation crack when exposed to substantial drought as well? The answer is that steady moisture is the best option for your foundation, so anything that deviates from the standard can cause problems.

It doesn’t matter why you’re experiencing drought. Each reason often ends up causing serious foundation issues. Those issues usually stem from soil expanding and contracting too much, which can lead to cracks and leaks.

  • Hot Summers

When rain comes during the wet seasons, it expands the soil like a sponge. Ideally, a dry season should then slowly make the soil shrink again. However, if the season is more hot and dry than normal, it’s possible for it to cause the foundation to settle.

If the summer’s unusually dry, especially if the spring was unusually wet, you’re at higher risk for foundation issues. The gap between the soil and the foundation can create cracks and leaks, allowing for future foundation issues.

  • Excessive Evaporation

Ideally, you want the soil around your home to stay about the same moisture at all times. So what happens if you end up experiencing a season that’s drier than usual, resulting in increased evaporation and drier soil around your home?

This evaporation, which also happens during very hot seasons, will cause the soil to shrink. That leads to the same foundation problems you’ll experience during hot summers: a gap appears between the shrinking soil and the foundation, leading to a weakened foundation. 

  • Large Trees Near Your Home

Large trees can provide shade and beauty for a home if they’re planted properly. However, if someone planted these trees without taking into account your home’s foundation or the way the trees take in water, you could find significant problems arising very quickly. That’s because of something you may not have expected: the tree’s roots.

Trees obviously need water to survive. To get that water, they typically suck it out of the ground through the roots. If you don’t water the tree very much and the soil is drier than normal, the tree will take additional water through the ground anyway. That’ll dry out the soil around your foundation, leading to shrinkage, gaps, and cracks.

From a serious natural disaster to the everyday weather happening around your home, the weather has a significant impact on your home’s health. That includes both whatever’s happening above ground and whatever’s happening below ground as well. You need to pay attention to both halves of the problem.

If you’ve recently experienced a weather issue that’s more serious than the ones you’re typically used to, it’s important that you actually address it. These weather issues are the ones most likely to cause foundation cracks and other foundation problems.

  • Hurricane 

Hurricanes come with a variety of potential home problems. The extreme winds can cause external damage, even ripping off windows and doors. The rain can cause flooding. The debris can impact your home, potentially shattering windows and causing both cosmetic and structural damage.

However, hurricanes can also cause internal damage. That flooding from hurricane rain can cause your soil to expand and push against the foundation. It can also flood your basement or crawl space. The wind pushing on the top half of the home can even cause damage to the foundation given enough pressure. 

  • Nor’easter

Similar to a hurricane, a Nor’easter typically impacts the East Coast, often moving upwards through New England and even impacting parts of Canada. Although many homes in these areas can handle the intensity of a Nor’easter, the experience can absolutely build up over time.

As with a hurricane, the strong winds and heavy rain can cause a variety of different types of damage. If you’ve lived through a particularly nasty Nor’easter, you’re probably going to want to schedule a foundation inspection just to make sure you avoid any issues before they start.

  • Earthquake 

You probably don’t think you have anything to worry about regarding an earthquake because it’s unlikely you’ve personally felt them when they happen. However, even a small amount of movement under the ground can seriously impact your home’s foundation; after all, the foundation itself is entirely dependent on the ground around it.

The fact is, even the smallest earthquake can have severe consequences for your foundation. Even if you might not know it, your home may be standing up to earthquakes already. Virginia alone has handled over 300 earthquakes since attaining statehood, after all. Earthquakes can magnify small foundation cracks, and over time, that can create huge problems.

The last type of foundation problem arises simply from poor construction planning. Typically, this doesn’t fall on the homeowner’s shoulders. You probably purchased the house from someone else, not knowing how much planning and thought went into the home’s construction.

However, the home’s construction requires a variety of extremely important checks and balances. If the construction crew or planning team cut corners at all, you may run into serious problems. That can include foundation problems that may not even show up for many years.

  • Poor Construction

You probably don’t know how extensive the process of preparing to construct a house is. If you want to construct a house that will actually stand the test of time, you’re going to need to put a lot of thought and energy into the construction. Poor processing of that construction will create a problematic end result.

Did the construction crew use high-quality materials? Did the planning team create a foundation that would actually hold thousands of pounds of weight on top of it? Did every team go through the necessary steps without cutting corners? If any team skipped any steps, your foundation could have problems both now and in the future.

  • Poor Soil Preparation

Preparing the soil is an extremely important part of maintaining a strong foundation for your home. The builders need to test the soil, compact the soil properly, and design a foundation that will hold up to the soil around it.

If the builders didn’t properly test the soil or cut corners when compacting it, those problems will start to show up pretty quickly. You’ll start to see cracks in the foundation as the shoddy work shines through, as it eventually will.

Another problem can arise if your home rests on a type of soil that just inherently tends to exert pressure on a home’s foundation. The two main types of potentially problematic soil are expansive and consolidating soil.

  • Expansive Soil 

Expansive soil, also sometimes called heaving soil, experiences extreme changes when introduced to too much moisture. This type of soil will expand much more if there’s a flood, rain, or other moisture issues. If your home rests on expansive soil, you’re going to have issues with upheaval and hydrostatic pressure, which can cause your home to bow in on itself.

  • Consolidating Soil

Consolidating soil is the opposite of expansive soil. That means it tends to experience extreme changes when introduced to dryness; it shrinks much more than other types of soil. Where expansive soil can exert a lot of pressure on a foundation, consolidating soil can start to pull away from the foundation. That can lead to home settling, causing foundation cracks.

  • Poor Drainage

Your home needs to be able to drain off water properly. Otherwise, that water will just collect around your foundation, and that’s much more likely to lead to foundation problems both now and in the future. Homes built without robust drainage systems can end up with water problems that wouldn’t even make an impact on a home with proper drainage.

If you have good drainage built-in, just make sure you’re using it properly. That means keeping your gutters clear and pointing downspouts away from the home. Otherwise, you may need a foundation repair expert to discuss additional options for building drainage systems onto your home.

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FAQs

Foundation failure occurs when your house settles too far, and the foundation can no longer support the weight of your home. Typically, people differentiate between “foundation concerns” and “foundation failure” by asserting that the former includes signs and symptoms of foundation failure, whereas the latter is what happens when these signs go too far. 

Foundation failure can take many forms, and just because you’ve never noticed foundation failure signs in your home doesn’t mean they aren’t lurking just below the surface. Foundation failure is something you need to catch before it actually happens; that way, you’re more likely to be able to fix it before things go completely awry.

A few things are most commonly associated with foundation failure:  

Poor foundation construction and poor soil preparation are two sides of the same coin. They both illustrate something that happens when the initial preparation of the ground for your home is incorrect. These aren’t quite as common, because most construction crews take great pride in the value of their work, but they can happen. 

As a general rule, the root ball of a tree stretches out as wide as the part of the tree you can see. That means if there’s a large tree near your home and the branches are shading your roof, the roots are probably growing under your foundation. This is an interesting variety of foundation failure you might not see coming. 

Water problems and dry heat cause essentially opposing problems. When the soil takes in a lot of water, it will expand, forcing excess strain on your foundation walls. When the soil dries out, it will shrink, leaving your foundation walls with little to no support. This constant pushing and pulling on your home’s foundation takes a significant toll on your home and can eventually lead to foundation failure.

There are four common methods for foundation repair. 

  • Underpinning 

Foundation underpinning strengthens and stabilizes your home’s existing foundation. For underpinning, you will have a structure that an expert will install underneath your foundation, providing additional support to the home. Foundation underpinning often requires a pier system, such as helical pierspush piers, or slab piers. Foundation underpinning can stabilize your home and even lift it back up to its initial level. 

  • Foundation Pilings 

If you have a deep foundation, which is installed into a stable soil level for extra stability and support, there are a few ways you can repair and stabilize it. One method is foundation pilings, which are also called concrete pilings. However, JES prefers to stay away from foundation pilings because they require a pile driver to pound the piling into the soil; this disruptive process can damage landscaping and nearby buildings.  

  • Steel Pier Systems 

Rather than using foundation pilings, JES only uses galvanized steel pier systems. That’s because galvanized steel pier systems are stronger and safer than concrete pilings; they withstand the test of time, and they’re certain to be a permanent solution to your settling issues. Plus, galvanized steel pier systems are cleaner and less invasive than concrete pilings, so you don’t have to worry about either temporary or permanent property damage. 

  • House Leveling  

House leveling is essentially a secondary step of foundation repair. This step restores the home back to its original position. However, before you can engage in house leveling, you need to stabilize your foundation. That means you have to use JES’s foundation repair solutions to lift your home and stabilize your foundation before you do any house leveling.

A stair-step crack almost always means that your home’s foundation is sinking more on one side than on the other. That’s because of the building structure of block foundations, which can be a benefit or a detriment depending on the surroundings. 

Block foundations tend to get stair-step cracks when the home foundation is sinking more on one side because that sinking process puts substantially more pressure on one side than the other. You can’t fix this one on your own. You need to call in a foundation repair contractor to fix the base problem, rather than just trying to paint over the cracks

Basement wall cracks can have a wide variety of causes. You could be dealing with anything from foundation settling to basement waterproofing issues or even faulty basement construction. That means these wall cracks could end up being almost nothing of concern. However, that doesn’t mean you can neglect them. 

It’s important to realize that basement wall cracks can always be a concern, no matter how large they are. Even tiny vertical cracks in your basement wall could be a sign that you’re experiencing significant structural problems. Additionally, tiny concrete cracks can grow over time. You want to handle these tiny cracks when they’re still tiny, if at all possible.

Bouncy and squeaky floors typically indicate that your floor joists need additional support. There are many reasons your floor joists might not have the amount of support they need. For example, the home could suffer from a design flaw, the construction workers may not have installed the right floor joists, or there could have been a heavy renovation that put too much stress on the floor joints. 

While this is definitely a serious problem, it’s also not the only option if you have bouncy and squeaky floors. Bouncy and uneven floors are a common sign of wood rot, which can spread like wildfire through a home and is near-impossible to get rid of. Clearly, it’s something you need to take seriously. 

Fixing these bouncy and squeaky floors isn’t as easy as just sistering the joist or adding a brick underneath the bouncy parts. You need a professional who will be able to inspect the area, then give you information about what’s wrong and what you can do to fix it. These foundation problems, especially if they’re highly noticeable, should be left to the professionals.

The concept of foundation settling describes when the ground your home sits on can no longer support the full weight of your home. This always causes a shift in the foundation, and it can cause serious damage to the foundation, basement, or crawl space. 

House settling problems come with a wide variety of signs. On the outside of the home you can see these various signs: 

Once you’ve looked for these signs around the outside of your home, consider these signs on the interior:  

Bowed basement walls are another clear-cut sign that there’s something wrong. Although it’s a natural instinct to want to fix things on your own whenever possible, bowed basement walls are absolutely not something you can fix. The problem in this situation goes much deeper than something you would be able to fix on your own. 

Most commonly, bowed basement walls indicate that the earth and water around your home have started to press into your basement so strongly that the basement walls are unable to handle the strain. As the basement walls start to move toward a place of crumbling, they’ll start to bow inward. This sign means you should contact a foundation repair expert as soon as possible.

Bowing floors in the kitchen typically showcase a foundation problem. For the most part, bowing floors occur when either your home is settling abnormally or you’re having a waterproofing problem. Either way, it’s definitely not a good sign and it’s absolutely something you should address as soon as possible. 

Abnormal settling is something that happens in some homes. Some portions of the middle of the floor might be settling more quickly than the rest of the floor. That might occur because you have a very heavy piece in the center of your kitchen, which may be the case if you have an extremely heavy kitchen island, or it might simply be that the center of your kitchen doesn’t have enough support.

Waterproofing is another potential problem that you should be paying attention to. As with bouncy and squeaky floors, bowing floors, whether in the kitchen or otherwise, can be a sign of a moisture problem with the floor joists underneath. This is a problem that requires intervention as quickly as possible. 

The thing is, there’s almost no way for you to know exactly what problem you’re having with the simple symptom of “bowing floors.” You could have either of these problems or you could have a more rare type of problem. That’s why the best way to fix your kitchen’s bowing floors is to schedule an inspection through JES.

More likely than not, your chimney actually has its own foundation that’s wholly separate from the rest of the home. Although this can be useful in giving the chimney enough support so it typically wouldn’t start sinking quickly, it can also be frustrating because that means it’s completely separate from your home, without the additional support necessary to keep it in one place.

Another possible cause is that the chimney’s foundation simply isn’t strong enough to support its weight, and it’s sinking into the ground. That can cause it to lean away from the rest of the home because one side will typically start to sink more quickly than the other side. This can cause the brick cracking that you’re noticing. 

No matter which signs you’re noticing, it’s important to recognize that this is a real and serious problem. You don’t want your chimney to fall over entirely, after all. If you’re seeing that your chimney is starting to have a leaning problem, or you’re noticing a lot of cracked bricks around the ends of the chimney, it’s extremely important that you address it as soon as you can.

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