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The Ultimate Guide to Foundation Settlement

Your foundation or structural base is a vital part of your home. It bears the weight of the structure plus all that’s in it. How long it’ll stand stable depends on the kind of soil it’s built on. If it’s built on stable soil, the foundation will remain intact for many years. But if it’s built on weak soils, it’s going to sink within a few years.


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Cracked foundation

What Is Foundation Settlement?

Foundation settlement refers to the downward movement or the sinking of the base of a structure. This happens mostly when the underlying soil is shifty or expansive. In both situations, the soil is unable to hold up your home and all its contents.

What Causes Foundation Settlement?

Some homes are not built on stable soils. When the particles in the soil shrink or expand, they leave voids underneath the structure. So, what causes such changes in the ground? Here are several factors that can lead to these changes:

Drying and Shrinking:

  • During long droughts, the soil dries out. When the particles are left without any moisture in them, they shrink and leave gaps in the ground. Such gaps can happen underneath homes that were built on unstable soil and lead to settlement. Therefore, it is important to keep the soil around your home moist at all times. When you water your plants, water the ground as well!

Wetting and Softening:

  • On the other hand, during rainy days soil tends to get saturated. When this happens, soil particles soften and no longer offer stable support to the foundation. Also, water can wash away some of the soil, causing gaps in the ground.

Poor Soil Compaction:

  • Some types of soil are poorly compacted, and they compress under the structure’s weight. Before a building is constructed, builders need to excavate, fill, and level the soil in the construction site. When they compact the soil properly, foundation settlement shouldn’t occur.

Signs of Foundation Settlement

Anytime the foundation settles or sinks, you will be able to observe certain signs. These are the most obvious.

Foundation Cracks:

  • Cracks and crevices in your foundation are a strong indicator of a settling foundation. With time, the foundation cracks may grow longer and broader, a sign that the foundation is shifting further.

    Cracks that are wider at the top are an indication of uneven foundation settlement. In such a case, merely filling the gap won’t do it; you first need to determine if the foundation needs to be stabilized. Otherwise, filling the crack may prevent a contractor from being able to lift the foundation back into place.

Sticking Doors and Windows:

  • Sticking doors and windows are a common problem in older homes. Sometimes this may be as a result of a moisture issue or internal parts of the door or window system being worn out. Other times it could be a settling foundation that is causing your window or door to fall out of its frame.

Cracks in the Drywall:

  • Another sign you’re experiencing settlement is cracks on your drywall. The cracks could be due to a poor tape job, excess moisture, or an indication of lingering foundation issues. While these cracks are easy to patch, it’s best to find out what is causing them before you patch your wall.

    If foundation settlement is the cause, you will realize that the cracks reopen after some time. Keep an eye out for nail pops. These occur when the drywall shifts forcing what covers the screw to pop off.

Uneven Floors:

  • If floors appear uneven or out of level, that’s a sure sign that your foundation has settled.

    Leaning or tilting chimney and stair-step cracks in concrete block or brick foundation walls are other signs to watch out for.

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 Groundworks, 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.