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Poor Soil Supporting Chimneys

If you notice your chimney tilting, it could be an issue with the soil supporting its foundation. What causes the soil underneath to deteriorate?

brick chimney separating from home

Causes for Foundation Problems – Poor Soil Supporting Chimneys

Relaxing by the fireplace is a comforting winter pastime that many homeowners enjoy. Before you toss a new log onto your fire, however, you must make sure your chimney is in top shape.

Your chimney expels the toxic smoke the fireplace spews away from your home. If you notice it has started to tilt or even separate from your home, this can create serious issues. This tilting can occur even if you are meticulous about cleaning your chimney.

What causes your chimney to tilt? How can you go about fixing it?

Chimney Problem Signs

If you are having an issue with your chimney, it is not wise to ignore it. Doing so could lead to dangerous consequences such as: 

  • Toxic gases pervading your home
  • Possible injury from falling bricks
  • House fires
  • Collapsed roof
  • Fallen chimney

Unfortunately, when it comes to chimney maintenance, most homeowners do not know where to start. What are some problem signs you should look out for?

  • Tilting 

This is the most visible sign that something is wrong with your chimney. Your chimney should always be aligned with your home’s structure, not carelessly swaying around. The chimney itself can be quite heavy. Leaving it to lean could result in disastrous consequences for your home, your family, and even your neighbors, should your chimney fall one day.

However, keep in mind that some chimneys are designed to lean. It is possible your fireplace was not centered properly. As a result, the brick courses might be offset a bit to create a symmetrical appearance from the outside. This might still trouble you, but as long as the horizontal mortar joints remain level, this should be fine.

It is best to have your chimney inspected yearly in case any problems should arise in the future.

  • Gaps 

Unfortunately, it is not always easy for homeowners to discern if their chimney is tilting or not. If you are still unsure, it is best to look for gaps between your chimney and house. It does not have to be a significant gap, either.

The joint between the side of your house and an exterior chimney should not have any gap whatsoever. You may also notice signs of quick repairs made by previous owners filling this gap with:

  • Mortar
  • Caulk
  • Foam insulation
  • Metal straps (to fasten the chimney in place)

Unfortunately, these measures are only temporary fixes at best. You need to consult an expert about more permanent chimney repairs in the future.

If your chimney runs through your house’s interior, check for gaps in your attic’s framed opening. If your chimney appears to press against that opening and has a gap that opens on one side, then it is tilted.

Gaps also invite leaking issues and pests to crawl into your home. It is best to take care of these issues as soon as you spot them.

  • Uneven or Cracked Foundation 

Though gaps or tilting chimneys are troubling signs, you also need to keep an eye on your home’s foundation. Because the chimney’s own infrastructure depends on a solid foundation, an uneven or cracked foundation can pose several problems. These issues can extend past your chimney and affect your entire house as well.

Your basement is likely to display these cracks, as it is the closest room to your foundation.

Common Causes of Foundation Problems

What Causes Soil Supporting Chimneys to Weaken?

Total chimney replacement can be expensive and time-consuming. It is far more cost-effective to catch the warning signs before they worsen. Knowing what causes chimneys to shift around in the first place will also help. What causes chimneys’ infrastructures to weaken?

  • Poor Soil 
Cracked shrinking soil with foliage

Most chimneys are supported by compacted soil that will bear its weight and help it stand upright. When the soil is loose or of poor quality, this can adversely affect your chimney’s structure. Unfortunately, foundations and basements are often built within loose, backfilled soil. The soil is meant to surround and support the foundation in a sort of compact bowl shape in what is known as the clay bowl effect.

Looser soils or ones that are heavily impacted by water content are often the worst soils to use for chimney support. These expansive soils simply cannot bear the weight for very long, and erosion over time will not help matters either.

Cities that see a lot of rain, snow, and humidity are the most at risk of chimney issues. Wetter climates overall might find their chimneys are more likely to tilt or sink as a result of all the retained moisture within the soil support.

  • Inadequate Footing 

The footing at the very base of your chimney is meant to keep it stable no matter what. If there is something wrong with the footing, it can affect the entire chimney.

Chimney footings need to be at least one foot thick and at least six inches wide on all sides. Anything shallower than that will cause the footing to heave in colder weather. The ground underneath may freeze and expand, and the pressure can weaken an already weak footing.

Consequently, the footing and surrounding foundation may crack due to repeated water infiltration in the soil and the pressure this creates. In some cases, these constant floods can deteriorate your footing completely and you will have to replace it to restabilize your chimney.

The concrete that makes up your foundation may also lack the proper reinforcements that prevent this. Inadequate footing may give way to other foundational issues if left unchecked.

How Can You Fix Poorly Supported Chimneys?

If you notice your chimney is starting to tilt, it is only natural that you will want to repair it right away. However, chimney repair is not a task most homeowners are well equipped for.

This is why it is a better idea to hire a foundation expert instead. The experts will know exactly how to repair your leaning chimney and any other foundation issues you might have quickly and efficiently.

Often, foundation repair experts will first need to inspect the damage around your chimney and foundation. Each home’s foundation problems are unique and therefore need unique solutions. Once assessed, the foundation expert will typically set up a piering system that will stabilize and lift your chimney. These heavy-duty piers bore deep into the soil to then connect to stronger supporting soils within the foundation. By doing this, the surrounding soil can bear your chimney’s weight that much easier.

Unfortunately, the tools for such a job are professional-grade and not widely available to the public. Experts will not only install this system quickly and discreetly, but they can also keep your chimney and foundation standing for generations to come.

Chimney Foundation FAQs

The quality of the soil itself can have an effect on your chimney’s stability. That means you really need to understand your soil’s quality overall if you’re looking for a way to maximize chimney stability. What elements of your soil may have a problem if you’re trying to define it as “poor soil quality?”

  •  The Meaning Behind Soil’s Texture and Structure

A soil’s texture and structure depend on its proportions of sand, silt, and clay and how those proportions are arranged. Different mixtures will create different potential problems, but also different amounts of potential stability.

There’s no one “perfect” soil texture or structure, especially because this proportional change may vary depending on location. An expert can let you know whether you might have soil problems around your home.

  • Common Reasons for Soil Issues

There are a variety of soil mixtures that may run into more problems than other mixtures. One thing to remember is that high-clay soils can cause more problems than low-clay soils, even though they can seem more stable at times.

For example, soils that are made up of more than 40 percent clay tend to retain more water. They also move air and water slower through their particles, which means it takes much longer for water to drain out of this type of soil.

  • How to Fix These Poor Soil Problems

Fixing your poor soil problems isn’t necessarily easy. There is a variety of ways to fix issues with your soil, ranging from replacing some of the poor soil to adding more structural stability to your home’s foundation so it stands a chance against this poor soil.

The best way to choose a fix is to talk to a Groundworks expert and figure out what your home will benefit most from. Fixing your poor soil problems doesn’t have to be difficult when you have an expert’s help.

Cracked foundations can create all sorts of issues that go beyond tilted chimneys; if you have serious issues with your foundation, you might end up with secondary concerns. It’s very important that you get your foundation inspected yearly by a professional. An expert can help uncover any issues and provide permanent solutions, including solutions for these problems.

  • Flooding and Hydrostatic Pressure Issues

When you have a lot of water around your home, you’re almost certainly going to end up with flooding problems and issues with hydrostatic pressure. It’s very common among homeowners who have issues with water.

This water can come from a variety of areas. However, an uneven foundation tends to make more water build up on one side than the other, increasing the hydrostatic pressure and resulting in more of a possibility for flooding.

  • Pest Infestations 

If you have an uneven foundation, you’re also typically going to end up with cracks throughout that foundation. Even if they’re relatively small cracks, that’s a great start for pests of all kinds.

From ants and other insects to snakes and other small predators, you’re much more likely to deal with pest infestations if you have an uneven foundation. Fixing that foundation can be a crucial element of avoiding infestations.

  • Tripping Hazards and Aesthetic Problems

Last, but certainly not least, you can end up with pretty serious tripping and aesthetic problems because of your uneven foundation. These can be either dramatic or just sort of annoying.

It’s true that this isn’t necessarily the most important reason to fix your uneven foundation. At the same time, keeping your home safe and beautiful is definitely an important element of maintaining your home.

Especially if you’re a talented DIYer, you might wonder whether you could just repair your home’s foundation yourself. Although this might be something that you’re considering, it’s a much better idea to just bring in an expert to repair the foundation. Here’s what you need to know about the downfalls of DIY in this specific area of the home.

  • The Problems With DIY Foundation Repair

The biggest problem with trying to DIY foundation repair is the fact that you probably won’t be able to do it in the first place. Foundation repair often requires the use of professional-grade equipment that many homeowners don’t have access to or know how to use.

If you even try to manage this professional-grade equipment, you’re liable to hurt yourself, damage your home, or otherwise create more problems than you’re able to fix. Why would you risk it?

  • Reasons to Get an Expert

As you can see, it’s best to leave foundation repair to the experts. When you talk to a Groundworks foundation repair expert, you can be sure this expert will address your problems, give you more information about what’s going on in your home, and work with you to find the best solution.

The best solution for your home will vary depending on the problem you’re having. Regardless of what your solution ends up being, a Groundworks expert can help you do it.

Leave Chimney Repair to the Experts

Chimney issues can be both worrying and frustrating. Tilted chimneys present a hazard should a huge storm blow them over. Gaps between the joint and chimney can also invite unwanted moisture or pests into your home.

Repairing the soil and foundation underneath your chimney requires advanced tools and knowledge that most homeowners, unfortunately, do not have access to. This is why hiring a foundation expert to take a look at your chimney for you is a good idea. They will provide the best solution for your unique situation.

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