Foundation settling or shifting can be caused by many variables. Before any repairs can be made these variables need to be identified and understood. In medical communities the saying is “cure the disease, and then treat the symptoms”. This applies to foundation repair also, we need to find out what is causing the problem, why is it causing a problem and then finding a solution to the problem.
The most common cause of foundation problems is moisture. Sometimes it is a lack of moisture and sometimes it is too much moisture. Problems with gutters, downspouts or drain tile are very common. Clogging is usually caused by leaves, debris, or collapsing. In some cases the clog causes the sump pump to recycle water that erodes and saturates soils along the foundation. Rain water needs to be diverted away from the foundation to prevent hydrostatic pressure on the foundation and floors. In times of drought water may need to be applied near the foundation to maintain more consistent soil moisture content.
Many times foundation problems manifest themselves in the form of severe cracking of slabs or basement floors. Basement floor slab cracking can occur for several reasons. They can be significantly thinner than the blueprint called for or the sub base of stone may be significantly thinner than originally called for. Heaving often results in cracking as well.
Binding or inoperable doors and windows, distorted glass panes and wedge shaped gaps at the top and bottom of doors and windows is a common complaint of homeowners, especially settling homes. Sticking doors and windows are symptoms of foundation problems. As the structure settles differentially, sticking doors and windows become a nuisance.
Most drywall cracks appear in the corner of doorframes or windows and result from differential movement between framing and the drywall. Some wood frame movement can be caused by normal processes such as shrinkage or temperature expansion.
Houses with crawl spaces generally show recurring damage patterns. Often a few vertical cracks in the crawl space open and close seasonally. Due to their shallow foundation nature these cracks grow significantly during extreme periods of drought or rain. Among several potential factors , these shallow footings may rest on expansive soil that experiences more acute cycles of shrink and swell, which is often aggravated by landscaping.
Damage to exterior flatwork is also a common sign of foundation problems. Cracking of concrete can have a variety of causes including swelling soils, grade, concrete shrinkage, settling, frost heave, tree roots and poor quality of concrete or installation. Concrete that slopes toward the foundation and cracks channel water against foundation walls and footings causing cracks.
Repairing damaged foundations represents the greatest engineering challenge for a known problem. Improperly supported pilasters, concrete piers , random crack filling, misapplication of carbon fiber strips and the engineering conviction that wider footings prevent settlement are examples of potential ill-conceived foundation repair methods.
The art of foundation repair begins with a complete foundation investigation by a competent foundation engineer. This engineer will visit the symptoms and measure the settlement of the structure while reading the signs of damaged foundations. Upon completing his investigation he will then give a written description of the issues along with recommendations for a cure.
Potential cures can be steel resistance piers, helical anchors, tie-backs, plate anchors or waterproofing. Along with proper drainage, when these underpinning products are installed, per manufacturer's specifications and under the guidance of the foundation engineer you can be assured that your problem will be solved.
So, if you are having foundation problems, don't panic. There are solutions to help you, there are qualified engineers to help you and there are competent foundation repair contractors available to enact these solutions.