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Settling and Sinking

Foundation problems are nerve-wracking for any homeowner but settling and sinking need not be a death sentence for your home if you know what to do.

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The health of your foundation is incredibly important to your whole home. In fact, it is fundamental. The moment something goes wrong with your foundation, the rest of your property’s structure will start to suffer. Because of its widespread impact on a property, the problem signs of foundation damage and sinking can be incredibly diverse and subtle. Learning to put the pieces together is incredibly important for those who want to protect their home from serious issues. 

A small amount of settling or sinking can be normal, of course, but this should be practically unnoticeable and should not start to damage your whole home. If your home starts to sink or experience foundation settlement, however, you will be able to find red flags in almost every part of your house. Here’s what you need to know about settling and sinking in your home. 

What Causes Sinking and Settling in a Foundation? 

Foundation problems of any kind are most likely to be caused by issues in the soil around or underneath a property. However, there are some cases where there are defects in the foundation itself. Issues like spalling, flaking, and pitting are common signs of defects in the concrete, while soil-based issues are more likely to result in cracks and unevenness at first. 

Soil-Based Issues 

Every kind of soil has its own strengths and weaknesses. Sandy soil, for example, is not expansive and drains well, but can shift easily because it doesn’t bond together very strongly. In Cincinnati and Columbus, OH, expansive and clay-based soils are fairly common. 

These soils can cause a lot of problems for a property because of their changeable and often unstable nature. Expansive soils change in volume and texture, depending upon how saturated or dehydrated they are. Expansive soils that are incredibly wet, for example, can swell and become marshy. This will lead to subsidence and sinking as heavy properties put weight on the wet, soft soil. 

By contrast, expansive soil recedes and becomes hard when it is overly dehydrated. This can also cause large cracks to open in the soil. Properties affected by this are likely to experience settlement. This is a process by which a foundation cracks and chunks fall into voids left behind by receding soil. 

Design Flaws 

Every property is susceptible to design flaws. While architects and contractors are skilled and highly trained, there is always a chance they will miscalculate the required depth for a property’s foundation. After all, they must take into account the soil, the presence of underground water supplies, the load that the structure will apply to the foundation, and even the weight range of furnishings in a home. 

If these factors are not properly considered or accounted for, the property’s foundation will suffer over time and eventually start to show signs of sinking, settling, and cracking. 

Defects in the Concrete 

Concrete is one of the most durable and widely used construction materials. It is also incredibly versatile thanks to the way it’s mixed. As a blend of cement, aggregate, and water, concrete can be tailored to suit many needs, but when the proportions of these materials are miscalculated, the concrete produced can be weak and prone to cosmetic damage. 

Likewise, if the concrete is improperly cured, or is not given enough time to fully cure, it will be more likely to shift, deform, or crack when put under pressure by your home or the soil beneath it. 

The Problem Signs of Sinking and Settling 

Foundation problems are progressive issues that can cost you a lot of time and money when it comes to repairs. As such, it is important to catch repairs early where you can. The sooner you deal with foundation damage, the easier and cheaper the repair process will be. 

Here are the problem signs that you should be on the lookout for: 

Spreading Cracks 

Small, hairline cracks are very common in poured concrete surfaces. They tend to occur as a result of the relaxation process that comes after construction. These cracks are static, shallow, and too slim to fit a credit card into. If you see cracks that are deep and wide enough to slide a credit card into, or that seem to be actively spreading, you should call a professional quickly. 

These cracks are a sign that there is immense pressure at work somewhere in your home, and foundation damage is a common cause of this pressure. The direction of cracks can even help you to figure out what kind of pressure is working on your home. Horizontal cracks in the middle of the wall, for example, are often a sign of bowing walls

If the cracks are localized to one area and more or less vertical, they could be the result of advanced subsidence causing the property to crack. If cracks are diagonal, however, it is likely that the issue is settlement. 

Uneven Flooring 

Uneven or sagging floors are often a sign of foundation problems in a home. This is because of how a sinking or settling foundation will start to disrupt the floor joists and supports that hold them up. You will be able to recognize this issue by the way the floorboards seem to bounce underfoot. This springiness is a sign that the floor is unsupported in certain areas. 

You may also notice that flooring begins to separate from the walls they’re attached to. When this happens, you should prioritize calling for help, as the issue is fairly advanced. 

Sticking Windows and Doors 

Sticking windows and doors are a subtle but common sign that there is some kind of damage to your property’s foundation. As the structure of a property shifts, the frames of windows and doors also move. This leads to the windows and doors failing to open and shut the way that they should. Over time, they may fail to move altogether. 

Of course, there is a chance that it could well be caused by clogged or dry hinges. All you need to do is check to see if the door top or bottom is scraping the frame or the floor, or if the window frame seems to be slightly slanted. 

Tilting Chimney 

If you have a full masonry chimney, the weight of it alone can start to cause problems. The chimney foundation may or may not be built separately from the main foundation, of course, and if there is damage to either foundation, the chimney can start to tilt. A tilting chimney is incredibly dangerous, and if it should fall, it will cause lots of damage to anything nearby. 

Of course, if it falls on top of a person, the consequences will be far worse. 

Dampness 

General dampness and humidity are common signs of foundation settling and sinking. Of course, dampness is a sign of many kinds of damage, including damage to walls and damage to your plumbing system. Increased humidity as a result of dampness can cause the growth of mold, mildew, and fungus. 

Dampness and humidity can also cause wood rot and cosmetic damage to your home’s interior. 

Each of these signs of foundation settling and sinking can also be signs of other issues in and around your home. That’s why it’s important to call in a professional as soon as possible. Foundation experts are the most likely to be able to diagnose the cause of these issues with confidence. They will also be able to give you a viable solution that is tailored to your home. 

Settling & Sinking

FAQs

Foundation damage is a problem that is best dealt with when it’s in the earliest stages of development. The longer you wait to rectify an issue like foundation settling and sinking, the more difficult and costly it will become. 

Dealing with Settling Early 

Settling, or settlement, occurs when the earth under a property is shrinking, receding, or shifting in a way that leaves voids underneath certain sections of a property. The result is that those unsupported sections of the foundation crack and start to break away from the rest of the structure. Over time, they will entirely separate and sink into the void, allowing water, and potentially pests, into a property’s basement or crawl space to cause secondary damage. 

The signs of settling are unevenness in flooring, sticking windows and doors, spreading cracks, and an increase in humidity. If you act quickly and call in a professional when you first notice these signs, you will be able to prevent the development of avoidable damage in your home. This will make the overall repair process quicker, cheaper, and make it less likely that you will need to hydraulically lift certain sections of your property. 

Dealing with Sinking Early 

Sinking or subsidence is an issue that most commonly occurs in properties that sit on expansive, loose, or very wet and marshy soil. As the weight of the property bears down on the foundation, the earth beneath it can start to give way, leading to the whole property sinking slowly but surely. This will present itself in small ways at first, but over time, your floors will become obviously uneven, doors and windows will begin to stick, and you could see huge cracks opening where the pressure and weight of your property are concentrated. 

Calling a professional as soon as you see signs of sinking can help you to avoid many unnecessary and damaging side effects. Furthermore, the more deeply your foundation sinks, the less likely it is that it will be possible to lift it back into place. As you can see, it is far better to act quickly when you suspect that you have foundation problems of any kind. Even if you turn out to be wrong, it is better to be safe than sorry. Having a professional from Ohio Basement Authority check your home costs nothing and could save you a lot of stress in the long run. 

If you notice sinking and settling around your home and you reach out to a professional, it is very likely that you will be told that foundation piers are the best option. This is especially likely if the soil under your home is the main issue. 

Push Piers 

Sometimes called resistance piers, push piers are straight beams of metal which are driven into the ground under a property to support it when the soil cannot. These forms of foundation piers rely on the weight of a property to drive them into the ground against load-bearing strata and set them in place. As such, they are best for heavy, multi-level structures that are being affected by foundation problems. 

These piers are very effective at supporting properties and can even be used to help lift them back into place. However, there are some drawbacks. Push piers are not useful for supporting small and lightweight properties, because they lack the weight to set them in place property. Likewise, they cannot be used at an angle. They must be installed vertically to ensure that they are stable and do not cause further damage. 

Helical Piers 

Helical piers are foundation piers that address the weaknesses of push or resistance piers. Unlike resistance piers, helical piers have screw-like additions to the pier shaft that are used to bite into the soil as the piers are placed. This makes them more suitable for light properties that cannot push the piers down into the soil sufficiently, or problem soils that are unstable far below the frost line. This allows the weight of a home to be spread out. 

Helical piers also have the benefit of being suitable for installation at an angle. This makes them more versatile than push piers and allows them to be used in a wide variety of situations. Like push piers, helical piers are the easiest to install when the foundation damage is relatively limited. Both kinds of foundation piers require some excavation and will cause disruption no matter the state of the foundation.

No. Foundation piers are very specialist pieces of equipment designed for serious structural repairs. Trying to use them alone or to deal with foundation problems without professional input is potentially dangerous, both to your yard and your person. 

Equipment Procurement 

One of the main hurdles to DIY foundation repair is finding the tools, equipment, and products required to undertake the work successfully. These are not simple tools, after all. You will need excavation equipment, hydraulic equipment to drive the foundation piers into the ground, and the ability to cut the piers to the appropriate length. Assuming you can get a hold of these pieces of gear, renting them can be very expensive—and you still have to make sure you use them properly.  

Professional foundation repair specialists, however, will have most of the tools to hand already. So, by the time you have rented the tools you need to properly excavate the foundation and place the piers, never mind buying the piers, it may actually be cheaper to hire a professional to undertake the work. You will certainly get a better result from professional foundation repair services. After all, you are paying to benefit from their expertise and skill as much as the products themselves. 

Excavation and Installation 

Even if you are able to properly identify the cause, extent, and type of damage to your foundation, and you are able to rent the equipment, there is still the matter of undertaking the work. The problem with structural repairs is that they can be very dangerous when undertaken by someone who lacks experience. The equipment itself can be dangerous, of course, but there are also structural hazards you have to be aware of. For example, excavation near your property’s walls could exacerbate damage to the walls and even cause them to collapse if you excavate improperly. This could be lethal if you or someone helping you is in the way of a wall when it goes down. 

Likewise, the installation of the piers themselves can be incredibly tough. If they are installed at a slight angle, or if they are not driven deep enough into the soil, you could do more harm than good for your home. If you try to install piers alone and cause more damage to your home, you will need to call in a professional to undo your work, as well as rectify the original issue. This will cost far more than it would have to simply call a professional in the first place. 

How to Protect Your Home from Sinking and Settling 

Of course, the ideal thing would be to prevent foundation damage from taking root in the first place. There are some basic things that you can do that will protect your home from unnecessary pressure and damage. Most of them involve managing the saturation of the soil around your property’s perimeter. This is effective because many forms of foundation damage start with overly saturated soil. 

If you want to protect your home and do what you can to prevent avoidable foundation damage, you should: 

Clean Out Your Gutters Seasonally 

Keeping your rooftop gutters clean, as well as free from blockages and clogs, is incredibly important to minimizing runoff and overspill. This will prevent perimeter saturation and excessive pressure on your property’s foundation. 

Position Your Downspouts Away from Your Home 

The downspouts that are attached to your home should be positioned away from your house to ensure they do not simply dump water by your perimeter. 

Invest in Extended Downspouts 

Investing in extended downspouts will minimize the chances of water being allowed to pool beside your property’s foundation and perimeter. 

Regularly Clean and Clear Basement Window Wells 

If you have basement windows and window wells, you should take the time to make sure their drains are clear and cleaned on a seasonal basis. Leaking window wells are incredibly damaging to your property’s structure. 

Maintain Your Sump Pump 

If you have a sump pump in your basement or crawl space, it is important that you schedule regular maintenance to prevent flooding in your home. You should also make sure that the discharge line is long enough to clear your perimeter safely. 

These simple steps will help you to maintain a healthy level of moisture in the soil around your home’s perimeter. This will go a long way toward preventing avoidable foundation damage. Many kinds are caused by the pressure of excess water, or the weakness it can cause in soil. 

Hire a Professional for Your Foundation Repairs in Cincinnati and Columbus, OH 

As you can see, foundation sinking and settling are issues that should not be taken lightly. Paying attention and acting quickly could save you a huge amount of money and stress, but there is only so much that you can do alone. Once you notice the problem signs of settling and sinking, you should call in a professional to deal with the damage. 

Here at Ohio Basement Authority, we have been helping homeowners to return their properties to full health since 2009. Our team is diverse, skilled, and knowledgeable with experience in many different sectors of the industry. 

When you schedule a free foundation inspection and repair quote, you can rely on getting a clear understanding of what is happening in your home and what is needed to rectify the damage. The appointments come without obligation to book repairs through us, and you will be provided with a written estimate for our suggested services and repairs to help you make an informed decision that works for you and your home. 

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