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Foundation Problems vs. Settling

Your home is your number one most valuable investment—so it makes sense that maintaining your home’s structural integrity is a high priority. When the structural integrity of a house has been compromised, a variety of unpleasant problems can occur. But how can you tell the difference between normal wear and a problem that needs immediate attention?

Your home’s foundation is, well, the foundation of your home’s overall structural integrity. Foundations are generally constructed of concrete poured over steel. As time passes and the elements take their toll on the home, all concrete will crack to some degree. As we like to say, concrete is made to do two things: harden and crack. That is why the steel reinforcement is used to hold the foundation together when it cracks. Cracking is expected, to some extent.

What is Settling?

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Settling is a term used to describe the natural changes that will take place in a foundation due to time and weathering. Over time, a new home will very gradually sink down further into the ground. Contractors take the climate and soil into account when overseeing a home’s construction, and they know to expect a bit of settling as time passes Don’t assume that your brand-new home is safe from foundation issues, either. Some of the worst damage our experts at Ram Jack® have seen has been in homes less than 5 years old. Damage can be caused by several factors, including improper soil preparation when the home is built or extreme weather conditions.

For example, when a home is built in the middle of a rainy fall season after a relatively wet summer, the expansive clay soil is as swollen as it can get. Over the next 3 years, the house will likely experience normal settlement, but when an extreme drought hits during the fourth year, the clay underneath retracts and the house plummets 5 inches in the space of just a few months. Yikes!

The biggest contributor to settling is soil expansion and contraction. As the soil loses or gains moisture, it shifts beneath the weight of the structure. Soil expansion affects the foundations of about one-quarter of all American homes, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Even though a bit of soil expansion is to be expected, this naturally occurring settlement of the foundation can lead to problems.

How to Distinguish Foundation Problems from Settling

In order to diagnose a true foundation problem, you’ll need to look for more warning signs than just visible cracks in your foundation. Visible cracks in the foundation can be the first sign of a problem, but they can also be a sign of non-threatening settlement, (especially if they are vertical or hairline width). A real foundation problem will have a combination of other signs. Want help diagnosing a foundation issue? Call our Houston foundation experts for a thorough inspection.

Old house falling down

Old houses might be charming, but advanced foundation problems definitely are not. Look for these signs of foundation damage:

  • Cracks in Walls: This is one of the primary indicators that your foundation has been compromised. A jagged crack running off at a forty-five-degree angle is a sure sign that your foundation is seriously shifting and has resulted in actually tearing the sheetrock apart.
  • Sticking Doors or Windows: Inspect all of your doors and windows. If you have doors or windows that consistently stick for no apparent reason, these can be a sign of your foundation shifting. This happens because the door or window frame twists out of balance as the foundation moves.
  • Cracks Forming Above the Windows: You might assume that any foundation issues would be most obvious near the ground – but the opposite is actually true. When a foundation has been compromised, the most obvious signs of damage will be near the top of your house rather than the bottom. Carefully inspect the top story of your home from the outside using a ladder. Look for cracks that appear above window frames – this is the most common place for damage to become visible. If you have a brick home, look for a stair-stepping crack in the veneer of the brick.
  • Cracks in the Foundation: Of course damage can be visible within the foundation itself as well. Look for horizontal cracks in the actual foundation. A horizontal crack is a sign of hydrostatic pressure, or too much water pressure building up behind the foundation.

What to Do If You Discover Signs of Foundation Damage?

If you have found only hairline cracks that are localized to the visible foundation, mark the crack and take note of its size so that you can monitor whether or not it gets bigger over time. However, if you have found cracks, as well as some of the other interior signs of a foundation problem, contact the experts at Ram Jack®. Our foundation repair team can help you correct the problem before it gets worse.

Schedule a comprehensive inspection today! Our Houston foundation professionals will diagnose any issues and develop a personalized plan to correct them and restore your foundation. Contact our Houston office to begin.