Updated: April 15, 2020
Your house is probably the most expensive investment you’ll ever make. That’s why it pays to protect it. If you suspect that something’s wrong with your foundation, it’s wise to learn how to identify the 8 common signs of foundation problems in houses or commercial structures in most areas of the United States. Concrete slabs and pier and beam foundations can develop severe issues the require house foundation repair. Basements can also become severely damaged.
Because deterioration can be caused by a variety of things including soil, climate, plumbing leaks, poor soil compaction and inadequate foundation drainage, it’s always a good idea to be on the lookout for signs of trouble. To help you identify potential causes of foundation problems, we’ve compiled a list of the things that may indicate that you require foundation repair service.
Properties in some parts of the United States are adversely affected by ice and snow, while properties in subtropical regions frequently develop complications due to excessive heat (over 90-100 degrees), rain, extensive flooding (4-5” or more in a relatively short period) and droughts. Fortunately, foundation issues in residential and commercial buildings, as well as apartment complexes, can be resolved relatively quickly.
If you’re concerned about foundation damage, it’s advisable to contact a good foundation repair contractor and have them inspect your concrete slab, pier and beam foundation or basement. An experienced professional should be able to pinpoint the source of your problem and stop the deterioration. Remember: Identifying the cause of the trouble is the first step in finding the best solution. In some instances, the contractor may recommend that a structural engineer be enlisted to evaluate your foundation and prepare a formal engineer’s’ report. This generally costs about $350-$500 for a home, and $500-$750 per building for commercial building and apartment complexes. Prices are generally the same in all US cities. Fact is, the larger the structure, the higher the cost. Obtaining a structural engineers report may be beneficial, depending upon the severity of the damage.
To prevent the need for extensive house foundation repair, take a few minutes to learn to recognize the 8 signs that might mean that something is wrong with your foundation. After all, problems are very common and can prove costly. While foundation repair costs for slab and pier and beam foundations generally range from $4,000-$8,500 for an average-sized house, the price can be much higher if your property damage is extensive, or if you own a large structure such as an apartment complex, church, school, warehouse or commercial property.
When reading the information below, please keep in mind that the following is an abbreviated list of things that frequently signal foundation trouble, and that many other conditions can indicate complications, too. Whether you have a residential property that needs service or require commercial foundation repair, this is good information to know.
The 8 Most Common Signs of Foundation Problems Include:
1. Foundation Cracks, Wall/Floor Cracks and Other Types Of Fractures:
If you’ve noticed gaps in your foundation or on the brick exterior of your house or commercial property, it could most definitely indicate that you have at least one of the many conditions that signal a foundation problem. Floor cracks, wall fissures and a broken chimney can also mean trouble. Over time your structure may experience foundation movement due to a variety of conditions. When that happens, your foundation can shift and gaps may become a very serious concern. Expanding and contracting soils, as well as inclement weather, are often the cause of the problem.
While it’s normal for a foundation to sink and develop tiny cracks in the first 2-3 years following construction, (1/16” hairline fissures are exceedingly common), horizontal cracks in brick exteriors or the concrete block walls of your basement could indicate that your house may be experiencing more than an acceptable amount of settling. Even a ¼” gap can warrant concern. These types of fractures are regarded as being more serious than vertical cracks because they can indicate that the perimeter of your house foundation is under a lot of pressure. Cracks that run in a vertical direction aren’t generally a sign of trouble since dry walls run in that same direction.
Moderate wall and foundation cracks are typically 5-15mm in length, which equates to a width of .2”-. 6”. More serious cracks are generally above 15mm (.6”) or less. If you discover that fractures are horizontal, this may mean that an excessive amount of water pressure is impacting your foundation. Of course, some foundation cracks can be huge and grow to be 1-2” wide or larger. When insects or water invade these cracks, they can weaken an already damaged foundation.
When examining your gaps, especially those in interior walls, you’ll want to determine if you have a vertical crack or one that is horizontal. If you notice that some of the fractures are positioned at a 45-degree angle, this could indicate that severe foundation movement has occurred. If that’s the case, sheetrock in your walls will slowly rip and develop large tears over time. It’s always a good idea to learn about signs of foundation issues.
Brick that makes contact with a slab foundation can cause angular cracks in the foundation. It is not unusual for these fractures to be 10”-15” long. When brick expands, it forces the edges of the brick outward. This is generally nothing to be concerned about and is not commonly regarded to be a sign of a serious foundation problem.
Other types of fractures that warrant closer examination are stair-step cracks in brick exteriors. These fissures typically appear near the corner of exteriors and run up and down. Sometimes this is due to how your home was originally constructed, and builders did not anticipate the “growth” of the bricks over time. However, in older homes, cracked brick may indicate a foundation issue.
While fractures can indicate trouble, don’t assume your foundation is damaged. It’s important to keep in mind that many cracks are cosmetic in nature and absolutely nothing to be concerned about.
2. Foundation Settling Or Sinking
If your house or other structure appears to be sinking or having settlement issues, have it checked out. That’s because settling is another ordinary sign that you may have a foundation dilemma. Over time, you may notice that one side of your house is lower than the other, or you may observe that the center of your commercial building is sinking. If so, your foundation may need to be lifted and require the installation of interior or exterior foundation piers. These are placed around the perimeter of your foundation in order to raise it, or else installed in the interior of your structure. As many property owners who have concrete slab foundations have discovered, installing interior foundation piers involves cracking the concrete slab and creating a bit of a mess.
Gaps resulting from foundation settlement are vertical the vast majority of the time. When inspecting your foundation it pays to keep this in mind: What begins as a small ½” dip in one area of your house can grow to become a very large problem. Left unattended, it is entirely possible for a foundation to settle into the earth 2”- 4”. Even less than 1-1/2”is extremely severe! The longer you ignore the problem, the worse your foundation trouble becomes. What’s more, when extensive settling occurs, a multitude of safety issues can develop quickly. By enlisting a foundation repair contractor when you first notice complications, you can avoid foundation failure, while minimizing costs and danger.
As the years go by, other areas of your foundation will begin to settle. While homeowners generally notice that one side of the house appears to be sinking first, the others sides will inevitably begin to move in a downward direction and your foundation will become increasingly out of level. Even though the load bearing weight of a house is equal on all four sides, the differential moisture content on each side of the foundation can vary. That’s why some parts of a foundation settle before other sections do. Contractors often refer to this as “differential movement.” Once this occurs, major structural changes take place. Before long, you’ll become aware of all sorts of strange issues, including extensive cracking on the inside and outside of your house. Cracks resulting from foundation settlement are generally vertical. Fortunately, foundation repair service will resolve the problem.
Foundation movement leads to settling and impacts houses and commercials buildings differently, depending upon what type of foundation you have, and how well it was constructed. Slab foundations do not react to foundation movement in exactly the same manner that pier and beam foundations do. And, of course, houses with basements are a different matter altogether. Regardless of which kind of foundation you have, the volume of the soil it was built on can definitely impact how stable it is. When you need service of any kind, including slab or pier and beam foundation repair, call a professional.
Unfortunately, some builders utilize poor construction techniques and have even been known to construct foundations on poorly compacted soils. Problems develop when the ground under the house, apartment or business center collapses under the weight of the structure. If you’re building a new home, you may want to enlist a soil engineer to perform a soil site analysis of the earth and make sure it has been properly compacted.
Bear in mind that a single vertical crack can mean that your foundation is moving upwards. In the event you notice that your foundation is suddenly sinking or settling, it’s possible that your house was build on a sinkhole. While this is most uncommon, it does occur from time to time and warrants immediate attention. If you think this is a possibility, do not delay in contacting a foundation repair contractor.
3. Foundation Upheaval
If your slab foundation has moved in an upward direction, it is experiencing foundation upheaval. This is one of the eight indications of foundation problems and may signal that your structure is experiencing the opposite of “foundation settling”. Heaving generally affects the perimeter area of a concrete slab foundation, but it can impact your home’s interior, including hallways, doorways and other areas. Outside garage walls are almost always pushed upwards, too.
There are many causes of foundation upheaval in slab foundations including soil that expands and contracts, excessive moisture due to rain or under-slab plumbing leaks and frost heave. Clay soils are most often affected by moisture because this type of soil expands and gains volume when it becomes wet.
Moisture is the #1 thing that contributes to upheaval in slab foundations. Heavy rains as well as plumbing problems resulting from under-slab plumbing leaks can lead to an abundance of trapped moisture beneath your slab. You could be losing 10-50 gallons of water per day, and maybe even more. Check your water bill if you suspect that is could be happening. When soil gets wet it becomes heavy. The weight of the soil can be great enough to force your foundation upwards. It is when this occurs that homeowners most often notice that doors are sticking and that fireplaces, as well as steel columns, have moved upwards, too. It could be that you require slab foundation repair service.
Frost heave commonly causes foundation trouble. That’s because when water gets below 32 degrees and freezes, it increases in volume by 9%. This puts added pressure on your foundation and can result in foundation movement. When the foundation shifts, slab foundation cracks may soon become visible.
Slab foundations can move quite a lot, and it is not uncommon for them to be forced upwards by as much as 1-1/2”-2-1/2.” It requires far less movement than that to severely damage all types of foundations, including house foundations, commercial buildings, apartments, schools, shopping centers and other structures.
4. Doors That Stick Or Don’t Open And Close Properly
If you’ve noticed that your doors are sticking, that’s frequently an indication there is some sort of problem with your foundation. When interior doors are affected, they tend to stick or drag at the top. Exterior doors with foundation issues are more likely to drag at the threshold or hang down at the top and appear uneven. For example, the top left side of the door may be higher than the top right side of it is. It could be off by as little as ¼”, but the difference come become ½” or larger. French doors or other kinds of double doors may not meet in the middle or hang correctly. This is an issue that is commonly affects all kinds of slab and pier and beam foundations, regardless of whether it’s on a house or commercial structure. No property is immune from this form of trouble.
Sometimes doors stick and don’t open and close properly due to humidity (75-100%). This is often the case during the 2-3 day period immediately following a heavy rain or severe flooding. Of course, if you also notice foundation cracks or other sorts of fractures in and around your home or commercial property, it can be a sign of settling in your foundation. When foundation damage has occurred, end escalating problems quickly by contacting a qualified contractor. You could be experiencing foundation failure.
If a professional evaluates your foundation and suspects that water leaks are causing the problem, a licensed plumber should be enlisted to perform a hydrostatic plumbing test. If you don’t know who to call, a good contractor can help you locate one. This test can determine if you have leaks and if so, where they are. Of course, the problem could be that drought conditions or exceptionally warm weather could be causing the soil around your foundation to shrink and move. (Many parts of the United States experience temperatures ranging from 20 degrees to well over 105 degrees. Heat sometimes exceeds 120.)
There’s no way of knowing exactly what the trouble is until it is thoroughly examined. Since a foundation evaluation doesn’t take long to do, typically 45 minutes to one hour, it’s always wise to have things checked out. An experienced foundation repair contractor should be able to let you know more about the signs of trouble and whether or not your property requires repair.
5. Gaps Around Window Frames Or Exterior Doors
Homeowners often notice gaps around their exterior window frames, as well as spaces around their exterior doors. They may even become aware that their doors no longer latch. This is a sign of a problem that could be affecting the foundation.
When something is amiss, double doors frequently do not align properly, which makes them very difficult to close. What’s more, door frames may become crooked and impair all types of doors from operating properly. If you notice something like this, perform a visual inspection on your house or other property.
6. Sagging Or Uneven Floors
If you’ve noticed that your floors are out of level or appear to be sagging, bowing or dipping, this could indicate trouble. When foundation issues impact pier and beam foundations, floors have a tendency to sag and squeak. Where concrete slabs are concerned, floors are prone to be uneven or out of level. Since slab foundations are positioned directly on the ground and pier and beam foundations are not, they are affected differently. While both may have flooring issues, the signs of damage don’t look the same.
In addition to being unsightly, sagging or uneven floors are dangerous, especially for small children, elderly individuals or people who are physically impaired. Over time, floors that initially appear to be out of level by ½” or so, may become uneven by 1-1/2”-2”. To avoid hazards like this, have your foundation fixed as soon as possible. Foundation movement is something you’ll want to stop.
7. A Damp Crawl Space In A Pier And Beam House
Heavy moisture in the crawl space can be a sign that the foundation has problems or will soon be developing them. It’s imperative to determine why the crawl space is wet and then take steps to minimize moisture.
Always keep in mind that an abundance of moisture can attract terminates and also cause the wooden beams beneath your house or building to rot. Damp crawl spaces can omit a foul, musty odor, which you may smell even when you’re inside the house. Mold and mildew is a real problem when you have a wet crawl space.
If you live in an area where it rains frequently or flooding commonly occurs, it’s important to have an effective foundation drainage system. You may require the installation of a surface drain, which moves vast amounts of water quickly, or a French drain, which re-directs smaller amounts of water that are slowly seeping beneath your house. Standing water around your foundation (even amounts less than 1/8”deep) can damage your foundation and lead to the need for expensive repairs. If there’s a noticeable amount of moisture at all, it’s a problems. Look for signs that you could have trouble.
If you notice lots of moisture, you may benefit from having a polyethylene vapor barrier installed in your crawl space. This barrier prevents water from evaporating from the soil and making the crawl space damp. Contractors who commonly deal with pier and beam foundations can certainly be of help.
There are several other things that can be done to deal with these types of issues. If the space beneath your pier and beam foundation shows signs of problems, consult with a contractor that has experience repairing foundations on these specific types of residential and commercial structures right away.
8. Counters And Cabinets Separating From The Wall
Have you ever noticed that your kitchen cabinets or countertops seem to be tilting and pulling away from the wall? At first it may look like they’ve moved a tiny bit, and then the next thing you know the gap is 1/8” wide. Before long, your cabinets or countertops appear to be 1/2” or more away from the wall. At that point, you’ve got major issues.
If you become aware of something like this, it’s definitely a sign of foundation damage. When walls aren’t level, cabinets and lots of other things in your house cease to be level, too. It may seem to you that everything is sloping or not hanging correctly. That’s because something is affecting your foundation and causing it to be uneven.
What To Do If You See Things That Indicate Foundation Issues:
If you observe unusual things happening, the situation warrants further investigation. The first thing to do is to contact a qualified foundation repair contractor and enlist them to perform a thorough inspection on your house or other structure. These evaluations are generally provided for free. In many instances, property owners discover that they have absolutely nothing to worry about.
What If A Contractor Determines That Repairs Are Needed?
In the event that the contractor discovers foundation damage, they can provide you with an estimate for repairing your cracked concrete slab, sinking pier and beam foundation or troublesome basement. This estimate should be presented to you in writing. When you’re considering hiring a contractor, be sure to find out if the company offers a foundation repair warranty. If so, ask if it’s a transferable lifetime warranty because that’s the very best kind.
If you learn that your foundation needs to be fixed, the contractor’s job is to restore it as close to its original level position as possible, and make it upright again. This process is often called referred to as “house leveling” or “foundation leveling.” Making repairs entails lifting your house or commercial property and installing structural supports called “foundation piers” or “foundation pilings” beneath it. When the job is complete, your foundation will rest on top of these piers.
While these are a wide variety of foundation piers that can be used, most contractors opt to install pressed concrete piers (which are cylindrical in shape and roughly 10-11” long) or steel piers. Both work very well and can make your foundation structurally sound. The primary difference between the two is that steel foundation piers, which cost much more than concrete pilings, can be installed deeper into the soil. In fact, they are sometimes pushed 35’ into the earth, and they may go deeper. Of course, the vast majority of houses and commercial buildings don’t require that piers be installed that deep before they reach solid rock. Most piers must only be drilled down 12-20’ below the surface, so there’s no point in paying for steel piers if you don’t need them. After all, pilings made of steel can cost over $500 each.
Contractors usually install concrete piers until they reach what is often referred to as “the point of refusal.” This basically means that the foundation piers are forced downwards into the ground (using a hydraulic jack) as far as they can go.
A foundation repair expert can determine exactly how many piers will be required to fix your foundation. The number of pilings that must be installed will affect the price to restore it. It could be that you only require 6-8 piers, or it is possible that your may need more than 25. Only a contractor can tell you for sure.
Recognizing that your home or commercial building represents a major investment, it’s best to take steps to preserve your building and if need be, have it repaired. So take a little time to perform a visual inspection on your structure. If you have any concerns about your foundation or see signs of common problems, have it evaluated by a qualified contractor right away.