Is it safe to live in a house with foundation problems? Probably. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. This is because foundation problems worsen over time, which means you’ll pay more for the repair if you wait.
Houses with foundation problems usually aren’t in danger of collapse. Most houses become unsafe to live in because of a sudden and catastrophic event, usually a natural disaster. If that happens, you’ll know about it. The truth is, many people live in houses with foundation problems without realizing it. Foundation problems can be present for years before they start causing visible problems in the rest of the house.
In this article, we’re going to go over the common signs of foundation problems, foundation repair methods, signs your home might have a foundation problem, how to prevent foundation issues, and more.
Foundation problems are pretty common and can usually be repaired
You can rest easy knowing that foundation problems are not unusual. Many homes experience them at some point, and most foundation problems can be repaired. Foundation problems rarely get to the point where the entire foundation needs to be replaced. While this does happen, within the last 39 years we’ve seen only two cases where a foundation needed to be replaced.
Water causes most foundation problems
Strange as it might seem, water causes most foundation problems, especially if the house sits atop soil with a lot of clay in it. This type of soil – called expansive soil – swells when it soaks up moisture and shrinks by that same amount when it dries out. This swelling-shrinking cycle is seasonal and creates movement under and against the foundation. Over time, this can cause foundation problems.
Homeowners can usually prevent most foundation problems by simply getting groundwater under control. More on this later. First, let’s go over some of the most common signs of a foundation problem.
For more information, see How Missouri Soil Affects Your Kansas City Area Home.
Signs you might be living in a house with foundation problems
Common signs a house has foundation problems include:
- Bowed walls, with or without cracking – When there’s poor drainage around a basement or crawl space foundation, hydrostatic pressure can build up and start pushing against the wall. If the pressure isn’t relieved, the wall will eventually bow inward. Hydrostatic pressure can even cause a foundation wall to crack. Note: While concrete block foundation walls bow inward in response to hydrostatic pressure, poured concrete foundation walls tip inward at the top.
- Cracked walls – Horizontal cracks especially are a sign of foundation trouble. Hairline vertical cracks in a poured concrete foundation wall are usually caused by shrinkage during the concrete curing process. While they can allow moisture into your basement, they usually don’t affect your home’s structural integrity. However, larger vertical cracks are cause for concern, especially when they’re wider at the top.
- Uneven floors – If you drop something round on your floor, does it roll toward one area? Uneven floors typically mean your house is experiencing settlement.
- Floor cracks – Floor cracks that run wall to wall were probably caused by foundation movement or hydrostatic pressure. A crack limited to one or two tiles most likely happened when something heavy fell on the floor.
- Gaps between the crown molding or baseboard and the wall – Even slight gaps should get your attention because this indicates the foundation has moved.
- Gaps between the walls and the floor or ceiling – Again, even a slight separation could mean foundation trouble.
- Trouble opening and closing windows and doors – A problem with just one window or door probably isn’t a sign of foundation trouble. However, if you have a problem with multiple windows or doors, that’s a sign there’s probably a problem with the foundation.
- Torn or wrinkled wallpaper – Perhaps the wall behind the wallpaper is cracked or has moved.
- Rotated walls – Wall rotation happens when the soil along the outside of the wall dries out while the soil along the inside of the wall retains moisture. Wall rotation usually happens with shorter walls because there isn’t a lot of soil on the outside of the wall.
- Diagonal wall cracks – Any crack over 1/10 inch wide should be checked out.
- Stair step cracks in brick or masonry – This is a sure sign of foundation movement and structural damage.
- A chimney or porch that’s pulling away from the house – There’s a chance the problem is caused by the foundation under the chimney or porch. However, it could also be caused by a problem with the house’s foundation.
For more information, see 4 Red Flags You Might Have Foundation Damage.
What are the benefits of a professional foundation inspection?
While homeowners should know the telltale signs of foundation trouble, a foundation inspection performed by either a foundation repair contractor or a structural engineer will uncover problems before they become obvious to a homeowner. A professional foundation inspection will also be able to tell you if it’s safe to live in a house with foundation problems.
If a foundation repair contractor does the inspection, they’ll be able to give you a repair estimate as well. Most foundation repair contractors will inspect a foundation for free if the homeowner thinks there’s a problem.
Some homeowners worry that an unscrupulous contractor might recommend unnecessary repairs. If this is a concern, you can always hire a structural engineer to perform the inspection and write a report. Keep in mind that you’ll need to pay for the inspection if a structural engineer does it.
You should get your foundation inspected if you notice a problem, if you’re thinking about buying or selling a house, or if you’re planning an addition to your home.
What are the common foundation repair methods?
Push piers, helical piers, and slab piers are three methods for underpinning a foundation. Underpinning means anchoring the foundation to strong soil that can support it.
Push piers – Push piers are the most popular foundation repair method used today for foundations settling unevenly into the soil.
During installation, steel brackets are attached to the foundation. Using hydraulic pressure and the house’s weight, the steel push piers are driven through the brackets and down into the ground until they hit load-bearing soil. Once the push piers are in place, hydraulic jacks raise and level the house. When the hydraulic jacks are removed, the push piers stay in place.
Helical piers – Although helical piers are often used for new construction projects requiring a deep foundation, they’re also used to lift and stabilize existing structures. Their name comes from the fact that they’re shaped like giant corkscrews. Helical piers are turned into the ground until they reach the load capacity determined by a geotechnical engineer. Hydraulic jacks then lift the house.
Slab piers – A slab pier can be either a helical pier with a bracket at the top that allows you to lift a floor or a push pier. Slab piers are spaced 5 feet apart and require cutting holes in the concrete slab. The piers are either screwed or pushed to resistance, and then the slab is lifted to relevel the concrete floor.
Other foundation repair methods include,
Carbon fiber straps – Carbon fiber straps are ten times stronger than steel and great for reinforcing walls from the inside. Carbon fiber straps allow us to stabilize your bowing wall without tearing up your yard and landscaping.
Wall plate anchors – Wall plate anchors – made from galvanized steel – are another non-disruptive method for repairing and stabilizing a bowed and cracked foundation wall. In most cases, the installation process can be completed in just a day.
Can you live in a house during foundation repair?
Yes, in most cases. Your foundation repair contractor will let you know how to prepare and what you’ll need to do while the repair is in progress.
With foundation replacement utilities may need to be disconnected, hot water tanks removed, etc. Therefore, taking care of foundation problems before they escalate is key.
How much does foundation repair cost?
The cost of foundation repair depends on various factors, including the type of problem, the severity, chosen repair solution, your geographical location, foundation type, the size of your home, and ease of access. Repairing a minor foundation crack using polyurethane will cost less than underpinning with piers (described above). Foundation repair using piers usually starts at $10,000-$25,000 for a single-family home in Kansas City, Missouri.
The only way to know how much it will cost to repair a foundation problem is to ask a foundation repair contractor for an inspection and repair estimate. Don’t delay. If you catch a foundation problem early, it will almost always be less expensive to fix.
How long does it take to repair a house with foundation problems?
Repairing a foundation crack using polyurethane injection only takes 2-3 hours. However, repairing a bowing basement wall could take from 3-4 days, and underpinning a foundation using piers can generally take around 4 days.
How to prevent foundation problems
Since most foundation problems are caused by water, homeowners can sometimes prevent foundation problems by getting groundwater under control. Here are a few ways to do that:
- If necessary, regrade your yard – Your yard should slope away from your home. If it slopes toward your home, water will drain toward the foundation and pool around it.
- Clean your gutters regularly – Clogged gutters can cause water to spill over the side and into the ground around the foundation.
- If necessary, install downspout extensions – If your downspouts are too short, they’ll release water next to the foundation where you don’t want it. Extensions are easy to install and direct the water away from the foundation before releasing it.
- Install an underground downspout and bubbler pot – Water goes into the underground downspout and gets channeled into the bubbler pot, which sits some distance from your foundation. When the bubbler pot fills with water, it pops up and releases the water away from your foundation.
- Install a drain tile system – When it comes to getting groundwater under control, you can’t beat a drain tile system. They come in two varieties, exterior and interior. Both ensure hydrostatic pressure can’t build up in the soil by channeling excess groundwater away from the foundation. For more information see our Interior Basement Drainage page.
- Keep large trees at least 20 feet away from the foundation – Trees “drink” moisture from the soil under the foundation. This can lead to dry soil, void formation, and eventually, foundation trouble.
- Make sure you don’t have any plumbing leaks – Plumbing leaks can go undetected for years and eventually cause foundation problems.
So, is it safe to live in a house with foundation problems? Probably, for a little while, at least. While you’re home isn’t likely to collapse, that doesn’t mean you should try to live with a foundation problem. An unrepaired foundation problem will get worse over time and could lead to unexpected and dangerous situations. For example, foundation problems can prevent doors and windows from opening. This prevents easy escape from the house in case of an emergency. Foundation problems can also cause gas leaks.
Any signs of foundation trouble should be checked out by a professional and then, if necessary, repaired right away.
If you think your home might have a foundation problem and you’re in our service area, contact us today for a free estimate.