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What Is Foundation Settlement?

Foundation settlement puts your home at risk of structural damage. Learn everything you need to know about it to protect your home from its effects.

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Since your house is one of your biggest investments, maintaining its structural integrity should be a top priority. Over the years, it may lose its shine and start to show signs of damage. While simple repairs can iron out most issues, a major issue like foundation settlement requires professional intervention. 

What Is Foundation Settlement? 

This is the gradual sinking of a house into the ground over time. It occurs when the soil under your foundation expands, contracts, or shifts, creating voids or air pockets. 

If these voids are unable to support your foundation’s weight, your house will start to settle into them. The degree of resulting damage depends on whether the soil shifts evenly or unevenly. The level of foundation settlement is primarily dependent on the weight of the structure and the characteristics of the soil beneath the foundation. 

Types of Foundation Settlement 

There are three types of foundation settlement: 

Uniform Settlement 

This phenomenon occurs when your entire foundation settles at once and at the same rate. This type of settlement usually happens due to the weight of your house. However, it does not cause any significant damage since all four corners of the home sink simultaneously.  

Tipping Settlement 

A house experiences tipping settlement when one side tips uniformly and the other side stays in place. As a result, your home may end up looking like it is leaning on one side. Although the tipping settlement does not lead to many cracks, it can still cause considerable future problems and requires immediate action.  

Differential Settlement 

With this type, the foundation settles unevenly due to various reasons such as soil consolidation and proximity to trees, among other things. Differential settlement is a serious problem because it causes cracks, which allow water to enter your basement. If not fixed, this type of settlement can lead to a host of issues, including severe structural damage. 

What Causes Foundation Settlement? 

Here are some possible causes of foundation settlement. 

Changes in Moisture Content 

When the soil beneath your foundation experiences extreme moisture content changes, this may result in foundation settlement. When an excess amount of moisture saturates the soil beneath your foundation, it makes it weak. When the soil is no longer capable of supporting the load, the result is settlement.  

Poor Soil Compaction 

During the construction of commercial and residential buildings, builders start with excavating the earth to create flat and compact spaces. Fill soils are then put back and sufficiently compacted to develop an adequate amount of support for constructing the foundation.  

If the fill soil is not compacted correctly, it becomes incapable of holding up the structure and may compress under the foundation’s load. The result is your foundation settling. 

Vegetation 

The plants and trees within proximity to your home can also cause settlement. Vegetation, especially tree roots, take moisture from the soil. This is especially true during times of prolonged droughts. The more water these roots take out of the earth, the more it shrinks, leading to settlement. 

Signs of Foundation Settlement 

Keep an eye out for some of these common problem signs throughout your home that can indicate foundation settlement. 

Stair-step cracking: This is the most common sign of foundation settlement. These cracks are common in brick and concrete block walls and they tend to widen as the house continues to settle. 

Uneven floors: While slanting floors can be a sign of many different issues, most of the time, they are a result of a foundation problem. If your footings seem uneven, seek the services of a professional foundation expert to inspect them. 

Jamming or sticking doors and windows: The exterior doors and windows of your home may start to stick when you open or close them. Inspect your windows and doors to see whether the alignment is off.   

How to Fix Foundation Settlement 

The first step to fixing a settling foundation is by contacting a local foundation repair contractor. One of their highly trained inspectors will assess your foundation and the extent of settling and recommend a lasting fix.  

The methods of repair may vary depending on the settling and the extent of the damage. However, installing foundation piers is the most common and effective way to fix a settling foundation. These piers are linked to your house’s footing and hydraulically driven into the ground until they reach load-bearing soils to stabilize your structure permanently.  

Preventing Settlement 

Unfortunately, all houses settle over time due to gravity. But there are a few measures you can take to prevent severe damage. Start by ensuring that your home has adequate drainage. This way, water will not build up around your foundation and cause the soil to swell. Also, take control of the vegetation surrounding your house by installing root barriers or planting vegetation that require less water.  

If you’d like to raise your floors or restore the foundation to its original elevation, contact Foundation Recovery Systems to schedule a free foundation inspection.