There are few problems quite as damaging in the long run as bowed walls. Nothing creates a sinking feeling quite like seeing that a wall is beginning to bulge or lean in a way that it should not. After all, if there’s one thing we can be certain of, it’s that walls should stand up straight. So, when we see they are not, it’s a safe bet to assume that something is very wrong. The good news is that there are more solutions than ever for bowed walls. Of course, the bad news is that bowing walls form part of a vicious circle. Bowed walls both cause (and are caused by) other problems within your home. Where you see a bowed wall, you can be certain that hydrostatic pressure, dampness, and foundational instability are going to be uncovered.
What Can Cause Bowed Walls?
Bowed walls are symptomatic of excess pressure being placed on certain walls. Whether this is caused by instability in your home’s foundation or a huge amount of hydrostatic pressure against your basement walls, it spells trouble for your home. This pressure often begins to show with cracks, but soon progresses to leaning, bulging, or bowing walls. The problem, or one of the problems, with this, is that bowing walls feed into this imbalance in pressure and can exacerbate the original problem as the tilt or curve becomes more severe.
The most common problems that can lead to bowed walls are:
- Damaged or sinking foundation
- Excess hydrostatic pressure
- Increased pressure in the soil around your home
These root causes are often invisible but quickly snowball into more readily apparent issues like dampness, flooding, and cracking in your walls and floor.
How Bowed Walls Can Damage Your Home
Bowed walls are incredibly dangerous because they form part of a vicious cycle of damage that steadily worsens over time. By the time your walls are visibly bowed or leaning, they will be allowing dampness and mold into your home as well as putting excess pressure on the floor, ceiling, and other walls.
As well as being symptomatic of structural instability, bowed walls can cause new problems in your home. The most common problems that arise as a direct result of bowing walls are as follows.
Water in Your Basement Cove
Once the damage to your walls becomes severe enough, you may begin to notice water pooling in your basement coving. This could be a result of cracks in your foundation but is just as likely to have been caused by bowed walls letting water into your home. Check your walls for cracks and seams that seem outlined; this darker color is likely being caused by water seeping through.
Dampness and Humidity
Even if you don’t find standing water in your basement, bowed walls are likely to cause a general issue with dampness. This can manifest in raised humidity levels in your home. This could lead to condensation and problems like rising dampness but will also affect your energy bills as humid air is much harder to condition.
Mold and Infestations
Damp cracks and crevices are perfect breeding spots for mold and mildew of all kinds. This is bad enough on its own as it will lead to a musty basement smell and can be damaging to your health, but it could also lead to another problem—infestations. Bugs like cockroaches, termites, and mold mites love dark, damp conditions and can be drawn in by some species of mold. Once they take root, they will begin to cause damage to your home by weakening wooden joists and beams, and even your wiring if mice join the party.
As you can see, it’s important to deal with bowed walls as soon as you spot them.
If you have noticed a lean or tilt to your basement walls, you should call a professional foundation repair company. Tilted or bowing walls are generally caused by foundational or structural damage that renders your home unable to withstand its own weight and the pressure of the soil around it. The most common causes of tilted or bowed walls are:
- Excess Hydrostatic Pressure
Every property is subject to some level of hydrostatic pressure because of the water in the soil around the foundation. Excessive hydrostatic pressure on your basement walls, however, can cause them to shift inward or bulge in the middle. If this is the cause, you will notice that any cracks that form will often allow water into your property.
A sudden increase in hydrostatic pressure is often caused by extreme weather, expansive soil, underground water sources, or loose/weak backfill soil around a property. You can manage or otherwise mitigate this by ensuring that you have proper drainage solutions in place, but once the damage is done there is no way to fix a bowing wall without intervention.
- Settlement or a Sinking Foundation
Excessively dry or wet soil can cause damage to your foundation as a result of improper support. This will usually manifest as either cracking and settling or uneven sinking. This puts extra pressure on your walls and can cause them to bow over time. Certain kinds of soil are more prone to causing these issues than others. They are known as expansive soils.
The most common expansive soils are clay-based soils. They are called expansive soils because of the way they change in size based on their water content. As they become saturated, they expand and put pressure on a property, but when they are dehydrated, they shrink and can leave properties without the support that they need. This is what leads to settlement in a foundation.
There are many potential fixes when it comes to leaning or bowing walls, some can help us to straighten damaged walls over time while others merely halt the deviation. They are:
- Carbon Fiber Reinforcement
Carbon fiber reinforcement straps are a cost-effective, easy to install, and quick solution for walls that have deviated by two inches or less. As a non-invasive solution that is adhered to the damaged wall directly, carbon fiber reinforcement is an incredibly popular choice for those who do not wish to decorate around bulky panels or beams.
Of course, there are some drawbacks to this solution. First and foremost, this solution is only suitable for walls that have sustained minor damage. Secondly, carbon fiber reinforcement cannot help you to straighten a wall that has deviated from its original position. As such, you may wish to consider the other wall stabilization and straightening options.
- Wall Anchors
Wall anchors of any kind are effective solutions to leaning or bowing walls, especially those that have deviated severely. They require more excavation than wall braces and are more expensive than carbon fiber reinforcement straps. Despite having an intensive installation process, they are fairly easy to disguise once they are in place, and, unlike carbon fiber reinforcement straps, they can straighten a damaged wall.
Wall anchors are broadly applicable, but they have some restrictions and drawbacks. First and foremost, wall anchors require a certain amount of outdoor space for installation. They must also be installed below ground level to be effective. This means that they are best suited to basement walls.
- Wall Brace
Wall braces or beams like the IntelliBrace™ System are the most versatile of all solutions when it comes to bowing or leaning walls. As well as being cost-effective, they are minimally intrusive and capable of incrementally straightening damaged walls. Wall braces are a good solution for bowing walls when you want to avoid excavation and your walls are unsuitable for carbon fiber reinforcement.
The main drawback of wall beams, for many homeowners, is the fact that they are so hard to disguise. Unlike carbon fiber reinforcement, which can simply be covered with wallpaper or paint, and wall anchors, which have smaller plates, beams run from ceiling to floor. However, this is what makes them so versatile; wall braces can be installed in homes where no other solution is viable.
There is very little you as an individual can do to fix a bowing or structurally unstable wall by yourself. These situations require special solutions, tools, and skills to fix. If you don’t fix them fully or you implement the wrong solution, you can make the problem worse and end up with more severe damage on your hands. If you try to implement a DIY fix, you run the risk of:
- Making the Problem Worse
Structural problems can be very delicate and complex, and as such, it is important that they are handled with skill. If you try to fix a structural issue yourself, you run the risk of making the problem much worse by implementing an unsuitable solution. Worse still, you could actually injure yourself or someone else in the process.
For example, if you install wall anchors, you will need to excavate around your home and drill through load-bearing walls. If you do this poorly, you could cause a wall to collapse, which would be very dangerous to you or anyone with you. Even if this doesn’t happen, you could weaken the wall by undertaking excessive excavation.
- Missing Co-Occurring Issues
Walls can bow for many reasons, and it is common for there to be more than one underlying cause at work. If you try to fix the issue alone, you could easily end up missing a contributing factor. This will either prevent your solution from working or undo any repair work over time, leaving you with a higher repair bill overall.
Professionals, by contrast, will take the time to ensure they have got all of the underlying causes as a matter of course. They will also be able to formulate and deploy a tailored solution that addresses all causes of damage while stabilizing the wall in question and keeping your property (and person) safe!
Signs You Need Professional Repairs
Bowing walls are one of those problems that seem to come from nowhere. One day your basement seems fine, and then you notice a slight tilt or a new crack. Spotting structural damage is something every homeowner should be able to do, especially if you live in an older home because it will help you catch issues before they snowball into a catastrophe. Here are the key signs of wall failure:
Horizontal cracks that begin near the bottom or top of your walls may not seem like a huge issue, but they can be symptomatic of larger, unseen issues like excess hydrostatic pressure—as can horizontal cracks that begin in the corners of a room (these are more common in poured concrete walls). If you see cracks in your walls, you must take note and monitor them. If they do not change, they could have been caused by your house settling. However, if they get wider or deeper over time, you should call a foundation repair specialist to assess the situation.
Stair-step cracks are most common in brick walls and are comparable to horizontal or diagonal cracks in a poured concrete wall. If the cracks go through bricks, your home is likely experiencing excess pressure from above or below as well as the outside of your walls. Once again, if the cracks begin to widen, you should call for an expert opinion.
If the very top of your wall leans in, it is becoming (or has become) unattached from your home’s framing. This is a very serious issue that can result in wall collapse; you should contact a professional immediately to stabilize the wall until it can be properly repaired. If the bottom of your wall remains in place but the rest of the wall is beginning to lean inward, this is a sign that your home cannot cope with the pressure of the soil around it. Known as “shearing,” this is an incredibly dangerous problem and should be immediately addressed.
How Foundation Repair Experts Can Help
If you have noticed any of the aforementioned problems, it is time to contact a foundation and basement repair specialist. There is no DIY fix for bowing walls, though you could put braces in place to stabilize affected walls until they can be repaired. This is not a permanent solution, however.
If you are looking to repair your bowing walls in Missouri, Foundation Recovery Systems should be your first call. We have been dealing with these types of problems for more than 20 years, we have the tools, experience, and skill to effectively repair the issue, and we offer free inspection appointments with a same-day, no-obligation quote.
This means that once we have assessed your basement and walls, you will:
- Know what is causing the problem
- Be aware of any other issues at work
- Have a viable repair plan to think about
- Have a reasonable idea of the cost of the needed repairs
Our certified field inspectors will be able to effectively diagnose all the contributing factors and connected issues that may have formed. Once they give you their tailored repair suggestions, you will be able to fix a date for repair, at which point our skilled technicians will install all necessary repairs safely, quickly, and with minimal disruption to your home. Our repair solutions for bowed walls include:
Better still, we offer transparent billing and flexible payment plans to ensure your repairs leave you feeling relieved, not stressed.