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heaving foundation

Foundation Heave

Foundation heave is less common than foundation settlement but no less destructive.

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Most homeowners have heard of foundation settlement, but few know what foundation heave is. This is strange because they are essentially two sides of the same coin. While foundation settlement occurs when the soil beneath your home shrinks or recedes, foundation heave is the result of the soil swelling. 

This upward force can be incredibly destructive to your home and foundation. Thankfully, foundation heave can be addressed and fixed by foundation repair professionals.

What Causes Foundation Heave? 

Like all foundational issues, foundation heave starts in the soil beneath your home. However, lighter properties and homes with a thinner foundation are more susceptible to foundation heave just as heavier properties are more likely to experience settlement. Heave occurs when the ground swells, and the most common causes of this are: 

Stress Relief 

Otherwise called overburden recovery, stress relief is generally attributable to the soil being removed from an excavation, thereby relieving pressure on the layers below. This can cause the soil to swell or heave upward. 

Lack of Drainage 

Lack of proper drainage in your yard can lead to many problems, and the destabilization of the soil under your foundation is one of the most serious. For heavier homes, this can lead to sinking, but for lighter homes, the swell of the soil can force the foundation upward and cause damage. 

Soil Saturation 

Soil saturation can be caused by a lack of drainage, but it can also be caused by several other issues. Underground water sources, flash floods, or a change in the level of the water table can all cause soil saturation and foundation heave. 

Snap Freezes 

Sudden changes in the weather can also cause foundation heave. A snap freeze, for example, can cause the water in the soil, and thereby the ground, to expand and put pressure on your foundation. 

What Are the Signs of Foundation Heave? 

You must know how to recognize the signs of foundation heave and that you can differentiate between heave and other foundational issues such as settlement and sinking. Of course, if you can’t, that’s not the end of the world; a foundation repair expert will be able to tell you exactly what is happening as long as you can recognize problems as they arise. 

These are the most common signs of foundation heave: 

Cracked Brickwork and Window Frames 

While the cracks caused by subsidence are more likely to be horizontal or diagonal, cracks caused by foundation heave are most likely to be vertical. 

Lifted Paths and Patios 

One of the surest signs of foundation heave is uneven or lifted paving stones or patios surrounding the building. Keep in mind, however, that invading tree roots can also cause patios, paving stones, and driveways to lift and crack. 

Door Frames Sticking 

Foundation heave can also cause doors to stick or be inoperable because the lift has put them out of line with their frames. 

Cracks or Bulges in Your Basement Floor 

If you notice that your basement floor is uneven, but that it seems to bulge rather than dip, it’s likely this is being caused by foundation heave rather than subsidence or settlement. 

If you see any of these signs, it’s time to call a foundation repair specialist right away to ensure that the problem does not escalate further. 

Foundation Heave


In short, foundation heave is the opposite of foundation settlement or subsidence. Foundation heave most often occurs in winter because of the way sudden freezes affect the soil. 

  • Snap Freeze 

A sudden freeze is more likely to cause frost heave because it freezes the top layer of soil solid before the frost reaches deeper. As such, when the moisture in lower levels freezes, it has limited space in which to expand. This causes the top layer to push upward as a shelf and put pressure on a property’s foundation and lower flooring. 

Lighter properties are, of course, at higher risk than heavier ones, but the soil under a home has an effect too. Expansive soils that are very absorbent are the most likely to cause frost heave because they have a larger capacity for holding moisture than other soils. The extra weight and force generated by a snap freeze in these soils can be incredibly destructive. 

  • Cracking Under Pressure 

When this upward push happens, it puts pressure on a property’s foundation. When a building has a weakness in its foundation, or it is very light, this can cause the floor to heave or bulge upward, cracking the foundation and floor quite seriously. This can be quite subtle at first, but as successive freezes cause the issue to recur, the damage can become quite widespread. 

You will notice bulging and cracking in a floor that has been impacted by frost heave. This will also lead to a sudden increase in dampness and humidity when the cold snap ends and the moisture in the soil starts to thaw. The cracks in your foundation will essentially act as channels into your home for moisture at this point.

Foundation heave is caused by soil expansion. The most common causes of soil expansion are: 

  • Excessive Saturation 

Excessive soil saturation as a result of flooding can cause soil expansion and foundation heave, but this is only when sudden freezes follow saturation. If the soil becomes saturated in warmer weather, it is far more likely that your foundation will begin to sink into the now marshy and unstable ground. As previously stated, some types of soil are more prone to saturation than others. 

Expansive soils, of course, are the main culprits, but they are not the only problem soils that can lead to frost heave. Loose backfill soil around your home can create a clay bowl of sorts when it rains. In this case, the poor drainage will make frost heave more likely should a sudden drop in temperatures cause the trapped water to freeze. 

  • Tree Root Invasion 

Foundation heave doesn’t always happen because of freezing weather and saturated soil. Root invasion is one of the main ways in which foundation heave can occur without the pressure coming from the soil itself. When large trees spread their roots, they can break through sewage lines, grow into pipes, and even impact the soil directly around your foundation causing the walls to crack. 

This tends to be a much slower occurrence than frost heave because it relies on the growth of the trees and their roots. Nonetheless, tree root invasion can be incredibly destructive to your property’s foundation and unlike frost heave, they are likely to cause issues with other areas of your home too! Tree roots are notorious for ruining driveways and cracking sewage lines.

You can certainly take steps to improve your yard and home’s ability to drain water, but if you have already experienced foundation damage as a result of soil expansion, you should contact an expert. 

  • Foundation Repair Is Difficult 

Any foundation damage should be dealt with by professionals, first and foremost because it is incredibly difficult to repair a property’s foundation without disrupting the rest of the structure. Secondly, there is often more than one cause at play and all avenues must be thoroughly investigated to ensure that all underlying causes are addressed. 

If you do not address all causes of damage, the problem will simply recur or, worse still, spread and affect other areas of your home as well. Professionals have years of experience, as well as all the necessary knowledge to spot warning signs and red flags. This makes a professional assessment far more cost-effective and efficient than a personal investigation. 

  • Foundation Heave Requires Specialist Solutions 

Most of the solutions available to those with damage to their property’s foundation are heavy-duty and require heavy lifting. As such, it is almost impossible to effectively repair foundation heave without special equipment. Of course, few DIY enthusiasts, even the most avid, will have these tools at hand. As such, you would need to purchase them. 

Purchasing specialist tools is one thing, using them is another; cost aside, there is the matter of safety. These specialized tools are often very dangerous, too, which means that you could seriously injure yourself or someone else when using them. With all this in mind, it is far safer and more cost-effective to hire a professional.

Fixing Foundation Heave 

Fixing foundation heave is a two-part endeavor, just as fixing any foundation issue is. First and foremost, you need to remove the cause of foundation heave. This means either reducing the upward pressure, draining excess water from the soil under your home, or reinforcing the foundation of your home to make it capable of coping with the upward pressure. Some common solutions include: 

Yard Grading 

If your yard is improperly graded, it can essentially funnel water toward your home and foundation rather than directing it away. If the soil beneath your home is saturated or becomes saturated in heavy rain, adjusting the grading of your yard can dramatically improve this. 

Interior Drains 

Interior drains are ground-level drains that can be installed in your basement to collect water that enters your basement walls, floor, or cove. Once these drains intercept this water, they redirect it to a sump pump so it can be safely removed to keep your basement and foundation dry. 

Sump Pump Installation or Updating 

If you do not have a sump pump already or your sump pump is not working properly, you should consider installing a newer model that will be able to effectively pump water away from your foundation and toward the street where it can be drained effectively. 

Once the cause of the foundation heave has been identified and addressed, you can then begin fixing the damage it has caused. Common solutions include: 

Helical Piers 

Helical piers are steel shafts with a series of low-pitched helical plates that can be installed to even out protruding or bulging foundations that have been damaged as a result of foundation heave. They are easy to install, versatile, and effective at correcting the bulges and protrusions that come with foundation heave. 

Concrete Patches 

Once your foundation and floor have been evened out and repaired, concrete patches can be applied to fix the appearance of cracks in your basement floor and restore aesthetic integrity. Of course, this should be the last solution applied as concrete patches will not work if there is still dampness in the cracks, and they will simply break during replacement if they are applied before the helical piles are installed. 

As you can see, fixing foundation heave is a lengthy process, but it is not impossible. All you need is a foundation repair specialist. 

Call the Experts for a Speedy Solution 

We understand that construction and repair work can seem expensive and daunting, but there are some jobs you just cannot undertake yourself. Foundation repair is one of those jobs; there is no effective DIY fix for foundation heave. However, we at Foundation Recovery Systems are dedicated to offering homeowners the best possible experience and results at the best possible price. 

That’s why we offer free inspection appointments, transferable guarantees and warranties, and flexible finance plans on all our foundation repair and waterproofing solutions. When our certified inspectors leave your home, they will provide you with a written quote that details the suggested work, the cost of the repairs, and an estimated timescale for completion. Once you have that, it’s up to you how you proceed; you are under no obligation to book with us.

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