All you need to know about Foundation Damage in Buildings | Foundation Repair Methods

What is Foundation Damage?

Foundation damage refers to structural problems or deterioration that occurs in the base of a building that supports the entire structure. This damage can occur in various ways like cracks in walls or floors, uneven settling, sagging floors, sticking doors or windows, and other signs of structural instability. Foundation damage can be caused by factors such as soil movement, moisture fluctuations, temperature changes, and pre-existing structural issues. Therefore, Addressing foundation damage is crucial to maintaining the integrity and safety of a building.

Foundation damage
Foundation Damage (Source: Master Services)

What Causes Foundation Damage?

Foundation problems can arise from a number of factors, including soil composition, moisture levels, fluctuations in temperature and rainfall, and pre-existing structural issues. Examining each cause of foundation problems in more detail can provide insights into effective prevention strategies.

Sloping Floors in Older Homes may also contribute to foundation concerns, as the structural integrity of aging buildings can be compromised over time. It’s crucial for homeowners to be aware of signs such as uneven floors, cracks in walls, or doors that no longer close properly, as these could indicate potential foundation issues. 

Soil and Moisture:

The condition of a foundation is significantly influenced by the underlying soil strata, soil type, and moisture content. Indications of foundation damage, such as creaking floors, jammed doors or windows, and wall or foundation cracks, often emerge due to these factors. 

Poor Geotechnical and Structural Design:

Poor geotechnical and structural design can have detrimental effects on foundations. Inadequate soil load-bearing capacity estimation can lead to foundation overloading, resulting in sinking or collapse. Uneven settlement from disregarding varied soil properties can cause cracks and structural tilting. Overlooking external loads and soil expansion might cause stress-induced cracks and foundation heaving. Ignoring soil characteristics and environmental factors can result in vulnerabilities to seismic activity, temperature changes, and other local conditions, leading to foundation damage

Overloading:

Foundation damage can be caused by overloading when the weight or loads placed on the foundation exceed its designed capacity, leading to issues like settlement, tilting, cracking, and shear failure.

Temperature Fluctuations:

In areas characterized by distinct seasons, temperature and rainfall variations can lead to foundation issues. Drastic shifts from icy winters to scorching summers can detrimentally affect foundations. The freezing and thawing cycle during winter can trap moisture beneath the foundation. This causes it to crack under the pressure of freezing water expanding. This problem emerges due to the soil’s tendency to expand and contract with temperature changes.

Improper Drainage

When considering the importance of a functional drainage system, homeowners must prioritize the installation of a robust basement drainage system. This system effectively redirects excess water away from the foundation, preventing moisture buildup and reducing the risk of structural damage. 

In the comprehensive scope of understanding foundation damage in buildings, addressing water drainage concerns, including the installation and upkeep of a reliable basement floor drain, is a proactive measure to safeguard the structural integrity of a home.  Neglecting water issues can lead to significant foundation damage. Because of this proper drainage is essential for a home’s positioning and interaction with its surroundings. To prevent water accumulation near the foundation and potential harm it is vital to ensure proper terrain slope away from the house which involves creating natural gradients and maintaining clean gutters and downspouts for unobstructed rainwater flow.

Trees and Animals:

Besides water and soil, foundation damage can also be attributed to trees and their roots. Tree roots can exert pressure against foundation walls as they grow, infiltrating cracks and gaps in the structure. Uneven settling can occur when tree roots extract moisture from the soil, causing parts of the foundation to sink while others remain elevated.

Signs of Foundation Damage

Encountering foundation damage as a homeowner can be a daunting challenge. If you notice any of the following unmistakable indicators of foundation issues, it is crucial not to overlook them. Acknowledge these signs of foundation damage to accurately assess the need for repair solutions. The following red flags should be consistently monitored within your home environment:

  • Visible Cracks
  • Cracks appearing in plaster walls
  • Basement wall fractures stretching from floor to ceiling
  • Doors exhibiting difficulty in opening or closing
  • Floors displaying sagging
  • Accumulating water near a slab foundation
  • Crawl space becoming damp after rainfall
  • Windows and doors becoming uneven or sticking
  • Irregularities in floors or ceilings

As your home ages, its foundation becomes more susceptible to natural wear and tear. Just as the health of an aging individual necessitates vigilant observation, similarly, your foundation requires diligent monitoring to promptly address any emerging issues.

Main Types of Foundation Cracks

Vertical Cracks (Drying Cracks)

Vertical cracks, often referred to as drying cracks, are generally not a significant concern unless there are indications of water infiltration. These may be diagonal cracks or vertical cracks and are typically 3/16” wide or narrower along their entire length. If there’s no evidence of water infiltration, no action is necessary. However, if signs of water intrusion are present or if the crack measures ¼” or more in width, repair becomes necessary.

Vertical Cracks
Vertical Cracks (Source: airliftconcrete)

Horizontal Cracks (Buckling Cracks)

Horizontal cracks, also known as buckling cracks, are a serious issue that demands immediate attention. These cracks extend along substantial lengths of a foundation wall and have a more or less horizontal orientation.

Horizontal Cracks
Horizontal Cracks (Source: Armored Basement)

Rotational Cracks (Settling Cracks)

Rotational cracks, also called settling cracks, occur when one segment of a foundation settles while another part remains stable. This differential settling causes the settling portion to pivot away from the stable section, akin to a hinged movement along the bottom of the wall. These cracks have a V-shaped pattern from bottom to top, with the top of the crack wider than the bottom. This situation will deteriorate unless appropriately addressed.

Step Cracks

When examining a block or stone foundation, step cracks may emerge. These cracks typically follow the mortar joints, resulting in a pattern known as step cracking. In other cases, the appearance and pattern of cracks will resemble those found in foundation cracks under other circumstances.

Cracking of boundary walls due to Foundation Damage and settlement (foundation on expansive clay) Source: EngineeringCivil.org
Cracking of boundary walls due to Foundation Damage and settlement (foundation on expansive clay) Source: EngineeringCivil.org

Foundation Repair Methods

The following table provides a complete summary of foundation repair methods and their pros and cons, to help make foundation repair selections.

TechniqueDescriptionSuitable FoundationsKey Benefits
Helical PilingScrew-like pilings drilled into the ground, less effort for installation, cost-effective.Slab or pier and beam foundations, not heavy structures.Cost-effective, useful for leveling houses, installation is easier.
MudjackingRaising and repairing slab foundations by injecting concrete underneath. Lower-strength concrete is used.Suitable under appropriate conditions.Effective under the right conditions, repairs slab foundations.
Concrete and Steel PiersConcrete piers placed under homes, combating clay soil. Steel piers are drilled deeper, ideal for clay soil.Concrete piers: Under homes combating clay soil. Steel piers: More advanced repairs for clay soil.Concrete piers are cost-effective, steel piers are stronger, combat clay soil effectively.
Soil InjectionChemical alteration of clay soil using potassium ions. Reduces soil swelling, stabilizes the soil zone.Required for expansive clay soil, advanced foundation issues.Cost-effective alternative to replacing clay soil, reduces future shifting and heaving of foundations.
UnderpinningStrengthening existing foundation by digging boxes underneath and pouring concrete strategically.Suitable for existing shallow to deep foundations.Creates a more robust foundation, addresses settlement, and instability.
Foundation repair methods

When Should a Foundation Be Replaced?

A foundation should be considered for replacement under several circumstances which includes:

  1. Extensive Settlement: If your foundation has experienced significant settling, leading to unevenness, cracks, or structural instability in the building then replacement might be necessary to restore stability.
  2. Severe Damage: Foundations that exhibit severe damage, such as widespread cracking, displacement, or deterioration of key components like sill plates, may require replacement to ensure the structural integrity of the building.
  3. Rotting Sill Plates: If the wooden sill plates that rest on top of the foundation walls are rotting due to moisture or pest damage, it can compromise the structural support and warrant a foundation replacement.
  4. Need for Additional Space: If you’re planning to expand your basement or require extra headroom then replacing the foundation might be necessary to accommodate the desired changes in space.
  5. Inadequate Height: If your current foundation does not provide sufficient height for your needs, such as converting a basement into habitable space, replacement may be required to create the desired clearance.
  6. Structural Concerns: If a thorough inspection reveals that the foundation’s structural integrity is compromised beyond repair then replacement becomes a viable solution to avoid potential safety hazards.

How to Prevent Foundation Damages?

The foundation plays a crucial role in ensuring your home’s safety. While certain factors are beyond control, homeowners can adopt practical measures to minimize the risk of foundation damage.

  1. Optimum Soil Assessment:

Conduct thorough geotechnical investigation to understand soil characteristics, load-bearing capacity, and behaviour beneath the foundation. Use this analysis to determine appropriate foundation design and construction methods that align with the soil’s properties.

  1. Effective Structural Design

Effective structural design prevents foundation damage by distributing loads, determining proper foundation depth, and by making use of suitable materials. This design minimises settling, cracking, and uneven settlement, ensuring the building’s long-term stability.

  1. Drainage and Moisture Control

Establish proper drainage to direct water away from the foundation using cost-effective solutions. Maintain optimal soil moisture with a timed sprinkler system or manual watering. Keep gutters and downspouts clean for smooth water flow, and extend downspouts at least five feet from the foundation to enhance protection. This ensures your foundation’s integrity by preventing water-related risks.

  1. Strategic Landscaping Practices:

Consider the slope of the land away from the home to prevent water accumulation around the foundation. Plant trees and shrubs strategically, keeping their roots away from the foundation. Position lawn sprinklers to avoid constant watering of the foundation area.

  1. Regular Inspections:

Conduct periodic inspections of the foundation for any signs of cracks, settling, or other issues. Address any potential problems promptly to prevent them from escalating.

  1. Consult Professionals:

Seek advice from foundation experts or geotechnical engineers to assess soil conditions and recommend appropriate measures.

  1. Proper Construction Practices:

When building new structures, ensure proper soil preparation, foundation design, and construction techniques are followed.

Recognizing and addressing foundation damage is crucial for maintaining the stability and structural integrity of your home. Regular monitoring, prompt repairs, and seeking professional guidance when needed can ensure a safe and secure foundation for your home, enhancing its longevity and value for years to come.