Make sure your home has a stable foundation before it settles into a major problem.
No matter how beautiful your home may be, it will only ever be as strong as its foundation and footings below.
There are a number of issues which may occur with foundations, from water seeping in through cracks to walls bowing or crumbling. One of the more severe issues that could have detrimental effects on your home is settlement, otherwise known as sinking.
What causes settlement? Foundations are placed on wider platforms below them called footings. When the footings break due to insufficient support, you get settlement.
We’re not talking about a sudden sink hole which will swallow up your entire house—although technically, this could happen (let’s hope not!). Rather, settlement of a home may take place over the course of several years, and the long term effects can leave you scrambling to save your home and investment.
Don’t let this happen to you. Here are six ways to diagnose foundation settlement, so you can get it fixed before it causes a major problem.
The best and easiest way to spot foundation settlement is to measure off of mortar joints. If you watch a mason work, you’ll notice they are constantly using a level. They are very particular about their brick or block work, and so you can count on their finished product having straight, level lines.
Foundation specialists will generally check against any mortar joints using a laser line. If something is out of place, it is safe to assume there has been some shifting below.
Don’t have a brick or block wall to inspect? There are other methods to check for settlement.
Visible cracks on the interior or exterior of the home are also clear signs. If you have brick work on your home, look for stair-step cracks, or long horizontal cracks. Any vertical cracking which seems to be getting wider also indicates that the wall is rotating, which can point to a foundation issue.
Check for signs of cracking on the inside of the home as well, such as in the drywall, plaster, or even wood paneling in some cases. Also, keep an eye out for any cracks which may appear in your concrete slab or basement floor. Keep in mind, any cracks in the slab may also be due to shrinkage or heaving of the concrete (a slightly different story).
Did you buy your home from a previous owner? If so, look for any evidence of past repairs. As mentioned above, settlement issues may lead to cracks in the walls. If you’re able to spot any signs of repair work to patch a crack, it could mean the owners before you were covering up the evidence of settlement.
Sticky doors and windows
Having trouble operating your windows or doors? If your home is settling on one side, tipping your house up on an angle, you’ll find your windows and doors will tend to get stuck as they are no longer square and level. Similar to repair work having been done to patch any cracks, look for signs of latches or framework having been replaced or moved.
Slanted floors can also be an indicator of settling. This can be checked using tape measures, laser lines, and levels. Be sure the floors are checked in several locations, from along the walls in the interior, to the middle sections, and then on to the exterior walls. This method is not always a sure sign of settling, as it may also be caused by sagging beams or joists. Either way, you will have an issue worth addressing sooner than later.
Lastly, if your home has a chimney which shows signs of cracking or leaning, this could also indicate settling. In some cases, the chimney is not actually sharing a foundation or footing with the house itself. It could be just the chimney foundation or slab is sinking and there is no immediate effect on the home. However, in most cases the chimney is installed at the same time as the house is built, and so there is a good chance they are sharing the same soil underneath their footings. When you repair the chimney, it’s worth taking a look at the condition of the home’s foundation as well.
Should you see any of the above signs of settling, don’t always jump to conclusions. It’s recommended you look for a combination of signs. Seek the opinion of a foundation repair specialist if there are visible cracks around your home. Once your foundation is secure and solid, you can safely renovate other parts of your home and keep your investment in good shape.
Top Image Credit: Erickson Construction Co.
Have you checked your home for a settling foundation? What do you think about this issue?