Homeowners complete guide to Foundation Repair
Whether you’ve lived in Oklahoma for several generations or just moved here recently, something you may not be aware of is that homes here and in the surrounding states are built on soil that is always expanding and contracting due to our cycles of fluctuating temperatures and weather events. That expansion and contraction eventually causes foundation problems. A tell-tale sign of these issues are cracks throughout the walls and floors of a house.
For homeowners who think that they may have problems with their foundations that need to be addressed, they need look no further than Edens Structural Solutions. We have many ways to deal with foundation problems. For the past 30 years we have been helping homeowners fix their foundation problems for good.
When do cracks become serious?
Maybe you’ve noticed a thin crack in a wall and are concerned that it is a sign of a problem requiring more than a quick fix. It’s important to know that cracks in walls shouldn’t immediately be a cause for alarm.
Vertical cracks are the most common kinds of cracks that appear in walls, and are often the result of a home “settling.” They often go straight up and down, or on a slight diagonal within 30 degrees of vertical. If the apex of a crack is near where a wall and ceiling meet, this is likely the result of a house settling after construction. They may require re-taping the joints–where the drywall panels meet. Or, a urethane or epoxy material can be injected into the crack, sealing it.
These cracks are especially common in new homes. New lumber, sometimes referred to as “green lumber,” has moisture in it, which causes it to shift as it dries out. We recommend waiting at least a year before repairing these cracks; this allows the lumber to fully dry and won’t lead to you continually repairing cracks.
Likewise, hairline cracks over doors and windows are usually the result of a house settling. Cracks will occur at the weakest points, in this case, areas where the vertical wood studs of a wall were cut to accommodate an opening for a door or window.
Finally, a thin, straight, up-and-down crack could be the result of poor taping of drywall panels. When these panels are installed, the seams between the panels are filled with mud and covered with paper tape. If there isn’t enough mud in the seam for the tape to adhere to, it will pull away over time, and you’ll see the separation between the panels. Household glue can often be used to get the tape to stay in place.
However, if you notice vertical cracks running from floor to ceiling on two adjacent walls, this could mean that your foundation’s footing is broken.
You may spot a diagonal crack that runs along your foundation or basement wall at a 30-75 degree angle, and it will often be wider at one end than the other. They are caused by differential settling of a foundation: One side of a home’s foundation settles lower than the rest of the foundation.
This may happen because a home has been built on a hill or because soil under only one part of the home has expanded or contracted, causing that part of the foundation to shift. It is possible that this will require more time and money to repair than a vertical crack since the cause of the differential settling will need to be fixed. However, the solution could also be installing new gutters to move rainwater away from a section of your property that floods regularly, if it is determined that flooding is what has caused the soil under that part of your foundation to shift.
Cracks that run horizontally (side-to-side) are the cracks that are the most cause for concern. They are most common in homes with concrete block or brick foundations, and may occasionally be seen in homes with poured concrete foundations. They can be a sign of severe foundation shifting or water damage.
They may be caused by soil pressure outside of your foundation, and hydrostatic pressure that can cause your basement walls to bow. These need to be addressed right away so that your home’s structural integrity is not compromised. Your foundation will likely need to be reinforced in order to secure it and prevent further damage.
Does insurance cover foundations?
If you’re concerned about needing foundation repairs, you may be wondering whether your homeowners insurance will cover them. It depends. The cause for the foundation damage will determine whether your insurance will pay for the repairs.
What is usually covered
If your home is damaged or destroyed by a tornado, foundation repairs could be part of the rebuilding process and would be included in your coverage. If your foundation is damaged as the result of another covered problem, for example, fire, gas line explosion, or plumbing backup, your insurance may reimburse you up to your coverage limits for the repairs.
What is not usually covered
Foundation damage due to flooding and earthquakes is not usually covered by homeowners insurance policies. Separate (previously purchased) flood insurance and earthquake insurance policies are necessary. Homeowners insurance policies also do not typically cover damage to foundations that is the result of the typical aging of homes and damage from temperature and weather cycles. Foundations are expected to shift over time, so any resulting issues are not covered by insurance policies.
What can I do?
The best way to protect your foundation is to be diligent about home maintenance. Keep an eye out for cracks and leaks. You should also:
- Water the soil around your foundation during dry seasons and if you see a gap between your foundation and the surrounding soil
- Make sure that your gutters’ downspouts deposit water away from your house and at least five to ten feet away from your foundation
- Prevent tree roots from pushing into and against your foundation by either placing new trees far from the perimeter of your house or installing root guard as a defensive shield
You can also consider adding supplemental insurance coverage to your homeowners policy. However, even that will only cover costs for foundation repairs caused by specified events, and they almost always exclude soil compaction and expansion.
How does weather affect my home and foundation?
The Midwest is known for many things, including its ever-changing weather conditions. Those temperature swings over time, can affect your foundation. During the summer, heat can dry out the soil around your house, causing it to shrink pull away from your foundation, which can then shift and start to crack. Clay soil swells when it gets wet, and then shrinks as it dries.
At ground level and just below it, this cycle puts pressure on the foundation, causing it to both sink and crack. Existing cracks (no matter your foundation material) may grow larger. Cracks weaken the foundation, which can then sink and no longer be level.
Similarly, during the winter, any water that gets into a small foundation crack will expand as it freezes, making the crack grow larger. Likewise, in the winter, water in the soil will freeze, and the soil will expand. Fallen snow that has partially melted during the day will often freeze again overnight.
The top layer of soil freezes first. The longer that temperatures remain low, the more time the cold has to permeate deeper levels of the soil. As lower layers expand with frozen moisture from snow or freezing rain, they push up the top layer of soil, in what is known as “frost heave.” If soil is confined, however, it will push outward, and this can also damage your foundation.
Check your windows and doors
You’ve probably heard that humidity can make the doors and windows in your home stick. One other reason to pay attention to windows and doors is that any problems with them could be a sign of bigger problems with your foundation. Those hot summer temperatures that led to soil shrinkage, which caused your foundation to shift will eventually cause tell-tale signs in your windows and doors, which can get ruined over time as you have to force them open or closed, because they no longer sit properly in their frames.
- Any door or window that seems tight or is hard to open or close
- Gaps around exterior doors and windows
As your foundation shifts or cracks due to the movement of the soil around your home, that will cause the wood supports above, including door and window frames, to twist and bend. Once those openings are no longer their original, correct size and shape, that will make it more difficult to open or close windows and doors.
When your foundation is repaired, it will become level and stable again. Support piers will be placed under your foundation, and will be driven into stable soil or bedrock. They will prevent further foundation settling, and allow your foundation to be moved to its original position. When this is completed, your doors and windows will be properly aligned again and will open and close without difficulty.
How do soil and trees affect my foundation?
We have discussed how the movement of soil and pressure on your foundation can cause it to crack and shift over time. Soil is not the only outdoor element that can have an impact on your foundation.
While trees can benefit the soil around your home, by stabilizing it and preventing soil erosion, they can also cause damage to your foundation, largely due to their root systems. The type of soil around your home will determine the way that tree roots behave. Clay soil becomes more densely packed as tree roots push through them. Soil that is made of dirt and loose rocks shifts and moves as tree roots push through them.
Trees can cause problems for nearby foundations in three primary ways:
- By affecting the moisture content of the soil under or near a foundation
- By physical contact with the foundation
- By causing air gaps and shifting soil due to decaying roots under or near a foundation (when a tree dies or is removed)
After it rains, tree roots are likely going to suck up most of that rain, causing a quick, drastic shift in the moisture content of the soil, which destabilizes it. Just as soil expands and contracts due to its moisture content, so, too, do roots. They expand when they take in water, and shrink when there is less moisture to absorb. That further destabilizes the soil.
You may be wondering how close to your home can you plant a tree. Tree root systems can extend outward beyond three times the height of a tree. A tree with a height of 50 feet could have roots that grow outward 150 feet from the trunk. So, if a tree has limbs near your house, you are likely to have roots growing under or along your foundation. If any part of a tree comes into contact with your home, it will exert pressure on your home and its foundation as the tree grows.
That said, the solution isn’t to immediately remove a tree and its roots. Removal of the root system causes gaps of air that the soil will shift to fill, and that, in turn, can lead to structural problems for the foundation, so you’ll want to contact a professional to determine which option is best.
We’ve talked a bit about how water (in the form of rain and snow) can affect your foundation. Flooding is another problem that homeowners need to take seriously. Both the force of the water itself as well as water seeping into your home can cause a great deal of damage and can weaken its structural integrity. Floodwater can cause new foundation cracks or enlarge existing ones.The force of the floodwater can even separate the walls of your home from the foundation. Foundation pilings can be shifted or cracked by the force of the water, making your home likely to collapse.
French Drains Can Help Deal with Excess Rainwater
While not as immediately serious as a flood, rain can damage your foundation, too. When it rains, water may seep through foundation cracks and get into your basement. Or, there may be pooling on your driveway, or other places near your foundation depending on the placement of your gutter system. French drains can help divert this water out of your basement and away from your foundation.
A French drain is a sloped trench filled with a pipe and gravel that diverts water away from the foundation by giving it an easier path downhill. As water flows into the trench, it enters the perforated pipe at the bottom and flows a safe distance from your home.
Watering Your Foundation
We’ve just talked about how water can damage your home’s foundation, but we also want to talk about how watering your foundation is necessary. You know that when soil around and under your foundation is dry, it will contract, and over time, this causes problems for your foundation, including shifting, sinking, and cracking. Therefore, during droughts, it is necessary to water your foundation.
Look at the line between the dirt in your yard and the foundation itself. You’ll know it’s time to water your foundation if you notice that the dirt and any plants on it have pulled away from the foundation creating a space that you could slip fingers or a hand into. This means the dirt is getting too dry and has begun to contract.
You can always plant small greenery near the foundation line and water it year-round. You can also put a soaker hose, which has numerous tiny holes, along the foundation line and put it on a daily timer. Or, during dry periods, you can spray the area around your foundation.
While foundation damage may seem overwhelming, it is fixable! By performing routine maintenance checks on your home you’ll know when something necessitates a professional. Make sure to install French drains if necessary to divert water away from your foundation, and keep an eye on the trees in your yard, especially if they are growing close to your home.
Be on the lookout for cracks in walls, but know that not every crack is caused by a problem with your foundation. Stuck windows and doors might be due to humidity or because of a structural issue with your home’s foundation. If you are experiencing a dry spell, make sure that you water your foundation to keep the soil around it moist and stable. If you’d like a free, no-obligation consultation, contact us today!