Learn to recognize the signs of foundation problems and how to lift and stabilize sinking concrete.Updated May 6, 2020
Is the concrete beneath your home in distress? Foundation problems can lead to major structural damage within your home. Whether you’re a homeowner or a perspective buyer, foundation issues are scary and you likely have a lot of questions.
Some of the main questions are:
- Are foundation cracks normal?
- How much will repairs cost?
- Will my insurance cover foundation damage?
Luckily, there are ways to repair a concrete foundation without having to tear it out and start from scratch.
If you suspect trouble, do the following:
- Examine the foundation yourself for obvious issues
- Have a repair expert do a home foundation inspection
- Consult with a structural engineer if necessary
Find a specialist offering foundation repair near me.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF FOUNDATION PROBLEMS?
Are you wondering if you have foundation issues? All foundations will settle with time, but problems arise when this settlement is uneven or extreme.
Here are the common signs of foundation stress:
Exterior Warning Signs
- Wall rotation
- Separation around garage door, windows and/or walls
- Cracked bricks
- Broken and/or cracked foundation
- Displaced moldings
Interior Warning Signs
- Misaligned doors and windows
- Cracked sheetrock
- Cracks in floor
- Uneven floors
See these foundation problem pictures so you know exactly what to look for at your house.
Bulging floors, cracked walls, and doors that won't close are all signs of foundation distress. Sixty percent of all homes built on expansive soils suffer from foundation distress. The trouble occurs when only part of the foundation heaves or settles, causing cracks and other damage.
This differential movement is largely caused by differences in soil moisture. Loss or gain of soil moisture can cause serious shrinkage or swelling.
If the frame of a house does not begin to distort until after three or more years of satisfactory performance, it is doubtful that the distortion is caused by full-depth foundation settlement, which is always evidenced by matching cracks. Cracks occur at each side of a portion of the foundation wall that is undergoing downward movement caused by soil bearing failure.
Settlement cracks are nearly always vertical, and they should not be confused with cracks that occur when a wall is subjected to lateral movement from soil pressure.
WHAT CAUSES FOUNDATION ISSUES?
For the vast majority of damage, water is the primary culprit. Variations in moisture cause components of the soil to swell or shrink, leading to movement beneath your foundation.
Your property may be more susceptible to foundation damage if:
- It was built on expansive clay
- It was built on improperly compacted fill soils
- The area around the foundation has poor drainage
- You live in an area with extreme seasonal changes
- You experienced a plumbing leak below your home
- Tree roots are growing too close to your home
- An earthquake, flood or drought compromised the structure
Those soils highest in clay content are generally more susceptible while those lowest in clay content are the least affected. In some areas the movement is insignificant; in others, it is quite pronounced.
When unstable soils are used as a base, the movement is transferred to the foundation. Since soil movement is rarely uniform, the foundation is subjected to a differential or upheaval. The problem shows up in both slab, and pier and beam type foundations.
If all the soil beneath a foundation swells uniformly, there usually is no problem. Issues occur, however, when only part of the home settles. Then, the differential movement causes cracks or other damages.
Issues resulting from foundation settlement:
- Damage to the structure
- Loss of real estate value
- Tripping hazards
- Unsightly cracks
- Equipment malfunctions
Whatever the cause, settlement can destroy the value of your home and even render it unsafe. If you see signs of failure, don't delay in getting the problem solved. The longer you wait, the more your foundation will sink, causing further costly damage.
Hairline cracks are a common result of normal foundation settlement. However, you should be concerned if large cracks appear suddenly. If a crack is wider than an eighth of an inch you could have a possible foundation issue.
According to a Realtor.com article about foundation problems:
“Horizontal or jagged 45-degree cracks are the most serious and usually indicate you will need professional help.”
If unsure, monitor the cracks in your foundation, if they continue to expand, call a foundation company out to inspect the cracking.
Learn how your foundation can be permanently repaired with Ram Jack's reliable methods.
CONCRETE FOUNDATION REPAIR METHODS
Past techniques for repair of sunken concrete has varied. Wood, concrete, cement and steel have been poured, pushed, turned or somehow forced into the ground trying to salvage these foundations and slabs, while early on, anyone and everyone, trained or untrained, became "experts" at this type of repair. Often as not, the repairs proved to be futile.
Other, more successful, methods of remediation involve extensive disruption of the family or business using the building. Usually, it is desirable that settlement of building slabs and monolithic foundations in residential areas be corrected without having to move all furniture, appliances, and possibly the whole family, or in commercial areas, without disrupting business.
However, with today’s technology and trained experts, there are a number of very successful solutions to the problem of sunken concrete that involve little or no disruption to normal living or business routine.
The two most common methods of this type of repair are slabjacking and hydraulic jacking (also known as piering).
In a slabjacking operation, grout is pumped beneath a slab or beam to produce a lifting force that restores the member to its original elevation.
In piering, steel posts are driven through unstable soil and hydraulic jacks are used to raise or stabilize concrete slabs affected by changes in the underlying soil. The repair method used depends on the type of distress being treated.
Choosing the correct method for repairs
Before deciding on a repair method, you must determine what is causing the distress. Examine moldings and trim boards, mortar joints in brick veneer, and windows in low areas for clues. Also take note of recent weather. Unusually dry or wet weather can cause movement in the underlying soil.
The most commonly used method of correcting smaller slabs of sunken concrete, such as residential slabs, driveways, sidewalks, swimming pool decks, etc. is slabjacking.
Slabjacking is done by pumping a cement grout through small, strategically-located holes in the concrete slab. Once in place, the grout solidifies into a dense concrete mass and provides a competent bearing for the concrete slab.
If a soil-cement-lime grout is used, the lime content of the slurry will impart the benefits of lime stabilization to the base or sub-base. This combined treatment not only restores the slab to proper grade but also stabilizes the sub-soil to prevent re-occurrence of the problem.
For larger problems, especially those found in house and commercial building foundation shifting, hydraulic piers are typically used to lift and stabilize the foundation.
Piering involves the use of strategically placed mechanical jacks to lift the settled beam to grade. The beam must be raised carefully to avoid further or unnecessary damage. Once raised, the beam is held to elevation by a specially designed spread footing and pier.
The footing is set deep enough so that it will be independent of variations in soil moisture. It is also designed to adequately distribute the load without creating unnecessary bulk or mass. The pier is tied into the footing with steel and supports the foundation beam.
WHAT REGIONS ARE MOST AFFECTED BY FOUNDATION FAILURE?
The soil type in certain areas of the country leads to a higher rate of foundation trouble. Areas with high clay content and coastal areas with lots of sand tend to see the most damage. Homes in these regions are at greater risk for foundation damage.
Foundation Issues in Texas
The following areas of Texas have expansive clay soil, which can cause foundation movement:
- Fort Worth
- Corpus Christi
- San Antonio
The soil conditions in Texas respond to rain and drought like a sponge. This expansion and contraction with changes in moisture puts stress on your foundation.
Foundation problems are also prevalent in areas prone to flooding, as was seen with Hurricane Harvey in 2017. If you live in Houston, you may want to elevate your house above the floodplain. FEMA offers this guide about the house elevation process.
Additional factors that contribute to foundation failure in Texas include poor drainage around homes and the corrosion of cast iron plumbing or failure of cedar piers beneath older homes.
For more information:
An Expert’s Guide to Spotting Home Foundation Issues in Texas
Houston Foundation Issues
Dallas Foundation Issues
Foundation Issues in Oklahoma
Areas of Oklahoma, including Tulsa and Oklahoma City, also have soil with high clay content. In fact the dirt is actually red in many places because there is so much clay.
To make the problem worse, Oklahoma often experiences extreme drought (remember learning about the Dust Bowl?) that dries out the soil, making it contract and pull away from foundations.
In Oklahoma, soil expansion and contraction often leads to issues in your home’s basement. Sometimes basement walls will require straightening to properly support your home.
Foundation experts in Oklahoma recommend watering your foundation during times of drought and redirecting rain way away from your home with gutters and proper sloping during times of rain.
Foundation Issues in Missouri
Missouri is another state with more foundation problems than average. Kansas City and St. Louis both have expansive clay soils and variable weather that contribute to the issues.
If your basement is leaky or damp you may need basement waterproofing. Or worse, you may have bowed basement walls that need to be fixed.
Foundation Issues in Mississippi
Mississippi, and Jackson in particular, also have frequent foundation issues. The soil in this area, known as Yazoo clay, weakens foundations, putting them at risk of failure.
The volume of this soil expands when wet and shrinks when dry, sometimes by as much as 38%. This drastic soil movement leads to shifting of structures, breaking of underground plumbing and other damage.
If you have Yazoo clay beneath your home, the key is to keep the moisture consistent. Sometimes this may mean redirecting rainwater away from your house, other times it may mean using a soaker house to prevent the ground from drying out.
IS CLAY THE ONLY TYPE OF SOIL THAT CAUSES FOUNDATION TROUBLE?
Clay isn’t the only type of soil that negatively impacts foundations. The second biggest enemy to concrete house foundations is sand. While sand does not expand and contract like clay soils, it can be washed away, creating gaps beneath a foundation. Peat is another type of soil that shrinks and expands much like clay.
Learn more about expansive soils.
Loam and rock are the best soils for providing foundation support. They compact well and don’t move or swell with moisture changes.
SHOULD I BUY A HOUSE WITH FOUNDATION ISSUES?
Many home buyers run for the hills when they see a home with foundation issues. The fear is that it will cost thousands of dollars to repair the home by raising and sufficiently supporting its foundation.
If you’re shopping for a home, keep an eye out for the common signs of foundation issues. Also, make sure to have a home inspection. However, sometimes foundation trouble is overlooked during this step.
To be sure that the home you wish to purchase is structurally sound, have it evaluated by a foundation contractor or an engineer. They will also be able to give you an idea of how much the repair work will cost, so that you can make an offer with that in mind.
In some cases, you may be able to get a good deal on a home with foundation issues. But make sure you know what you are getting into. Some foundation problems can be corrected easily and affordably, while others may require a completely new foundation and up to $100,000. Don’t go with what a real estate agent says, only a foundation expert can help you determine what to expect.
SHOULD I FIX MY FOUNDATION BEFORE SELLING MY HOME?
If you want to get top dollar for your home, it should be in near perfect condition. This includes fixing foundation issues if you can afford it. See average foundation repair costs.
Most foundation companies offer a lifetime warranty on their repairs that is transferable to the new owners. This will give potential buyers peace of mind because they know that the problem has been addressed.
In some cases you may be able to sell your home as is. It isn’t uncommon for homes with foundation trouble to be bought by investors. Also, if you have the advantage of a seller’s market, some buyers are willing to take on repairs themselves.
For more about this read How to Sell a Home with Foundation Problems.
Related: Concrete Work to Do Before Selling Your Home
HOW TO HIRE A REPAIR CONTRACTOR
Foundation work is definitely not a do-it-yourself project, so it makes good sense to get at least three licensed contractors to give you a detailed proposal along with an assessment of your issues. The average inspection takes about two hours. Ron Davidson of Ram Jack Systems also offers the following advice and precautionary measures:
Educate yourself on repair methods and ask a lot of questions. Don't make your final decision based on advertising and cheap prices. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Don't do business with a contractor that does not have their repair methods evaluated by ICC-ES (International Code Council Evaluation Services). This nonprofit organization ensures that building products meet code compliance.
In most areas of the country, a reputable contractor will have a clause for the depth of the hydraulic piling (typically 20 to 30 feet). Beyond that depth, there is usually an additional charge, ranging from $20 to $30 per foot. If a contractor has no depth clause, be cautious. It's unlikely that the contractor would continue to operate at a loss, and would instead just stop at the depth that would guarantee a profit.
Some repair projects require removal of landscaping in the areas of the work, and the contractor typically won't guarantee that a bush or shrub will survive after removal and replacement.
Warranties or guarantees for foundation work are very important, so pay close attention to their terms. Remember that a warranty is only as good as the company that backs it. Look for a national company that can offer a warranty trust. This means that if the company goes out of business, there is a plan in place to provide follow-up service, if needed.
In most instances, installing steel piers under your home is the best long-term solution to stabilize the foundation—It's also the most costly. For this repair, galvanized steel posts are driven deep into the ground below the foundation.What is the best foundation repair method? ›
In most instances, installing steel piers under your home is the best long-term solution to stabilize the foundation—It's also the most costly. For this repair, galvanized steel posts are driven deep into the ground below the foundation.What is the best concrete for foundation repair? ›
All-Purpose Concrete Mix: When in doubt, all-purpose concrete mix is a popular option. This is ideal for repairing foundation walls, laying sidewalks, creating steps and setting posts.What time of year is best for foundation repair? ›
Winter, or from about mid-December to March on the calendar, the ground is considerably colder than it is during other months. This colder weather makes your foundation a bit more stable and makes it a bit easier to monitor damage. Some experts would say this is the right time to repair your foundation.What type of foundation is strongest? ›
Poured concrete is the strongest type of foundation for a house. Concrete is incredibly strong and durable, and it can be poured into any shape. This makes it ideal for supporting the weight of a house. Block foundations are also very strong, but they are not as flexible as poured concrete.When should you walk away from foundation problems? ›
You should walk away from foundation issues if the person selling the house refuses to lower the asking price to compensate for the necessary repairs. That means you'll need to have already had the home inspected by either a foundation repair contractor or a structural engineer.Can you pour new concrete over old cracked concrete? ›
You can put new concrete over old concrete. However, unresolved issues with your old concrete, such as cracks or frost heaves, will carry over to your new concrete if not taken care of. In addition, you must pour it at least 2 inches thick.How do you fix a gap between concrete and foundation? ›
Fill the crack with urethane caulk, similar to what you would use for driveway caulk. It works perfectly as a concrete expansion joint sealant. Snip the opening of the tube at a 30-degree angle, making the opening the same size as your gap.How many years does a concrete foundation last? ›
A foundation can keep its integrity through timely repairs, soil compaction and protection. For the average house, foundations will last about 80-100 years before needing to be replaced.What material is used to fill between concrete and foundation? ›
Mudjacking. A type of sand-cement slurry (called “mud” in the industry) can be used to fill voids under concrete slabs. This mixture of sand, cement, and water is pumped through holes drilled in a slab foundation to fill voids underneath.
Four-two-one and the Seven Part Mix Ratio
The safest bet for any concrete mix is four-two-one: four parts crushed rock; two parts sand; and one part cement. The four-two-one mix, obviously, has seven parts. Conveniently, when mixing concrete, the ratio can be mixed on any range of scales.
Foundation. Most formulas—liquids, creams, and compacts—can last up to a year if kept out of direct sunlight and away from heaters. But once your liquid starts to separate, your cream thickens, or your compact color develops a rubbery aroma, it's time to toss it.How many hours does foundation last? ›
When shopping for foundation, look for one that lasts at least eight hours. This will last you through your whole day of work or school. Even better, aim for one that lasts 12 hours or more! HIDE's Premium Foundation lasts for at least 12 hours and longer!How long does foundation last if you use it everyday? ›
Foundation. With the exception of powder formulas, foundations are water-based, which means bacteria love them. Unopened, foundation can last for a couple of years, but once the seal is broken, Hammer says, it's best to replace it after six to 12 months.What is the easiest foundation to apply? ›
Powder foundations are a go-to for beginners because they're quick and easy to apply. Boswell says she likes to use powder foundations on oily skin as they can help to absorb excess oil.What is the most stable foundation material? ›
For starters, concrete is the most durable in all climates, including areas prone to natural disasters and extreme weather events. It's also nonflammable, won't cave under soil pressure, and is resistant to rot, mold, warping and sagging — even with moisture exposure.
The strength of the concrete is related to the water to cement mass ratio and the curing conditions. A high water to cement mass ratio yields a low strength concrete. This is due to the increase in porosity (space between particles) that is created with the hydration process.How do you raise sagging concrete? ›
Mud jacking can lift a settled concrete slab by pumping a grout through the concrete and pushing it up from below. The process is sometimes called “slab jacking” or “pressure grouting”. 1 to 1 5/8th inch diameter holes are drilled through the sunken concrete block/slab at strategic locations to maximize lift.How do I know if my concrete is strong enough? ›
Compressive strength of concrete
Compressive strength is tested by breaking cylindrical concrete specimens in a special machine designed to measure this type of strength. It is measured in pounds per square inch (psi). Testing is done according to the ASTM (American Society for Testing & Materials) standard C39.
Some of the common concerns include foundation crumbling or sinking, floor cracking, gaps in the foundation, sloping floors, wall cracks, a leaning chimney and doors that stick.
Expanding and contracting soil, excessive moisture, and inadequate drainage are some of the most common threats to your home's foundation. Over time, environmental stress can cause the foundation to shift, crack or settle unevenly. And homeowners can often miss the early warning signs of foundation damage.How do you identify foundation problems? ›
- Cracked Drywall. ...
- Gaps Between Exterior Windows and Walls. ...
- You Notice a “Sinking” Feeling. ...
- Counters, Cabinets, or Other Static Structures Separating From the Wall. ...
- Cracked or Leaning Chimney. ...
- Cracks in the Walls or Floor. ...
- Nails Popping Out of Drywall. ...
- Warped Floors or Ceilings.
In most instances, living in a home with foundation problems is completely safe. However, homeowners will want to repair the foundation as soon as possible for two reasons: to preserve their home's value and to prevent worse damage in the future.Can a house collapse from foundation issues? ›
Yes, serious foundation issues do put your home's stability at risk. This is why, if a foundation wall collapses, you need a structural engineer or a highly qualified contractor to assess the damage.What happens if you don't fix foundation problems? ›
If ignored, foundation problems lead to severe structural damage. As the foundation shifts or cracks, your walls start to crack, floors become uneven, and doors and windows stop functioning correctly.Can you repair badly damaged concrete? ›
Deeply spalled concrete can be repaired with a concrete overlay. Think of this as just applying stucco to the concrete. You just mix up some sand, a little hydrated lime and Portland cement and trowel this onto the concrete.Is there a difference between concrete and cement? ›
Bottom line: Cement is a powdered ingredient used to make concrete. Concrete is the material used to make sidewalks, driveways and buildings. Sakrete makes a number of different concrete formulations in varying strengths and set times to meet the needs of different job requirements.How thick should concrete be to pour over concrete? ›
How thin can you pour concrete over concrete? Your new layer needs to be at least 2 inches thick. If it's any thinner than that, it'll easily crack under pressure and won't adequately bond to your surface.What is the most common way a concrete repair fails? ›
The common causes of concrete repair failures generally fall into three categories: insufficient load-bearing capacity, lack of sufficient bond strength, and chemical grouting.Why do concrete repairs fail? ›
The two most common causes of failure are carbonation and chloride contamination of the concrete. Both of these lead to corrosion of the embedded steel reinforcement and as the steel corrodes it expands and exerts pressure on the concrete so that, eventually, the concrete cracks and spalls.
Narrow cracks can be filled with a masonry concrete crack filler that comes in a cartridge designed to be used in a caulking gun. Alternatively, you can create a concrete patch with a vinyl concrete patching compound applied and smoothed with a putty knife.Does concrete get stronger over years? ›
Technically, concrete never stops curing. In fact, concrete gets stronger and stronger as time goes on.Does concrete harden for 50 years? ›
No, this is a bit of a myth with the concrete industry. While concrete does continue to harden indefinitely, pore moisture has to drop below a certain level at some point and this isn't typically 100 years.Can concrete last 100 years? ›
For large scale projects like buildings, concrete should last up to 100 years if it's properly cared for. Concrete projects that experience more wear-and-tear like sidewalks and driveways have an expected lifespan of about half that—50 years.What is the toughest concrete mix? ›
What is C40 concrete used for?: C40 is used to create strong, supporting beams and foundations for huge buildings and heavy traffic roads. C40 concrete is the strongest and most durable mix and for good reason townhomes for sale san diego.Can you use quikrete for foundation? ›
QUIKRETE® 5000 High Early Strength Concrete is designed for improved workability and rapid strength gains. It is ideal for a foundation project requiring extra strength and fast completion.What can I use to repair my foundation? ›
- Steel Piers. If you were to consult a structural engineer, many would recommend steel piers for stabilizing or repairing a damaged foundation. ...
- Concrete Piers. ...
- Helical Piers. ...
- High-Density Polyurethane Foam. ...
- Segmented Piers. ...
- Spot Piers. ...
- Masonry Patches and Sealants. ...
- Slab Jacking.
Basements are the most complex type of foundation and — unsurprisingly — are also the most expensive to repair. Like crawl spaces and slabs, basements are easy to repair when you're only dealing with small cracks.What is the best seal for foundation cracks? ›
Polyurethane foam is great for almost every kind of foundation or wall crack, as it expands into the deepest section of the fissure and creates an airtight seal. Most crack repair kits have special injection ports to get the foam through the entire crack.Do foundation piers really work? ›
Do Foundation Piers Really Work? Yes, foundation piers really work. Below are a few benefits of building or buying a home with foundation piers. Less material – Because piers are spaced out from each other, they require fewer materials to build.
Typically, it costs about $5,000 to lay a new foundation for a small home and $40,000 for a large home. On average, though, a new foundation costs $10,000. The Right Foundation Solution Near You!What is the most common foundation failure? ›
differential settlement is the most common type of foundation failure. Its causes are soil types, building loads, or structural systems carrying among different parts of a single building. This can lead to cracked walls, glass, distortion of the building frame, and sloped floors.Does Flex Seal work on concrete foundations? ›
Flex Seal Liquid is optimal for sealing, repairing, and weatherizing concrete. It works by sealing out air, water, and moisture and is mildew, chemical, and UV resistant. You can either brush, roll, dip or pour the liquid directly onto the concrete surface.Does Flex Seal work on foundation cracks? ›
This will ensure the product completely fills any gaps and provides a complete seal. After all the holes, cracks, and joints in your concrete walls are fully sealed with Flex Shot, let the product dry for 24 hours.What size crack is acceptable in a foundation? ›
Size matters when evaluating concrete cracks. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) standard for cracks in interior slabs requires repairing cracks that exceed three-sixteenths inches wide or high (vertical displacement).Is it cheaper to pour a slab or piers? ›
Cost-Effective: Because pier and beam foundations don't require as much concrete, they tend to be more cost-effective than slab foundations.Which is better concrete or steel piers? ›
Concrete piers are much heavier than steel piers and strong enough to ensure the stability of the entire structure. While it's true that these piers can't be installed as deep into the ground as steel piers, most areas in and around Houston don't have extremely deep soils.How deep do concrete piers go? ›
Piers can be square, rectangular, or circular, and diameter of piers is usually 6, 8, 10, or 16 inches. The depth of pier foundation is below the freezing depth, usually around five to six feet.Do foundation problems always get worse? ›
Foundation problems get worse and cause more damage throughout your home over time. This means the cost for repair not only on your home's foundation, but on the additional damage it causes, only increases with time.What does foundation failure look like? ›
When it comes to foundation issues, what you should look for is gaps between planks, growing cracks along exterior walls and space between the siding and window or door frames. These gaps and cracks can also invite in more moisture or pests, which can compound your issues.