According to ancient parables, a person’s fortunes prove only as solid as their home’s foundation. Rain, floods and wind test a home’s foundation over and over again, and often cause a need for foundation repairs. Homeowners need to ask themselves: Does my foundation sit upon rock, or sand?
The question has more literal answers than might be expected. Different soil compositions can drastically change the stresses put on a home’s foundation. In fact, most foundation issues occur with soil expansion under the home. “Expansive soils” of clay composition absorb water and increase drastically in volume. The U.S. Department of Agriculture maintains a survey of soils all around the country and assigns each soil type a value based on how much it shrinks and swells. Understanding your home’s environment is the first step in assessing your risk for foundation damage.
How Do Foundation Problems Happen?
Water causes soil to expand. This can put tremendous pressure on your foundation from below and from the sides. This can shift the foundation in ways that affect the home’s other critical structures. All of a sudden, with a foundation that no longer adequately supports the home’s frame, walls, floors and ceilings can all shift in major ways.
Backing up a bit, let’s hone in on how soil expansion happens. Often, this is an issue of water drainage. If the land surrounding a house is not graded away from the structure, water can collect near the foundation. Homeowners can protect their foundation by making sure the landscaping surrounding the house supports proper water drainage in addition to installing pipes and other systems. Fenwick offers moisture control services that can prevent water accumulation and save money on foundation repair down the road.
Poorly drained soil not only expands problematically, but also exposes foundations to water damage. Inadequately protected foundations can absorb moisture, causing rot, mold, and pests. These hazards themselves break down the integrity of a foundation and can also spread to other parts of a home. Fenwick also offers basement waterproofing services to ensure that water outside your house stays outside, away from problematic areas.
While drainage and soil expansion comprise some of the main threats to foundations, they are not alone in the risks they pose. Just as trees displace sidewalks with their roots, so too can they displace foundations. In addition, trees can radically change a soil’s moisture composition through transpiration, the evaporation of water from leaves that necessitates roots bringing water up from the ground. Soils drying and compacting can prove just as serious as wet, expanding soils. Keeping trees near a home’s foundation properly watered can help maintain proper soil moisture and maintain the structure of the foundation itself.
Finally, there are risks like plumbing leaks. Water spilling from pipes can also find its way either into the surrounding soil or directly into your foundation. Regularly maintaining your plumbing can prove critical in making sure that your own pipes do not cause damage to the other parts of your home.
Signs of Foundation Problems
While some foundation issues are easy to spot, others are not. It is important to know the signs of foundation problems because they worsen with time. The sooner an issue is identified, the smaller and cheaper the necessary repairs. Remember, as with medicine, preventative measures early on make a big difference down the line. Still, knowing the hallmarks of foundation damage can also save money and time on more costly repairs.
Essentially, a compromised foundation is one that has moved from its initial location or deteriorated in such a way that it no longer supports the structure of the house as it should. Thus, you should look for any signs of shifting and movement in the foundation, as well as learn to recognize the preliminary indicators of future damage. Below is a thorough but by no means exhaustive list of warning signs. If you identify any of these issues in your home, it’s time to call the experts at Fenwick to assess the situation.
Exterior cracks: While small, minor cracks are routine, you should be worried about foundation damage for cracks greater than 1/8”, especially those in long, zig-zagging patterns.
Interior cracks: Similar to exterior cracks, the greater the size, the greater the concern. Keep an eye out with cracks in stair-step patterns, cracks in brickwork or bricks protruding from walls, and cracks with any sign of leaking water.
Cracks in floor tiles, if significant, can also point to larger issues. Materials like brick, tile, and stonework are often good indicators because they are often the first to come apart with shifts in the foundation.
Doors out of square: Frames like doors and windows often indicate foundation damage. If doors no longer fit into their frames or begin to rub heavily on the floors, you’ll want to check to see if this indicates more structural damage.
Uneven floors: If floors visibly slant, this is also cause for concern. If you’re unsure about what you’re seeing, a level is a good tool to supply evidence. You can also use this on door and window frames and any surface that shows signs of shifting.
Rotten wood/bouncing floors: These signs generally signify water or pest damage of some kind. While this does not necessarily mean foundation damage, these other issues prove serious and warrant professional attention. However, as described above, water damage often brings about problems in a foundation, so any signs of water damage should warrant an examination of your home’s structural integrity.
Humidity and strange smells: These signs often accompany mold growth, which can similarly point to foundation damage. Whether or not the mold necessitates foundation repairs, it can cause damage major to your home and put your health at risk.
Termiguard/Fenwick also offers mold inspection and remediation services at the highest quality to deal with any mold issues and assess whether they pose a risk to your home’s foundation.
Pooling water: The environment inside and outside your house will often display warning signs before major damage occurs. With diligent monitoring and preventative measures, homeowners can save themselves the hassle of major foundation repairs. Pooling water, both inside and outside your home, is a harbinger of trouble to come.
Door/window frame separation: Frames can both pull apart from themselves in addition to separating from their housing in walls. This often manifests as cracking or spatial distancing.
Chimney movement: If indicator species like birds and amphibians show red flags for environmental change, then consider your chimney your indicator species of foundational issues. Tilts, cracks, and separation all often signs of trouble below the surface.
Other indicators: wall separation, nails popping out of their holes, and bugs and pests all spell trouble. Bring in professional help if these issues appear.
What Kinds of Repairs Can Be Done to Fix Foundation Problems?
The first step of any repair is an initial consultation, followed by a site visit to examine the foundation and identify the root cause of the problem. Fenwick makes sure to bring in qualified and experienced structural engineers to provide assessments and designs of the repairs. We then put forth a proposal for repairs at the lowest cost and least invasiveness to your structure while ensuring a full and proper fix. Here are the possibilities we put forth:
Crack injections: Epoxy and polyurethane foam can mend both cosmetic and minor structural cracking. This can include measures to lock the sides of the crack together as well as ways of waterproofing the area.
Foundation reinforcement: If the damage is more than cracking but still limited, our professionals can install reinforcing rods filled with grout or strong concrete material. Other reinforcement can entail less invasive carbon fiber straps, or if the damage is more severe, we may recommend reinforcing steel.
Foundation replacement: Reserved for the more serious issues, this option involved supporting your home while excavating and replacing the existing foundation. While replacement is the most costly and labor intensive, it is important to complete in a skilled and timely manner in order to prevent more extensive damage to the rest of your home.
Turn to the Right People for the Job
Fenwick’s engineers and experts have decades of experience on thousands of home repairs. Foundation work is no trifling task and requires the right expertise at every step of the way, from the initial assessment, designs and permits to implementing the proper repairs. If you see the signs of foundation damage listed above, call today and get started with a FREE consultation.