Is Your House Foundation Sinking? (Settling vs. Sinking)

April 21, 2021

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If you’re a homeowner asking, is my house foundation sinking, you don’t need to panic just yet! In some cases, wall cracks and other similar damage might indicate that the home is merely settling, not sinking. In other cases, those cracks and other needed repairs might not be related to the home’s foundation at all.

Settling might create thin cracks, especially around door frames, while sinking often leads to deeper wall and ceiling cracks as well as damaged plumbing fixtures and roofs. However, cracks and other such damage might not be related to the home’s foundation, and might be caused by poor-quality materials or simply age and everyday wear and tear.

To ensure you’re keeping your home in good condition, consider a few tips for determining the cause of interior and exterior cracks and other damage. As always, discuss your concerns with a foundation repair contractor and schedule a foundation inspection at the first sign of damage, and make those repairs quickly. This will keep damage from getting more extensive and costly, and keep your home in good condition over the years.

Is My House Foundation Sinking or Settling?

crack on yellow wall

First note the difference between a house settling or sinking. Settling refers to a home’s natural movement over the years; wood framing expands and shrinks as it absorbs moisture and then dries out, and materials shift in various ways as they age. This settling is normal and rarely causes anything more than cosmetic damage to walls and other surfaces.

Sinking happens when the foundation is damaged, so that it becomes too weak to support the home’s weight. As the foundation weakens, the home will start to shift to one side or another and then sink noticeably. The foundation itself might also start to sink into the ground so that it cannot keep the house level and even.

If you’ve noticed issues around your house that seem to indicate foundation damage, consider a few tips that might help you determine if the house is sinking versus settling. It’s also helpful to note why that damage might not be related to the foundation at all!

Foundation cracks

Cracks in concrete are not unusual and not always a sign of severe damage! This is especially true for newly poured foundations; concrete actually takes a full year or so to cure completely and, as it does, it might expand and contract, leading to small surface cracks.

Cracks that appear once the home is several years old and that get larger over time might indicate damage needing repairs. You might also notice walls that are wider at the top than at the bottom, which can indicate parts of the foundation falling away from itself.

Interior wall cracks

As with concrete cracks, some interior wall cracks are natural and not related to foundation damage. Note that a home is built on a wood frame; a contractor cuts holes in that frame and adds other pieces to create door jambs and window framing. Over time, those added pieces might expand and contract, pushing on the frame itself, resulting in vertical or horizontal cracks along the drywall.

crack in interior drywall

Poor-quality installation can also allow drywall panels and pieces to pull away from each other or away from the mud and tape applied between them, creating cracks. As a home settles, this can also pull on the drywall, leading to cracks and separation.

If you notice diagonal cracks along walls and especially near door and window frames, or if repaired cracks reappear consistently, this often indicates foundation damage. As the home sinks, it pulls on the middle of drywall panels, creating diagonal cracks. As the home continues to sink, repaired cracks will keep coming back even after they’re taped over, or you might notice nail pops along drywall seams.

Exterior wall cracks

Exterior wall cracks are a common sign of foundation damage, and especially if the cracks are quite large and appear in several areas outside the home. However, exterior walls might develop cracks when exposed to rainwater washing over gutter sides rather than through downspouts and away from the home. Before deciding that outside wall cracks indicate foundation damage, check the home’s gutters for needed cleaning and ensure they stay clean throughout the year.

Doors and windows sticking or doors opening on their own

When a home sinks and pulls on its own framing, this can make door jambs and window frames uneven so that doors might swing open on their own, or doors and windows stick and become difficult to open or close properly. You might also notice having to struggle to lock or unlock doors and windows, since the locking mechanisms are no longer in alignment.

One quick way to determine if sudden issues with the doors and windows is caused by foundation problems is to use a level on the top of the doorframe or window frame. If the frame is not level, this often indicates a sinking foundation.

However, if the frame is level, this might indicate normal wear and tear. As a home’s framing ages, it absorbs moisture and then dries out, expanding and contracting slightly. This can pull framing away from itself, or make it difficult for doors and windows to operate as they should. Replacement doors and windows or simple repairs to their frames and locks can address these issues easily.

Uneven or damaged floors

 When a foundation sinks and pulls on interior spaces, this can cause floors to buckle or crack. You might notice carpet getting threadbare along certain spots or see tile pull away from the subflooring. In some cases this can result from poor-quality framing materials or flooring installation, or from materials getting older and their adhesives wearing down.

The best way to determine the cause of flooring issues is to schedule a foundation inspection. Your foundation repair contractor can note if the foundation is weakening or if a crawlspace needs repairs and waterproofing.

Roof damage

When a home’s foundation sinks, it pulls on the roof, resulting in cracks and leaks. Shingles might also pop away from the roof decking, or you might notice long cracks in clay or slate tiles. Since roof damage is not unusual as a home ages and the roof is exposed to sunlight and harsh weather conditions, it’s vital that you schedule a full roof inspection if you notice such damage, to pinpoint its cause and schedule needed repairs.

Plumbing leaks and clogs

Along with framing, a sinking home will pull on plumbing pipes and connectors, often resulting in water leaks. As water leaks out of pipes, solid materials build up, resulting in clogs. You might also notice wood rot, water stains, and mold in areas of leaks.

As with flooring and roofing, it’s often difficult to determine the cause of plumbing leaks without a professional inspection. A plumber can note if the pipes are old and corroded or installed improperly, if tree limbs are wrapping around outside pipes, or if there is a reason for damage other than a weak foundation!

Can a Sinking Foundation Be Fixed?

Even if your home’s foundation is sinking, a foundation repair contractor can probably offer suggestions for repairs, to return your house to a level and even position and keep its foundation strong and secure. Note a few common foundation repair options:

  • Steel or helical piers insert into the ground around a foundation’s perimeter. The house is lifted into position and then attached to the piers with a bracket. The piers provide added support for the home and keep it level and even for years.
  • Replacing worn piers and beams in a home’s crawlspace provides added bracing and ensures the home stays level and even.
  • House leveling uses a specialty foam injected underneath the home. The foam hardens and lifts the house to a level position while filling in gaps underneath a foundation.
  • Carbon fiber straps attached to a basement wall keep them from bowing outward while also ensuring they stay strong and secure.

Along with repair options, your foundation contractor might suggest waterproofing for a basement or foundation walls, or crawlspace encapsulation. Waterproofing and encapsulation help repel water and moisture, protecting a foundation from future damage.

House Foundation Sinking Causes

big old brown tree roots

Water damage is probably the leading culprit when it comes to foundation damage and a house sinking. Concrete absorbs water and then softens and weakens over time, so that it’s eventually not strong enough to hold the weight of the home. The foundation then cracks, chips, or spalls along its surface.

Along with water damage, damp soil expands and puts pressure on the foundation, which can weaken it and cause it to crack. Tree roots can also grow along a foundation surface; as the roots grow, they expand, putting pressure on the foundation and leading to cracks.

Low-quality materials and poor-quality installation can also cause a foundation to shrink, settle, and then crack. A homeowner might also add to their home’s weight significantly without strengthening the foundation first, which can weaken it and cause it to crack and chip.

When Should I Worry About My House Settling?

While not every crack or uneven door frame means that your home is settling, a homeowner should remember that foundation damage doesn’t fix itself and will only get worse over time! The sooner you schedule needed fixes, the less extensive and costly those repairs.

Since every home is different, it’s vital that you schedule a foundation inspection at the first sign of needed repair, even if you don’t think cracks, buckled floors, or other such interior damage is the result of foundation damage. A foundation repair contractor can inspect the foundation and other areas of the house, and note if repairs are needed immediately, or if the home is simply settling naturally.

Stopping A House From Settling

Waterproofing the home’s basement or exterior foundation walls is an excellent way to avoid future foundation damage and keep it from settling and sinking. The less water that foundation concrete absorbs, the less risk of it weakening over the years, so your home is not likely to settle or sink.

Steel and helical piers also provide support for a home’s foundation, as said. Soil treatments are also applied on properties with soft soil that might not support a home as it should. Shims can also be pounded into the space between the house and piers or beams in the crawlspace; these shims provide added support and keep the home from settling.

Cost to Fix a Sinking Foundation

Every contractor and home is different, so for an exact cost to fix your sinking foundation, schedule a foundation inspection. However, note some national averages for various repair methods:

  • Piers might cost around $1000 each; most repair jobs might require 3 to 5 piers. While this might seem costly, note that piers are typically considered a permanent solution to foundation damage.
  • House leveling or slab jacking might average about $1000 to $1500. This process is typically very affordable because it doesn’t require much excavation, and note that many house leveling projects last for decades but might need to be repeated sometime in the future.
  • Attaching carbon fiber straps to a basement or exterior foundation walls might cost around $4000 on average. These straps should last for decades, if not indefinitely.
  • Basement waterproofing might cost between $1900 and $3000 on average, with some jobs running up to $6000 or more.
  • Crawlspace encapsulation might cost between $1500 and $15,000 depending on the home’s overall size! On average, you might expect to pay around $5000 for encapsulation.

No matter your foundation repair costs, consider this an investment in your home’s overall condition. A damaged foundation means interior and exterior cracks, wood rot, mold, and even insect infestation, while a strong foundation keeps your home secure and safe for occupation.

Shreveport Foundation Repair Specialists hopes this information helps you determine, is my house foundation sinking? If you need foundation repairs in Shreveport or surrounding cities, give us a call. We offer expert repairs, with high-quality materials designed to last, and stand behind all our work with a full guarantee. To find out more, contact us today.

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