Every home starts with a foundation. This slab of concrete is critical to the structural integrity of your entire house. When it develops a problem, it’s critical to act quickly so it doesn’t get any worse. Consider the potential causes behind your foundation issues, what troublesome signs you should watch for, and why now is the best time to fix that foundation crack.
Common Causes of Foundation Cracks
Soil is not a stable substance. It swells when it’s wet, shrinks when it dries, and shifts when the freeze/thaw cycle is in effect. Building codes consider this somewhat, calling for homes to be designed with foundations that can move ever so slightly with changing soil conditions.
Even so, many factors can cause a foundation to deteriorate. Here are some of the most common risk factors for a cracked foundation:
- Poor drainage: This is the most common reason homes need foundation repair. If the soil slopes toward a building rather than away from it, water will rush toward the foundation walls every time it rains, creating pressure that causes the basement walls to bow inward. Short downspouts or lack of gutters are also problematic.
- Flooded property: Overwatering or excessive rainfall may threaten the integrity of your foundation, even if the drainage on your property is adequate. You can’t alter the weather, but you can avoid irrigating your lawn on a rainy day to help prevent oversaturation.
- Tree roots: The old trees on your property provide shade and beautiful foliage, but their roots could wreak havoc on your foundation. Plant all trees and shrubs at least five feet from the building to prevent heaving or interference with moisture levels below the house.
- Clay soil: All soil swells and shrinks, but clay soil—commonly found here in Maryland—is particularly prone to this. If your home is built on clay soil, you could have a higher risk of foundation damage.
- Swimming pool leaks: In-ground swimming pools can develop leaks. If you have one in your yard, hire a contractor to inspect it and make the necessary repairs. Your timely action could protect your home’s foundation.
- Plumbing leaks: A leak in your water line, sewer pipe, or septic tank could saturate the soil around your home and cause the foundation to shift. Soggy spots in the yard, rising water bills, and areas of extra-green grass are warning signs of underground plumbing leaks.
- Changing seasons: In our four-season climate, the soil changes from cold and hard in the winter to wet and swollen in the spring to dry and compact in the summer. Over time, these seasonal shifts in soil conditions can take their toll on your foundation.
- Remodeling: Adding onto your home can shift the balance of the entire structure, potentially causing the foundation to move and crack. Always consult an experienced contractor when renovating your house.
- Improper construction techniques: The problems with your foundation could stem from the day it was poured. High-quality concrete and steel must be used to promote strength and prevent settling. Inexperienced builders who took shortcuts when laying the foundation of your home could be to blame for the issues you’re having now.
Signs You Need Foundation Repair
While it’s useful to know what can cause foundation problems so you can avoid them in the future, it’s even more important to watch for clues that a problem already exists. Here are some signs that you should bring in an expert to assess your foundation:
- Cracks around the house: Check the walls, floors, structural columns, and window and door openings for cracks. The most worrisome ones are horizontal and larger than 1/4-inch. Don’t fret over hairline cracks measuring 1/16-inch or less—these are quite common. After all, even the best-laid foundation isn’t impervious to settling.
- Home sinking into the soil: It’s common for one side of a house to sink more than the other due to uneven weight distribution throughout the building. This might result in a visibly sunken front porch or stoop. If the opposite side of the house heaves out of the soil, you could end up with sloping, sagging, dipping, or bowing floors.
- Cabinets and counters separating from the wall: Check the cabinetry in your kitchen and bathroom. If the cabinets appear to tilt away from the wall, or the countertops aren’t level, these are signs that you may need foundation repair.
- “Sticking” windows and doors: When window and door frames are perfectly square, they open and close with ease. If you notice that they start sticking or having gaps around the edges when closed, this could mean the foundation is settling unevenly and causing the frame to twist.
- Bowing basement walls: The pressure of swollen soil pushing against the foundation could cause the walls to bow inward. This could put the structural integrity of your entire home in jeopardy.
- Water intrusion in the crawl space or basement: Cracks in the foundation provide a place for water to seep in. As a result, damp or outright flooded basements are more common in homes needing foundation repair. Signs of a wet basement include high humidity, musty odors, visible mold growth, and rotten wood.
- Termite infestation or other pest damage: A cracked foundation allows insects to enter. The moisture that has already seeped into your home makes the environment even more appealing to pests. A termite infestation only compounds the damage caused by a settling or heaving foundation.
When to Fix a Cracked Foundation
If you uncover a problem with your foundation, you might wonder when you should address it. Is it best to postpone the repair until a particular season?
Waiting until the fall or winter could allow the soil to harden and become more stable, making foundation repair easier. However, the freeze/thaw cycle could worsen the damage of already-cracked concrete. However, delaying the repair until spring rain arrives may cause existing cracks to “weep” and lead to the formation of new cracks. Then, warm, dry summers are a convenient time for construction work, but constricting soil around the foundation may lead to further sinking.
In short, every season has its pros and cons. Therefore, the best time to repair a cracked foundation is right now. As you wait for certain weather or soil conditions, time passes, which only makes the problem worse. Your best bet is to heed the signs of a damaged foundation and conduct repairs as soon as possible. The faster you act, the more likely you are to avoid high costs.
If you see any signs that you may need foundation repair, take note of the damage and call Budget Waterproofing. We offer free estimates, as well as convenient financing options and senior citizen discounts to make the repair more affordable. Contact us today to schedule foundation inspection and repair in Baltimore, Linthicum Heights, or Frederick County, MD.