Of all your home’s structural components, none is more important than the foundation. Damage here can put stress on the rest of the house, including the walls, ceilings and roof. If left unchecked, a cracked foundation could lead to large-scale repairs and displacement from your home for a while.
The only way you can tell for sure if your home’s foundation has issues is if you schedule an inspection. Learn what risk factors can damage your foundation, signs you have an unstable foundation and benefits of a foundation checkup.
What Can Damage Your Home’s Foundation?
Many external factors affect the structural integrity of your foundation. Let’s dig deeper into the potential risk factors that can damage your foundation:
- Inadequate slope and drainage: The most common cause of foundation damage is poor drainage. If your home lacks gutters or the ground slopes toward your house instead of away from it, there’s an increased risk of water pooling around the foundation. This puts tremendous pressure on the concrete every time it rains and may eventually cause it to crack.
- Overwatering: When the ground around and under your foundation becomes overly saturated – either due to excessive watering or heavy rainfall – the soil expands. This may threaten your foundation, even if water drainage is adequate. You can’t change the weather, but you can avoid watering your lawn when rain is in the forecast to prevent over-saturating the soil.
- Leaky plumbing: A sizable leak in the main water or septic line buried in your yard can saturate the soil and cause your foundation to shift. Patchy landscape growth, soggy spots in your yard and unusually high water bills are all signs of water or sewer line leaks.
- Tree roots: You want a beautiful landscape to surround your home, but all shrubs and trees should be planted at least five feet away from the foundation. If they’re too close, the roots could interfere with moisture levels below your house and cause the foundation to settle.
- Seasonal shifts: In Maryland, the transition from a hot, humid summer to a cold, snowy winter and back again causes the soil to swell and shrink. This may eventually take its toll on your foundation.
- Poor construction methods or materials: When a home is built, the ground must be properly compacted to ensure a solid foundation. Then, high-quality concrete and steel should be used to promote strength and avoid settling. Working with a reputable builder is the best way to ensure a new house doesn’t develop foundation problems later on.
- Remodeling: Major home renovations can shift the balance of a house, causing the foundation to move and potentially damaging the concrete in the process. Always consult with a certified contractor before beginning an extensive remodeling project.
- Clay soil: All types of soil expand and shrink as moisture comes and goes, but clay soil – which is common here in Maryland – is especially infamous for having a high expansion rate. The earth continually shifting below the foundation can obviously result in damage.
- Poor swimming pool installation: Whether indoors or outside, a swimming pool can seep water into the ground around it. Share this concern with the contractor you hire, and make sure there’s a plan for preventing this from happening.
Signs of Foundation Problems
Knowing what can damage your foundation allows you to take preventative measures to protect it. However, it’s also important to watch for signs of trouble since an unstable foundation can develop despite your best efforts. Here’s how to tell you need a foundation checkup:
- Cracks in the foundation wall or basement floor: Interior wall fissures, gaps in exterior brick walls or cracks in the basement floor are all cause for concern. Be aware that tiny vertical hairline cracks of 1/16-inch or less are very common as the foundation settles in the first two to three years after construction. Horizontal cracks, especially those larger than 1/4-inch, are of much greater concern because they indicate the perimeter of the foundation is under a great deal of
- Foundation settling: If you notice your home sinking into the soil, this means the foundation is settling. One side may sink more than another due to the uneven distribution of weight throughout the building. This may cause extensive cracking on both interior and exterior walls. Cracks caused by a settling foundation are usually vertical.
- Foundation upheaval: The opposite of foundation settling can also occur when the foundation is pushed upward by expanding soil. Excessive moisture from rain or plumbing leaks under the foundation are the most common causes.
- Out-of-square window and door frames: If your windows and doors never used to stick, but now they do all the time, your foundation could be settling unevenly, causing the frames to twist out of alignment. Even if the top left side of a door is only 1/4-inch higher than the right side, this is enough to make it stick or leave gaps around the door when you close it.
- Counters and cabinets separating from the wall: Keep an eye on your kitchen cabinets and countertops. If they seem to tilt or pull away from the wall over the course of a few months, this could mean the wall isn’t level because the foundation is settling. As a result, anything sitting up against or hanging on the wall isn’t level, either.
- Sagging, sloping or uneven floors: If you feel like you’re going up or downhill when you walk around your house, this could indicate foundation trouble. Different types of foundations cause various floor problems, from sagging and squeaking to bowing or dipping.
- Damp basement or crawlspace: Because a cracked foundation allows water to enter, dampness or outright flooding in the basement can occur. Signs of excess moisture include high humidity, a musty odor, mold growth and wood rot.
- Termite or other insect damage: Cracks in the foundation grant access to insects. The moisture that has already seeped in makes your home even more attractive to these pests. Termite damage can spell disaster for your home’s structural integrity.
Benefits of a Foundation Checkup
If you think your foundation is at risk of damage, or you notice signs of foundation problems in your home, don’t ignore them! There’s no way of knowing exactly what the trouble is until you have a foundation checkup. Here are the benefits of a professional inspection:
- Protect your home’s structural integrity: By catching the problem early and addressing it at the source, you can prevent widespread cracking, sloping floors, and sticky windows and doors that may require extensive repairs.
- Prevent water damage: A cracked foundation is likely to allow water to drip into your basement or crawlspace, especially if poor drainage is to blame. By fixing the cracks and addressing the cause, you can prevent the need for flood cleanup and mold remediation. Installing a sump pump as part of the repair process can further prevent water damage.
- Improve the appearance of your yard: In addition to causing an unstable foundation, poor drainage can also lead to soil erosion and standing water. These problems could make your lawn muddy and prevent your kids from wanting to play outside. Fixing the slope and drainage to protect your foundation has the side effect of improving your yard’s health and appearance.
- Increase home value: If you want to sell your house, be aware that foundation issues will be included on the home inspection. This could turn off any potential buyers from even considering your property. By making routine foundation checkups a priority, you avoid problems from escalating that could make it impossible to sell your house.
- Enjoy peace of mind: When you come across evidence of foundation settling or upheaval, you start worrying. Don’t let that fear fester and grow – schedule a foundation checkup so you can find out what’s wrong and make a repair if necessary.
The foundation repair technicians at Budget Basement Waterproofing are committed to identifying and diagnosing any foundation problems you’re experiencing. We can then perform the necessary repairs and make any improvements in and around your home to prevent a recurrence.