Evaluating Foundation Movement & Damage

Diagnosing foundation damage and causes of foundation movement requires an experienced team

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Foundation damage and movement will vary depending on the cause of the damage, the direction of the movement, the size of the cracks, and a variety of environmental factors that may be present.

  • The presence of horizontal cracks is worrisome and should be looked at by a professional immediately.
  • Is your foundation wall leaning? Collapse or further movement is a possibility, depending on the size of the lean and the cause.
  • Diagonal cracks are usually caused by settlement of the footings or frost issues. Inspect for stability.
  • Vertical cracks are less severe and common after the foundation has settled. If these appear to grow in size, or are already large enough to notice, consider a professional foundation inspect.

There are many forms of foundation movement to keep in mind when looking at foundation damage and the possibility of future damage. Vertical cracks, horizontal cracks, leaning walls, and diagonal cracks are just some of the types of damage an experienced foundation and waterproofing professional can diagnose. Not all damage is the same. Some are more serious than others, some pose an immediate threat, while others can be left alone and monitored.

What is the Foundation History?

The history of your property and foundation is essential to determine the possible causes of cracks, damage or water entry. Nearby construction, the age of the foundation, water issues in the soil, the type of soil and the history of repair are all issues to consider when diagnosing foundation problems and cracks.

New or Sudden Foundation Movement

If you have just noticed foundation cracking or movement, consider contacting professionals to diagnose what has changed. It is possible that the cracks you notice were previously not present, or were hairline but have now developed further, and these are signs of an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.

Recurrent Foundation Cracking or Movement

If cracks continue to appear or grow, then this is a recurring problem that should be addressed. It is possible that past repairs were not done properly, or water issues are causing hydrostatic pressure cracks, or possibly there is an underlying issue with the footings, foundation or the soil in on your property.

Long-term, Continual, Slow Foundation Movement

Over time, foundations can shift, crack and move. With the settling of the foundation, the soil and the effects of nature (rain, frost, seismic), you may notice cracks, settling or movement. Cumulative damage can start to affect the strength of your foundation and should be looked at by foundation experts once noticed. Just because you may not have had foundation issues in the past, does not mean that cumulative changes will not start to appear now. Cumulative changes can cause cracks, water damage, grading issues, and wall movement.

Cosmetic repairs are a common option for cumulative damage. Parging can help to cover over cracked walls and give your home that new and attractive appearance. Hairline cracks do not need to be fixed but they should be monitored over time.

Have you had construction on your property?

Construction along with repairs that required excavation, or construction completed in a neighboring home are all possible factors that can lead to movement in the soil and possible damage to your foundation.

Have any gas, electrical or piping lines been dislocated?

These are serious issues that could indicate foundation movement, but also possible threats to homeowner safety. In this scenario leave the home immediately and contact your gas or utility company for further instructions.

Has your area seen heavy rains, flooding, or seismic activity recently?

These can all affect the stability of your foundation. Inspect the interior and exterior of your home’s foundation for water damage, leakage or new cracks. Nature can easily disrupt the integrity of your foundation and so be sure to inspect your home after any significant weather event that may have been strong enough to affect or erode the structural integrity of your home and the surrounding soils.

Horizontal Foundation Wall Movement

Horizontal cracks are very serious as they indicate a threat to your structural integrity. Horizontal cracks can be caused by footing movement, soil pressure, wall movement, frost damage, or other factors as well. Since horizontal movement is serious, have a foundation and waterproofing professional inspect the damage and diagnose the possible causes of the movement. Then consider the best options for repairing and preventing further damage to the foundation.

Hydrostatic Pressure

Hydrostatic pressure, caused by water in the soil, exerts a force against your foundation that can cause cracking and water entry if the pressure is not relieved. This is why waterproofing and drainage are core components of foundation protection and the prevention of cracks and movement. Draining water away, instead of allowing it to build pressure against your walls, is necessary to prevent cracks and damage.

In general, wet and frozen soil exerts hydrostatic pressure on your foundation walls and will damage them over time without proper drainage.

Causes of Horizontal Foundation Movement Include:

  • Pressure from frost can certainly damage your foundation, both vertically and horizontally. Frost heaving can actually lift the foundation walls and cause leaning and cracks.
  • Hydrostatic pressure caused by water is a very common cause that leads to foundation damage and water leakage.
  • Nearby vehicles or construction can cause weight and pressure in the soil around your home that may affect the foundation walls.
  • The type of soil around your home is also important to analyze, hopefully prior to any repairs. Expansive soils can expand or swell with water and create damage to your foundation structure.

Evaluating Crack Size & Width plus the Extent of Foundation Movement

  • Hairline cracks that are isolated, not spreading or very small can appear around windows, doors and in your foundation without causing further damage.
  • Medium sized cracks under 1/4″ should be monitored for further movement and repaired with local treatment, they should also be inspected for entry of water.
  • Larger cracks greater that 1/4″, horizontal cracks, or those areas with water entry is severe are issues that should be immediately addressed to protect the integrity of the home and its contents. Seek professional diagnosis and consider options for external and  internal repair.

How Lateral or Horizontal Foundation Pressure Shows Up as Damage

Horizontal damage along the foundation will appear visually as horizontal cracks, but can also appear as tipping, leaning or even entire wall movement in one direction. This is especially common on houses built along hills.

Leaning Foundation Wall Movement

Walls may move away from the force that is exerted on them, leaning or bending inwards. If you notice leaning foundation walls, this is a serious issue that should be diagnosed to determine what force is being placed onto your foundation and how it can be alleviated.

Shifting or Creeping Foundation Wall Movement

Expansive soils or clay soils can cause movement in the footings that shifts your foundation wall. This is why soil analysis should be performed prior to repairing the foundation. Understanding problems with an existing foundation that may be due to the ability of the soil to handle water, weight or movement.