The various climates where humans have chosen to build their homes have resulted in nearly every type of soil and ground composition imaginable. How that soil behaves, especially as our building techniques evolve to create more sustainable homes, has a large impact on how a building’s foundation will behave decades after it was built. The composition of the soil itself must have an impact on the type of substructure that can be built on it. For example, building on clay, which expands when exposed to moisture but not uniformly in all directions, necessitates a different set of foundation building techniques than building on stone or bedrock.
Soils that change in volume and stability due to factors such as moisture or temperature are more volatile, also known as expansive soil, and can be a significant contributor to foundation problems within a building. Buildings that sit on expansive soil can experience lifting and uneven settling, resulting in major understructure problems that can be costly to repair if left unchecked for an extended period of time, or even lead to the building being condemned.
It is critical to understand the type of soil on which your home is built, but it is also critical to be aware of warning signs that your foundation may be failing. If you know your house is built on clay soil or unstable soil, it’s a good idea to have the building inspected on a regular basis for problems that can be fixed before they get out of hand.
The following are some warning signs to look for:
- Bowing and Cracked Walls
Buildings are designed to be static, but an unstable substratum causes movement. This causes walls and floors that were not designed to move to begin moving, resulting in deformity and cracking. If you notice pictures falling off the walls or suspicious cracks in the walls and ceilings, it’s time to call an inspector.
- Separating Baseboards and Molding
When parts of the structure that were not intended to move actually do move, this creates bowing and cracked walls, causing separation of the molding and baseboards against the walls. When the underpinning shifts, stiff pieces can be jolted out of place, and if you notice baseboards falling away, this is not a good sign for your foundation.
- Uneven Doorways and Floors
If you place a ball or marble on your floor, and it begins to roll, this indicates that your floors are uneven. This is unmistakably an indication of a substratum issue. There are a few other possibilities, but the most common is a cracked base. Similarly, uneven doorways, like bowing walls and peeling floorboards, are caused by the movement of walls that aren’t supposed to move. Sticking doors in warped doorways caused by uneven floors and walls may be one of the first signs of shaky ground, even before cracks appear.
- Odd Smells and Humidity
Unusual odors or humidity levels in the home might not seem to have anything to do with the building base, but they do. Insulation, drywall, and siding are used to keep the weather out and the comfortable air in. However, when the house’s structure becomes misaligned due to substructure issues, outdoor humidity can seep in through micro cracks in the walls and sometimes up through moisture in the ground. Similarly, strange odors associated with base structure cracks may be detected. Trapped air from the outside that seeps in underground from the substratum may bring decomposing odors from beneath the house.
- Walls Pulling Away From the House
On the outside of the house, you may notice cracks and uneven doors, but siding and exterior walls pulling away from the house are also signs of foundation problems. Depending on how the house was built, a contractor should be called right away to inspect any walls that are pulling away from the structure, as this could cause the house to collapse. Siding and paneling can come loose as a result of bowing and uneven walls. This allows moisture to enter the structure and the insulation to degrade.
- Expansion Joint Separation
Most buildings are designed to allow for minor movement due to temperature changes that cause building materials to expand and contract naturally. Expansion joints allow for natural movement throughout the structure, but when the joints completely separate, it indicates that the building is moving far beyond what was intended, most likely due to underpinning issues.
There are numerous other indicators of an uneven or cracked bottom, such as windows separating from brick, rotten wood, and nails falling out of drywall. However, if you notice more than three of these, or anything that appears to be a cause for immediate concern, such as support wall bowing, contact an expert immediately. A reputable Orange County slab leak repair company can inspect your foundation for problems and offer repair options.
Repairs can be as simple as filling cracks with epoxy and repairing walls, doorways, and rotten beams, depending on what is causing the uneven infrastructure. Extensive repairs, on the other hand, may necessitate lifting the entire structure and laying a completely new understructure. In the meantime, there are a few things a homeowner can do to eliminate potential foundation problems.
Trees near the house with roots growing underneath should be removed, and the roots dug up to prevent the underpinning from being undermined. Rain gutters should be cleaned on a regular basis to prevent them from overflowing directly onto the ground base and causing rot, and landscaping should be designed so that it gently slopes away from the house and draws groundwater away. To prevent standing water and seepage into the structure, low spots on the property should be leveled and filled.
Once you’ve addressed the issues that are causing problems in the foundation, the repairs should last for the majority of the structure’s remaining life. However, foundation issues should not be overlooked. The longer problems are allowed to fester, the more expensive it will be to fix them.