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The Three Most Common Bay Area Foundation Problems

The three most common foundation problems in the Bay Area of California are cracks, sloping floors, and moisture in the crawl space. Let’s take a look at each one, and then we’ll discuss why these foundation problems happen and some possible repair solutions.

Wall cracks
Cracks – in walls, floors, and elsewhere – indicate your home might have foundation problems. Therefore, it’s a good idea to periodically perform a walkthrough of your home, looking for cracks. Check your interior and exterior foundation walls, your floors and floor tiles, drywall, slab, porches and stairs, bricks and masonry, garage column, and chimney.

While vertical cracks can allow water to enter your basement, they usually don’t threaten your home’s structural integrity. Most vertical cracks were caused by shrinkage during the concrete curing process. On the other hand, horizontal cracks are a sure sign the foundation has moved and are considered more serious than vertical cracks.

If you see any suspicious cracks in your home, contact a foundation repair professional for an inspection right away. If you have foundation problems, they will only worsen over time, which means the longer you wait, the more expensive the repair.

Interior signs of foundation problems - wall cracks (2)

Sloping floors
Sloping floors can happen when part of the ground that supports your foundation begins to settle. You might also notice cracks in your sloping floor. Floor cracks that go from wall to wall are a sign of foundation movement. If the crack is limited to one or two tiles, it was probably caused when something fell on the floor.

Moisture in the crawl space

Wet crawl spaces are chock full of mold and mildew, and most people don’t realize that as much as 50% of the air in your home’s living area comes from up from the crawl space. That means you’re breathing in allergens that could be hazardous to your health. Crawl spaces are also great storage areas if they’re clean and dry. Wet, moldy crawl spaces, not so much.

Other foundation problems common in California include – but aren’t limited to:

  • Leaning chimneys or porches
  • Wet basements
  • Bowing walls
  • Leaning walls

Foundation Settling Causes Foundation Problems

Foundations weigh a lot. When they’re placed on top of the soil, they usually settle into the ground somewhat. This is perfectly normal and usually doesn’t cause any foundation problems so long as the settlement is very slight and uniform.

Problems arise when a structure settles into the soil un-uniformly. This is referred to as differential settlement, and it is not considered normal. If differential settlement isn’t corrected promptly, it can lead to serious structural damage because it puts stress on the building’s frame. Foundation repair contractors fix differential settlement using a repair technique called underpinning.

differential settlement infographic

Causes of Foundation Settling

Foundations settle for various reasons, including:

  • Inadequate soil compaction before construction started – Soil needs to be prepared before anything gets built on top of it. The soil is tamped down using a special piece of equipment, and this ensures that any settlement after the structure is built will be minimal or non-existent. Failure to adequately compact soil before construction can lead to foundation problems.
  • Expansive soil – Expansive soils are those that swell when they soak up moisture and then shrink again by that same amount when they dry out. This swelling-shrinking cycle is usually seasonal and can create voids under the foundation.
  • Weather changes – An example of this would be a foundation built atop expansive soil during the dry season. When the wet season comes around again, the soil swells, causing movement under the foundation, leading to settlement.
  • Digging next to the foundation – Heavy excavation too close to a foundation can also cause settlement. To understand how this could happen, picture a chair on a sandy beach. If you start digging a hole too close to the chair, it will eventually fall into it. While your home probably won’t collapse because your neighbor is excavating, it could cause foundation problems.
  • Natural disasters – We probably don’t need to explain how these can cause foundation problems.

For more information see our article on Foundation Settlement.

photo of expansive soil

Solutions For Foundation Settling

Repair solutions for foundation problems include:

  • Steel resistance piers (also known as push piers) – These are used to anchor the foundation to soil that’s able to support it. They’re driven down to load-bearing soil using hydraulic pressure and the weight of the building. Once they’re in place, hydraulic jacks lift the building back up.
  • Helical piers – These look something like giant screws. They’re turned into the soil until they reach the load-bearing strata. The torque required to install them determines their load-bearing capacity.
  • Drilled concrete piers – These are drilled deep down into the bedrock and used for hillside homes experiencing soil creep or lateral movement.

For more information, see Underpinning A House: What Every Homeowner Needs To Know.

Solutions for Damp Crawl Spaces

The solution for a damp crawl space is encapsulation and the installation of a drain tile system. Encapsulation involves using a thick, puncture-resistant polyurethane vapor barrier to cover the walls and floor of the crawl space. This keeps moisture in the soil from entering the crawl space. The result is a healthier home and increased storage space.

If you want to kick it up a notch, install a drain tile system as well to channel excess water in the soil away from your home’s foundation. These two together – encapsulation and a drain tile system – will ensure your home’s crawl space stays clean and dry. If your within the Bay Area we highly recommend you check out our good friends over at Bay Drainage.

Bay Area Underpinning is the leader in underpinning repairs for Bay Area homes. If you have any questions about any changes you see in your foundation, contact us today for a free inspection and repair estimate.