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Foundation Problems Vs Settling – How Are They Related?

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Are you searching for “foundation problems vs. settling”? If so, you’ve landed on the right page. Before we continue, we’ll get right to the question you’re asking:

Are foundation problems and “settling” the same thing? The answer is NO. Foundation problems and settling are not the same things.

Settling – specifically, something called “differential settlement” – causes foundation problems.

This article will discuss the difference between uniform and differential settlement, how differential settlement is related to foundation trouble, how to prevent differential settlement, and finish up with a brief discussion of various repair options for foundation settlement.

Uniform vs. differential settlement

Uniform settlement generally does not cause foundation problems. Differential settlement does.

Most homes settle into the soil a slight amount after they’re built. (We’re talking about a very slight amount of settling, no more than a fraction of an inch.) As long as it’s uniform, this tiny amount of foundation settlement is pretty normal. Houses are heavy and will settle into the soil a tiny bit. Uniform foundation settlement doesn’t usually cause any problems because the entire house is settling into the soil at the same rate.

The problem is differential settlement. Differential settlement means the home is settling into the soil, but not at the same rate.

differential settlement infographic

Foundation problems vs. settling

As we mentioned above, differential settlement causes foundation problems. Therefore, foundation problems and settling are related. However, they are not the same thing.

Since the most serious foundation problems are caused by differential settlement, you can avoid a costly repair bill by doing what you can to avoid differential settlement.

How to prevent differential settlement

Since most foundation problems are caused by water – either too much or too little – the key to avoiding trouble is good drainage around the foundation. You want to make sure there’s enough moisture in the soil, but not too much. In other words, you need to get groundwater under control. You can do this by:

  • Regrading your yard, if necessary – Your yard should slope away from your home. If it doesn’t, water will drain toward your foundation and could cause trouble.
  • Cleaning your gutters regularly – Clogged gutters can cause water to spill over the side of your house and into the soil around the foundation.
  • Installing downspout extensions, if necessary – If your downspouts are too short, they will release water next to the foundation. Extensions are inexpensive, easy to install, and channel the water away from the foundation before releasing it.
  • Installing a drain tile system – A drain tile system works by preventing water from building up in the soil around the foundation. It channels excess soil moisture into a sump pit, and then a sump pump (or gravity) releases the water away from the foundation.
  • Installing an underground downspout with a bubbler pot – An underground downspout channels water into a bubbler pot situated several feet away from your foundation. When the bubbler pot is full, it pops up and releases the water.
  • Keeping water-hungry plants away from the foundation – When you water these plants, you’re dumping water into the ground around the foundation.

Foundation problems vs. normal settling: How to tell the difference

Uniform foundation settlement (i.e., normal settling) shouldn’t cause any serious issues. However, differential settlement does cause problems that are usually easy to spot. Here are a few signs you might have differential settlement:

  • Windows and doors are hard to open and close – If the problem is with just one window or door, it’s probably not related to foundation settlement. However, a problem with multiple doors or windows is cause for concern.
  • Uneven floor
  • The ceiling or floor is no longer in contact with the wall – Watch out for even slight separations.
  • Floor cracks – If the crack is limited to only one or two tiles, something possibly fell on the floor. However, a floor crack that runs wall to wall is a sign the foundation has moved.
  • Wall cracks – Vertical, hairline cracks in a basement wall were probably caused during the concrete curing process. While they could allow water into your basement, they won’t affect the home’s structural integrity. However, larger cracks – horizontal or diagonal – are a sign of foundation movement and should be checked out.
  • Bowed walls – Bowed basement walls are caused by hydrostatic pressure in the soil pushing against the wall. Sometimes bowed walls also crack.
  • Torn wallpaper – This might be a sign the wall behind the wallpaper is cracked.
  • Diagonal cracks – Look for larger diagonal cracks. Hairline cracks extending from the corners of doors and windows up toward the ceiling usually aren’t related to settlement.
  • Moldings no longer in contact with the wall or ceiling – Watch out for even slight separations.
  • Stair step cracks in brickwork – These are a sure sign of foundation movement.
  • Your chimney or porch is pulling away from the house – While this could be caused by a problem with the foundation under the chimney or porch, it could also be caused by a problem with the house’s foundation.

Foundation Repair Options

If your home is experiencing damage caused by differential settlement, there are a variety of foundation repair techniques available, including:

  • Underpinning using push or helical piers – Underpinning anchors the foundation to stable soil. After the piers are in place, the foundation is lifted and leveled.
  • Drilled concrete piers – Drilled concrete piers are used to correct foundation movement in homes built on the sides of hills.
  • Slab piers – Slab piers are push or helical piers installed through a hole drilled in the slab.
  • Wall plate anchors – Hydrostatic pressure can cause foundation walls to bow inward and even crack. Wall plate anchors stop the bowing.
  • Carbon fiber straps – Strong, carbon fiber straps are another way to support a foundation wall with problems.
  • Epoxy crack injection – Epoxy injection seals vertical, hairline cracks created during the concrete curing process. The resin forms a seal and prevents water from getting in through the foundation wall.

So, it’s not “foundation problems vs. settling” because settling – the non-uniform type, that is – causes foundation problems.

If you’re having a problem with foundation settlement and you’re in our northern California service area, contact us today for a free inspection and estimate.

Steve Egloff

Steve Egloff

Steve is the CEO at Bay Area Underpinning, a foundation repair contractor serving the San Fransisco Bay Area, California. Bay Area Underpinning was founded in 2005 with the goal of providing a cost-effective, engineered solution to foundation settlement problems with an emphasis on educating customers to make them feel comfortable with the various methods of foundation repair.

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