You look at your home and feel embarrassed about the cracks and signs of foundation problems. Your shame-filled inner dialogue goes something like this, “This is all your fault, you should have known to do X, Y, and Z and this wouldn’t have happened. You’re terrible at taking care of your home.”
It’s normal to question if you could have done something to prevent problems of any kind. But in the case of your home’s foundation, it’s not your fault . . .
At Anchor Foundation Repair, we have inspected tens of thousands and repaired thousands of homes over 35+ years in the Brazos Valley. We know the causes of foundation issues and know that it’s not you and that it’s not something that you can likely prevent.
In this article, we will review the four most common reasons for foundation problems:
- Expansive Clay Soil
- Original Construction Flaws
- Pad Site Development
There’s no reason to feel embarrassed over common home situations that are out of your hands. In other words, foundation issues happen to a lot of people and these problems are not something you can prevent or control in the vast majority of cases. So relax and let the healing begin . . .
4 Reasons That Foundation Problems Appear in Your Home
The most common reasons for foundation issues in a home are not within a homeowner’s control. You cannot control the soil that we have on earth, the weather, or gravity. You probably didn’t personally construct your own home or prepare the lot for building either. Let’s break down the four most likely root causes of foundation problems so that you can stop blaming yourself.
1. Expansive Clay Soil Causes Foundation Settlement and Problems
We have a lot of expansive clay soil throughout Texas. Expansive clay soil causes foundation settlement due to fluctuations in moisture levels through rainy and dry seasons. When clay soil gets wet for prolonged periods, it can expand by as much as 10% and push up on your home’s structure.
When clay soil dries out, it contracts and causes your home to sink down. If there is an extended time with no rain, the soil contracts more and your home can sink even farther. Settlement is just a fancy way of saying that your home is moving and sinking.
A lot of homes experience this movement and it’s very common to see signs around your home that indicate settlement is happening. Diagonal cracks in walls are the most common sign. Foundation problems occur when the settlement begins to cause functionality issues such as doors that don’t close or latch properly or issues with plumbing drain lines.
You can’t control what kind of soil we have in Texas any more than you can control the weather. Expansive clay soil is the leading cause of foundation issues in the United States (but especially in Texas where we have a lot of it) and it’s just not your fault. It’s one of those things about Texas where you just have to love it or leave it.
2. Gravity Influences Home Foundations and Underlying Soil
Gravity plays a part in your foundation moving, settling, and can sometimes cause problems. When a home is first built, there is a period of time where the home will sink due to the sudden addition of a heavy structure on top of the soil. This is called initial slab settlement and is something to be expected, you might not even notice it in a new home but it happens.
Every time the soil shrinks due to dry conditions, gravity helps out by allowing your home to sink. The force of gravity is always at play. If your home is built on a slope, or one side of your lot is a little lower than the other, the home is subject to gravity in any unevenness around your home.
Over time, gravity exerts its enduring influence and your home can slide downhill very slowly or one corner can begin to crack away from the rest of the home if it is on the side of the property that has a slope to it.
Gravity is not your fault. *Hopefully, this is not breaking news.* This force is subtle but strong and can move homes over time without anyone noticing until you begin to see the common signs of foundation problems.
3. Construction Shortcomings or Flaws Can Cause Foundation Issues
Construction codes and ways of building things change over time. Something that was built 100 years ago was built differently than something built 50 years ago, 30 years ago, and even 10 years ago. There’s always learning going on in construction methods: learning better ways, learning when things do and don’t work over time, trying out more efficient or improved techniques.
So basically your house is *one big experiment* and sometimes a shortcoming develops in the structure or original method used. Building codes try to prevent major shortcomings by setting minimum standards, but those standards change when they find that something becomes insufficient or doesn’t hold up over time.
For example, the depth required for foundation footings and beams has increased over the years. So something built in the ’70s or ’80s might have insufficient depth below grade on a sloping lot. In other words, a foundation could have been “under-built” where they didn’t go down deep enough into the ground to support a house well on an uneven lot.
The codes have changed since then as the *construction gods* have seen that deeper support is needed in some cases. This is most certainly not your fault, you can blame the construction gods if you want though . . .
There are also flaws in construction that occur. As in, whoever was doing the work simply did it wrong or did not follow the code at the time, *aka poor workmanship* happens that you cannot be blamed for.
Flawed workmanship is a less common problem but it can be a small factor in who is at fault for foundation issues. But it’s still not your fault . . . I mean . . . well . . . unless *ahem* you did actually build your home piece by piece with no help . . .
4. Original Pad Site Development Can Create Foundation Problems
Builders don’t start laying down your foundation without some site preparation. The land is cleared and a layer of new fill soil is brought in and compacted to *set the stage* for a home.
This extra fill soil must be leveled, compacted, and graded just right to make a good base for the home. If the fill is inadequately compacted, or there is too much or too little fill, or if the wrong fill is used, then the poorly prepared pad site could create foundation problems down the road. That’s a bunch of p’s to say that it can be done wrong . . .
The lot must be sloped appropriately to make sure rainwater flows away from the home. Structural support should also be driven into the ground to an optimal depth. If any of the *fill factors* or a slope/support issue is present at build time, there’s an opportunity for foundation problems later.
These issues are not going to be obvious to a homeowner at build time, and there are some codes that builders must meet to limit these issues. But human error and lack of skill/experience can contribute to a pad site failure in the future. So unless you were the one who prepared the site for a foundation (and you probably weren’t), then you really can’t blame yourself.
3 Ways to Handle Foundation Settlement Signs In Your Home
Now you know that your foundation problems are not your fault, so there’s no reason to feel embarrassed or to blame. Let’s take a look at how to handle things now.
1. Prevention Techniques
Maybe you are still not convinced that there was nothing you could have done to prevent your foundation problems. Fine . . . there are a few prevention techniques that *might* work. Some people try watering their foundation as a way to help ward off problems. There are drainage issues to watch out for and root barriers to try.
We have a whole article that talks about ideas on prevention, “Can I Prevent Foundation Problems in My Home? 3 Ways to Try.”
The thing about any prevention is that you are one person (with a hose as a weapon) battling forces of nature that are far stronger and farther-reaching than your property line. So your efforts, though noble and just, are like trying to fight a dragon with the kind of tiny plastic sword used in bar cocktails.
So I’m gonna say that preventions may or may not work for you considering what you are up against. But hey, David did beat Goliath that one time, so there’s always a chance that prevention strategies could work . . .
2. Cosmetic Repairs
We get that some symptoms of foundation problems are unsightly and a wee bit embarrassing, especially when you have guests. So there’s nothing wrong with putting a li’l lipstick on a pig every once in a while.
Covering wall cracks with some putty and new paint is not uncalled for when you really need to make a good impression with your home. It’s okay to *cover the evidence* temporarily for a get-together or special occasion.
We’ve all been there when you really don’t have time to handle the problem right now because your in-laws are coming in like two days . . .
Just know that dealing with foundation issues cosmetically does not ultimately solve your problems. Especially if the occasion you are preparing for is selling your home. You can’t hide all the evidence from home inspectors like you can from a party guest.
3. Foundation Repairs
So you’ve got foundation problems that aren’t your fault even if you tried preventing them and even hiding from them for a while. At some point, you might have to handle foundation issues with foundation repairs. But maybe you are wondering, “What is foundation repair exactly?”
Basically, foundation repair involves adding additional underground support to your home at incremental and key locations. Supports can be added just on the perimeter of your home and sometimes they also need to be added under the middle of your home.
Usually, you don’t need added support around your entire home, it’s just part of the home that has settled and needs to be lifted back into place. But occasionally homes need more support everywhere. It all depends on the type of settlement and the type of damage you are seeing.
There are different methods of slab-on-grade foundation repair as well, not all methods are available everywhere. But when foundation settlement symptoms become a problem you can’t cover up anymore, you should probably start looking into which repair method might be best for you and the needs of your home.
Know When It’s Time for Foundation Repairs
Are you still on the fence about if you really have a foundation problem that needs fixing right now? We get that most homeowners want to be sure that the only option left is to repair.
At Anchor Foundation Repair, we have heard every worry, concern, and hesitation about getting foundation repairs over our 35+ year history. We even write all these articles to address every worry, concern, and hesitation about foundation repair.
So, we’ve got an article for just this issue of *knowing when it’s time* for repair. We talk more in-depth about causes, and preventions and ultimately making the decision to move forward with fixing stuff. Check out, “Foundation Problems: Causes, Prevention, and the Decision to Repair,” next and see if that helps!