You’re having anxiety about whether your home is safe to live in with foundation problems. You’re wondering things like this throughout the day and tossing and turning at night about what to do:
- I am really scared about the safety of my home, but should I be?
- Is the need for foundation repair a total emergency? Will it ever become a danger?
- Is my house about to fall over on me if my husband sneezes too loud? (Because frankly, he sneezes loud enough for people in India to hear him.)
- Should I move out until the foundation can be repaired?
You’re not alone in this worry about your home. It’s not usual to have some fears about how safe or not safe it is to live in a home that needs foundation work. Most regular, everyday folks don’t know a whole heck of a lot about foundation repair and that’s okay.
At Anchor Foundation Repair, we have inspected and repaired thousands of homes over our 35+ year service history in the Brazos Valley. We have personally seen only 2 or 3 unlivable homes and the other 99.65% of them could safely be lived in.
Questionable safety conditions are a foundation problem myth that we want to dispel for you. Not all foundation repair articles on this topic are going to sound this calm about the situation. Some foundation repair companies out there make things sound dire and as if you must act now. We’re not those guys.
But you don’t have to take our word for it just like that, we’ll explain some basics about foundation settlement in this area and address your safety concerns. We will also spell out some reasons why it’s safe and why you shouldn’t worry yourself to death about foundation problems while you are waiting to get your foundation repaired.
How does foundation settlement happen?
To help you see why homes with foundation settlement are not unsafe, it’s helpful to understand how the problem happens in the first place.
Expansive clay soils in our area are to blame for the vast majority of foundation settlement and problems, along with the inconsistent climate conditions of Central Texas. It’s kind of a two-ring circus where the soil and the climate play off of each other and cause damage to your home’s foundation.
Clay soil has special properties that cause it to puff up or expand when wet and contract or shrink when dry. Anytime the soil is very wet it causes a pushing up effect on portions of your home. Anytime the soil is very dry, your home can sink down farther than the elevation it was originally built to rest at.
Texas is known for its inconsistent climate. Surely you have heard the joke: Don’t like the weather in Texas? Just wait five minutes and it will change. We have some very wet and rainy times, and then we have a lot of time where it doesn’t rain like ever.
So our weather is never the same, always changing. This causes the clay soils to expand and contract a lot and regularly throughout the seasons and years.
If the climate was rainy all the time, it wouldn’t be such a problem. If the climate was dry all the time, it wouldn’t be such a problem. It’s the inconsistency that makes for foundation problems.
The soil has this expanding and contracting characteristic. Add in the weather with its ever-changing moisture levels and sometimes prolonged drought. Then you have a two-ingredient recipe for foundation settlement forces to act upon your home.
The home subtly gets pushed up and down and that happens every year (over many years) to where it finally starts to cause damage. The damage is in the form of cracks, trim separations, and doors that don’t latch or close properly.
Besides those symptoms, here are a few other true signs of foundation problems to watch out for that you could see in your home.
We want to make clear that the process is slow and gradual, not sudden and dramatic. The expansive soil is not one random day going to violently push up or drop down so hard and far that it sends your home crumbling to the ground. It’s just not that kind of movement.
Is it safe to live in a home with foundation problems?
The short answer to this question is: yes, it’s safe. In almost all cases here in Central Texas, your home is not unsafe to live in with foundation settlement, damage, or problems.
Think about what was talked about just above in the first section about expansive clay soil a little bit. We know that foundation settlement happens over many years. People live in homes with foundation settlement and never even know it because they haven’t noticed the signs or the signs aren’t a concern just yet.
Many people live in homes with foundation damage and don’t realize it until the signs they see in their homes really start to bother them and they finally get an inspection from a foundation repair professional. People can live in their homes for 20 some odd years and possible foundation concerns come up when they are trying to sell.
In the vast majority of homes, the need for foundation repair is not an unsafe condition to the point where you should be living in fear of your physical safety. Especially if you can’t see any extreme signs outside the home like this home pictured here that is clearly falling off the side of a river bed.
A home like the one pictured is unquestionably not safe, but that’s not the kind of home we are talking about in this article.
In only two or three cases have I seen a home that was deemed unsafe for its residents. In each of those homes, the unsafe condition was the result of a weather incident or traumatic one-time event of outside forces that caused the issue. Ordinary, normal, gradual settlement takes time to set in and never progresses in a way that makes it uninhabitable or unsafe.
*One small exception* One sign of foundation settlement is doors that don’t lock or latch. If you have an exterior door that doesn’t lock for you, that might be considered an unsafe condition. But you could certainly find a temporary remedy to handle a situation like that. It’s not an “unsafe house falling over” kind of situation, it’s more of a security issue.
Another example of something unsafe with regards to foundation issues is an exterior door that is jammed shut and can’t be opened. This is considered a fire exit issue that is unsafe and you would want to get taken care of, but also not a “home falling on you” issue.
If it’s safe now, will it ever become unsafe or collapse on me?
If it’s safe now, it will remain safe for you to live in a home while you decide what you want to do about the foundation settlement in your home, if anything.
Some residences, like rental properties, never have the foundation repaired because it’s not bothering the tenants and the property owner chooses not to have it done. The home will not become unsafe later on and collapse suddenly.
There is no “critical angle” or measurement that will suddenly take your home from safe to unsafe. We have raised a home over 9”, a few in the 7” range, and dozens that needed to be brought up 5” or more to their original elevation.
Every one of those homes was still safe for the owners to live in and for us to work in. Not saying that they were enjoyable to live in or super functional, but no one was in any danger.
The reason we say this is because of the way that homes are built. Each “home part” is interconnected to other parts built on top of it and it creates a web of structural support.
Building codes require homes to be built in a certain way. The walls and framing are tied to the foundation. The walls are held secure by the sheathing. The roof framing, sheathing, and shingles help keep the rest of the framing in place. The list goes on as materials are added on top of the last item.
All of these parts are connected to the thing that was put on before it making reinforcement after reinforcement after reinforcement. Even if one part weakens or is failing, there are still a bunch of other parts that are keeping it held together and supported in other ways. This makes your home very unlikely to fall in around you.
Is this an emergency or can I wait to do foundation repair?
It’s safe for you to wait until you are ready for foundation repair. There are actually some reasons you might want to wait. Some people are not bothered by a few cracks in the walls or one interior door that doesn’t latch well. It’s often a matter of the homeowner’s opinion when it’s time to really move on the foundation repair.
It’s also safe for you to take the time to save up funds to pay for the cost of foundation repair.
Now, there could be some things that become emergencies for you, not from a safety perspective, but from a home performance perspective.
Let’s say your foundation settlement has affected your under-house plumbing lines and you only have one bathroom that you can use. THAT might be an emergency to you as a homeowner, but it’s not a “safety emergency.”
So as long as there’s nothing like the plumbing issue above going on in your home, it gives you time to wait on foundation repair until you are really ready for it. And in the meantime, you are safe to do so.
Now that you know it’s safe, what should you do next about your foundation concerns?
We did say it was okay to wait on getting the foundation repair completed. It’s safe and not an emergency. But you should know that there are also some reasons you don’t want to wait too long. This is especially true if you have other home improvement projects coming up soon, like a new roof, new flooring or paint, or a full remodeling project.
We always recommend completing foundation work before spending money on other major home repairs or remodel projects.
At Anchor Foundation Repair, your confidence in the foundation repair process is one of our top priorities. We’ve worked on thousands of homes and looked at tens of thousands of homes in the Bryan, College Station, and Brazos Valley communities.
We will be the first to tell you if we think it’s okay to wait a bit for foundation repair or if it’s better for you to get after it now. We don’t try to scare homeowners into handing over their hard-earned dollars before their time.