top causes of foundation problems

Top 7 Causes of Slab Foundation Problems (Most to Least Common)

Why are you having foundation problems? What is causing these issues with your slab? Whose fault is it that foundation settlement is happening at your home?? You. Want. Answers.

Homeowners worry when they have foundation problems. You don’t know what to do or who to trust. Not only are you concerned about your home’s safety and stability, but you’re also worried about how this happened in the first place. 

Anchor Foundation Repair Bryan College Station

At Anchor Foundation Repair, we’ve spent the last 35+ years answering all the foundation questions Brazos Valley homeowners can throw at us and we can answer these burning questions for you too.

This article covers the top causes of slab foundation issues from most to least common. Then we offer advice on what to focus on next in your quest to handle your foundation problems.

What Causes Home Foundation Problems?

First, let’s just make it ultra clear that we are talking about slab-on-grade foundations in this article. Some of these causes could also relate to other types of foundations, but the focus here is on slabs.

top causes of foundation problems
What is causing this???

Foundation problems have causes that range from isolated issues with easy-to-identify sources to widespread problems resulting from a combination of factors. In other words, this is a complex question to answer for your particular home situation in a general way (but we will try).

Here is the basic list ordered from most to least common. This list is non-data-based, just general impressions of what we tend to see – it’s not like we are tracking this info on a spreadsheet or anything. We will elaborate on each of these in the coming sections:

  1. Expansive Clay Soil
  2. Under-Slab Plumbing Leaks
  3. Consistency with Lawn Care and Watering Maintenance
  4. Property Drainage
  5. Foundation Construction Standards, Types, and Shapes
  6. Timing and Conditions at the Time of Slab Installation
  7. Poor Pad Site Development at the Time of Construction

Most to Least Common Reasons for Your Foundation Issues

top causes of foundation problems
7 causes of foundation problems

These root causes of foundation settlement are in order, from most to least common (in our estimation). But the first item on the list – expansive clay soil – is the top culprit in the overwhelming majority of cases we see here in the Brazos Valley area. Items 2 through 7 combined are a contributing cause in a much smaller fraction of cases. 

But honestly, a true *one-and-only* cause of foundation problems at a specific home is never super clear. There’s often no way to determine a singular direct cause. We can’t x-ray your slab or go back in time and watch it being constructed. All these reasons typically work in combination with one another and in interaction with the clay soil.

In other words, even if you think it’s just one cause, the reality is that it’s more likely a whole bunch of things working together to create issues for your foundation. But let’s dig in and explore these causes a little further anyway.

1. Expansive Clay Soil 

The main culprit for foundation settlement? Expansive clay soil. When this soil gets wet, it swells; when it dries, it shrinks. In Central Texas, where the climate swings from wet to dry, this soil dance happens year after year. The result? Weakened foundations lead to home troubles with common signs of foundation problems.

soil causes foundation problems

So, in simple math: soil + climate + time = potential foundation woes. If your area’s filled with expansive soil, it’s logical to expect your home and others to face similar issues. Expansive soil usually takes the lead, but there are exceptions with unique causes for individual homes.

2. Under-Slab Plumbing Leaks

Under-slab plumbing leaks: a top cause of foundation settlement isolated to one home. But more specifically, what we’re seeing now are cast iron drain lines that have rusted out and are leaking under homes built around the 1970s or so.

rusted drain lines cause foundation issues
Rusted out drain line

While your house deals with a leak like this, your neighbor might not. These hidden under-slab drain line leaks due to degraded cast iron can linger undetected until you spot early signs of foundation trouble.

Here’s the twist: leaks and settlement are a chicken-and-egg situation. It’s hard to tell which triggered the other. But whether it’s leak-induced settlement or vice versa, this could be why your foundation’s having issues.

3. Consistency with Lawn Care and Watering Maintenance

Consistent lawn care and watering – the secret sauce? Picture this: Your neighbor diligently waters their lawn with a sprinkler system, while you surrender every summer to the dreaded ‘drought.’ But here’s the twist, watering can be a foundation’s somewhat helpful friend.

water lawn to help your foundation

No guarantees, but it’s certainly not a wasted effort (i.e. your lawn stays green). That extra dose of hydration might just be why your neighbor’s foundation is in the clear while yours faces issues. 

Check out our article ‘Can Watering Prevent Foundation Problems?‘ for the scoop on this fact-or-myth dilemma. While it won’t work miracles, a little watering can be your foundation’s ally against the drought’s impact. 

So, could lack of watering be the cause of your foundation problems? Maybe, but if you read that article you will understand that one hose is not going to save your foundation from systemic drought and years of seasonal settlement and rebounding of expansive soil.

4. Property Drainage

poor drainage causes foundation problems

Good drainage is a foundation’s lifeline. Poor drainage often spells trouble for your home.

Issues like standing water by your foundation or inadequate gutter systems can be red flags. We’ve got a detailed guide on handling drainage for a healthy foundation in our article ‘Fixing Poor Drainage Around Your Home’s Foundation: 6 Steps.’

So if you’re dealing with drainage concerns, it might just explain why your foundation is acting up too.

5. Foundation Construction Standards, Types, and Shapes

foundation construction and shape can cause foundation issues

Your foundation’s construction matters. Was it done to code, slightly above, or custom-made? You might not know, but minimum standards aren’t always enough to prevent settlement.

There are different types of slab foundations – rebar-reinforced and post-tension slabs. They behave differently and post-tension slabs had initial problems but advanced improvements are ongoing.

Even the foundation shape matters. A simple rectangular ranch-style home might be less prone to settlement than a complex one with wings.

Bottom line: Your foundation’s type, shape, and construction standards might be why you’re facing issues with foundation settlement.

6. Timing and Conditions at the Time of Slab Installation

when do you need your foundation repairs done?

Concrete slabs’ fate is somewhat tied to weather during construction. Slab-on-grade foundations thrive in the ‘Goldilocks’ zone – not too wet, not too dry, not too hot, and not too cold. But Texas rarely plays along.

Construction deadlines often mean imperfect timing. Pouring when it’s overly wet could lead to summer settlement, while drought-like conditions during construction may result in rainy-season shifts.

It’s not common, but it’s possible that your foundation was poured in sub-optimal conditions that impacted its long-term integrity. A well-prepped pad site (check out item #7) helps to *weather* the weather.

7. Poor Pad Site Development at the Time of Construction

Builders prep your homesite, but it’s not always done to perfection. Soil prep and tree removal affect your pad’s quality and future.

These problems are unique to your site, and less common, but keep in mind that building standards are constantly improving. However, work quality varies widely from builder to builder. The people working on your home can excel or not. You can’t confirm training, oversight, or work sequence – it differs between construction companies and homes.

Soil Preparation

new dirt for foundation pad site

Pad sites differ. An ideal foundation often means swapping native clay for stable fill, sometimes a substantial replacement. Yet not all homes receive the same prep.

But it’s not just the switch; it’s the squeeze. Proper soil compaction is vital. To ensure a solid foundation, the soil below needs thorough tamping and rolling. Errors with poor compaction or an uneven surface can lead to settlement.

Builders vary. Some are very meticulous, while others cut corners or lack expertise. Unfortunately, you often can’t be sure one way or the other. You assume all’s well, but that’s not guaranteed and it’s difficult to verify one way or another.

Did your builder nail the soil swap and compaction? It’s uncertain; there’s no surefire way to know if this is the true culprit causing your foundation issue.

Tree Removal

Tree removal matters. When many trees are taken out for a foundation, decaying underground roots can later lead to soil settling. It all ties back to pad site development.

Excessive tree removal requires extra effort and care to prevent decaying roots from causing issues. Builders should clear as many roots as possible and ensure thorough compaction to avoid future settlement problems. If they skip this step, you might face unexpected troubles later on. 

But again, it’s very hard to know if poor tree removal practices are the cause of your current foundation woes with so many other factors to consider.

What Caused the Foundation Issues at Your Home?

home foundation problems

Foundation problems aren’t just about one cause. They’re typically a mix of factors at play, affecting your home’s equilibrium. While soil is often the main culprit, other contributors include weather, time, construction quality, maintenance, and system failures.

The key to getting a handle on your foundation’s health is addressing the issue at hand, staying vigilant in monitoring your foundation’s condition, and taking charge of what you can control, like drainage and watering.

Foundation Settlement Is Usually Not Anyone’s Fault

home foundation repair

Foundation settlement isn’t your fault. Numerous factors are at play, many beyond your control. Don’t shoulder the blame; you can’t prevent everything. Let go of the guilt too – it’s not on you. 

Read our article for more on why foundation problems are not your fault if you’re still feeling bad.

Let go of the blame game too – it’s likely not your builder’s fault in most cases either (especially if your home is older and well past any warranty terms). Even if it were a contributing factor, there’s often no way to find conclusive evidence. It’s best to focus on a foundation repair solution for your own sanity.

Need a Guide for Handling Your Foundation Problems?

You’re not alone in your foundation issues. Many folks wonder, ‘Why just me?’ We’ve been in the business for over 35 years – trust us, you’re not alone. We’re here to guide you through it and have your back.

a guide for your foundation problems

At Anchor Foundation Repair, we have been fixin’ foundations since 1985 in Bryan, College Station, and surrounding Brazos Valley communities like Navasota and Caldwell. Though you might feel alone in your foundation problem, you have us by your side to help guide you through this, and we’re not going anywhere.

Ready to handle your foundation problems with 100% confidence? The first step is sorting out the true signs of foundation issues from the false and misleading. Check out this article to confirm the problems you are seeing around your home are indeed a foundation issue in need of repair: Is Foundation Repair Needed? Real and False Problems Signs (Picture Guide).