Let’s face it, we all put things off and most of the time the consequences don’t amount to much. Put off doing laundry and you wear mismatched socks to work. Put off the grocery shopping and you get creative for dinner with a can of tomato soup and half a package of hot dogs. No big deal, right?
True enough, but there are plenty of instances where procrastination can lead to big trouble and one of the worst examples is putting off necessary repairs to a sinking foundation.
In an earlier article, we talked about the costs of putting off repairs to foundation walls that have bowed or cracked due to lateral pressure from over-saturated soil. This kind of foundation wall damage is serious and will continue to get worse and more costly to repair the longer it is neglected.
There’s another kind of structural foundation damage with even more serious consequences, the kind that occurs when the home’s foundation sinks or drops.
Damage of this type can occur for several reasons, such as improper preparation of the subsoil when a building’s foundation is originally excavated. Most commonly, though, foundations sink or drop because of expansion and subsequent contraction of the soil that supports them. Unfortunately, this has been a more frequent occurrence in 2012 because of the ongoing drought.
Although different types of soil react differently to moisture extremes, the clay soil common in the Midwest is what is known as expansive soil, that is, it swells when saturated with water. Especially in homes where exterior water management is not practiced by keeping gutters clean and extending downspouts away from the house, the soil around and under the foundation expands during wet periods. When extended dry conditions occur, this over-saturated soil shrinks, causing the foundation footings to drop and the foundation walls, along with parts of the above-ground structure, to crack and separate.
It’s usually pretty easy to tell when a foundation has sunk. Early signs of this type of structural foundation damage include jammed windows and doors and drywall cracks in the above-ground living space. More advanced or severe damage is indicated by wide cracks in exterior walls or even separation of one section of a house, particularly common in additions, from the rest.
Dropped or sunken foundations can only be repaired by underpinning, a process in which a support called a pier is placed under the foundation, lifting it back up to level and stabilizing it. There are several types of piers, including concrete and helical piers, but the preferred method is to use a hydraulically driven steel pier, sometimes called a “push” pier.
We have written about the process of installing push piers in detail in an earlier article. What is important to know about the timing of such repairs is that the damage is usually progressive, starting out relatively small and worsening as the soil under the foundation continues to shrink and the foundation continues to drop. The good news is that even a severely damaged foundation can still be underpinned and restored to level.
The bad news? The worse the damage gets the more piers are required to repair it and, logically, the cost of the repair increases with each pier that is installed. A sunken corner that is detected and repaired early might be fixed with four or five piers; an entire wing of the house that drops over time might require several times that many.
Also, above-ground damages will increase as the foundation is neglected and costs will rise accordingly.
So, when it comes to your home, procrastinate all you want when it comes to weeding the lawn or cleaning out the garage but ignore foundation damage at your peril – and that of your bank account.
A specialist in structural foundation repair will be able to spot the signs of a sinking foundation and recommend the necessary repairs. At U.S. Waterproofing, our experts have been trained to detect structural foundation damage, including sinking foundations, and to propose a plan of repair that is both permanent and cost-effective, so why not ask for their free advice?
We’d be happy to answer your questions about sinking foundations or other types of foundation damage if you ask them in the Comments box below.