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What Causes Foundation Problems?

Monday, May 15th, 2017 by Braden Cook

Well, this was going to be named "The Science Behind a Broken Foundation" but there is not too much science behind why foundations need to be repaired. The main scientific principles that deal with foundation issues and repair deal with force, pressure, and water. Since there is not too much science to talk about in foundation repair (at least on a simpler level) we are going to go through the causes of foundation repair. We will, as in the last blog, break down this blog into three main parts, each part going over the causes of each different type of foundation problem someone may encounter.

The first foundation problem someone may run into is foundation settlement. Settlement is basically the movement a home experiences when the soil below your home shifts and moves because of the weight of a home. Conveniently, there are three different causes of foundation settlement; drying and shrinking of soil, wetting and softening of soil, and the compression of poorly compacted fill soil. Drying and shrinking of soil is pretty self-explanatory, but is commonly caused by a few different things. The two main ways that drying and shrinking of soil happens is through drought and maturing trees. A drought is, of course, a lack or percipitation. This lack of water begans to slowly dry out the soil, which causes the soil to begin to shrink. Maturing trees are a big one because the more trees you have and the bigger they get, the more water they all need. This again dries out the soil and when the soil shrinks, it creates an open space for your home to settle in.

What Causes Foundation Problems - Image 1

The next cause is quite the opposite, being the wetting and softening of soil. There are, again, two different ways that the wetting and softening soil occurs; heavy rain and flood conditions and poor drainage. The first obviously can cause a lot of problems, if there is an excess of rain or flooding, the ground becomes soft and easily manipulated. Another cause of the softening of soil is poor drainage. Your area may not be getting a lot of rain, but if you don't have the correct drainage or you drainage system has malfunctioned, the water that pools next to your home can cause the soil around your home to get soft. This soft, pliable soil allows the home to sink down into it.

The last cause of foundation settlement is the compresssion of poorly compacted fill soil. Basically what this means is that when a neighborhood is being constructed, dirt is moved around or brought in to help make the whole area more level. Sometimes this soil is not compacted well enough, it has room to compress, especially when it has the weight of a home on top of it.

Sagging floors are a huge foundation problem, that many homeowners face at some point in their lives. The three main causes of sagging floors are: existing columns being spaced too far apart, weakened floor joists and girders, and the settlement of existing columns. The first one causes sagging floors because there is not enough support for the floor. When the columns are too far apart, the beams are overloaded with the weight of the home and everything in it. Weakened floor joists/girders are usually caused by excess moisture and humidity. The moisture penetrates the wood and begins to soften it. With the weight of the home on the wood, it can easily start to be damaged and cause the floor to sag. Last but not least, sometimes existing columns will begin to settle. The columns will settle for any of the same reasons as mentioned above, however when these columns sag, the floor joists and girders (which are supported by the columns) tend to go with it.

What Causes Foundation Problems - Image 2

Surprise, surprise! There are three main causes for bowing walls in the home which include; frost, expansive clay soil, and the most "exciting" one, hydrostatic presure. You could probably guess what each of these mean and why they can be detrimental, but as always, we will still go through them. Frost can cause basement walls to bow because of what happens to water that freezes....it expands! This increased pressure on the outside basement walls can cause them to bend and bow. The most interesting one is the clay soil. Clay can hold a lot of moisture which is not necessarily a bad thing, however because it can constantly dry and get wet, it can begin to put more and more pressure on a basement wall. One of the more common ways that walls begin to bow in homes is through hydrostatic pressure, which sounds really cool and maybe even dangerous. That being said, besides the danger it can bring to your home and basement walls, it is actually pretty simple. Hydrostatic pressure is the pressure exerted by a fluid due to the force of gravity. So basically what this means in relation to your home is that, as water begins to build up in the soil around your foundation, more and more pressure will be exerted against the wall.

What Causes Foundation Problems - Image 3

Hopefully all of this made sense to you and you now understand why such strong and well-built homes can be so easily damaged. Wait for our next installment of the foundation series, how we can help you fix all of these problems!


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