The signs of foundation failure are sickeningly noticeable – cracks in the walls, windows that won’t open, stairs that are no longer flush with the porch, and many more. But do you know what it is that is causing your foundation to fail? Below, we’ll take a look at the six most common causes of foundation failure.
Erosion is the most straightforward cause of foundation failure, and it’s also one of the most common. Erosion of the ground holding up your foundation can stem from a number of factors. It may occur when water around your home’s foundation is not able to drain properly, it may occur if there is simply too much water flowing near your home, or it may occur if there is a lack of ground cover that is holding the soil together. Either way, the end result of erosion is that the ground holding up your foundation is eroded away, causing your home to sink and creating the need for underpinning to hold it up.
In many ways, soil expansion acts in the exact opposite way of soil erosion and causes the exact opposite problem – lifting up your home’s foundation rather than causing it to sink down. However, the end result is just as damaging.
Soil expansion takes place when the soil beneath your home absorbs large amounts of water and swellsas a result. Fortunately, many types of soil cannot hold enough water to swell in this manner and are not susceptible to soil expansion. However, some types of soil such as expansive clay can swell to several times its normal size when exposed to enough water, lifting up your home’s foundation as a result. Once the soil dries, it shrinks back to its normal size, lowering your foundation again and creating an up and down cycle that can destroy the foundation of your home.
Loose Fill Matrerial
When a new house is built, the fill material that it rests upon must be tightly compacted in order to support the weight of the structure. If this fill material is not packed tightly enough, the weight of the house above it is sure to pack it tighter, causing the house’s foundation to sink as the soil beneath it is pushed down.
In addition to ensuring that the fill material beneath a home it tightly compacted, it’s equally important to ensure that it is consistent and not made up of different types of material. Having more than one type of soil in the fill material makes it almost impossible to thoroughly pack down the fill material.
Whether the loose fill material beneath a house was due to construction workers doing a poor job packing the material down or it was due to multiple types of soil being used, the result will still be a foundation that sinks and ultimately fails.
There are a lot of processes taking place beneath the soil that you may not be able to observe, and one of these processes is transpiration.
Transpiration occurs when trees and other vegetation drink up the majority of the moisture in the soil. This most often happens in the summertime during periods of drought when there isn’t enough water coming in to replace the water that the vegetation is using.
When all of the moisture has been removed from the soil, the soil will shrink and contract, which can cause your foundation to sink.
Mass wasting is a term used to describe the tendency for soil to slowly move downhill. A landslide is one sudden and dramatic example of mass wasting, but the type of mass wasting that causes foundation failure is most often much subtler.
If your home is built on a slope – even if that slope is gentle – gravity will pull at the soil beneath your foundation and slowly move it over time. There are measures that can be taken to prevent this from happening such as underpinnings designed to hold the soil in place, but if the slope is too dramatic or if these underpinnings are not installed in the right way, mass wasting can still create serious problems over time.
Poor construction was once the leading cause of foundation failure. The good news is, though, that, today, building codes have become strict enough that problems with construction that are serious enough to lead to foundation failure rarely occur.
Nevertheless, the potential for human error in the construction of a new home is simply impossible to eliminate entirely. Construction mistakes that can lead to foundation failure come in a wide variety of forms, and it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact problem. While the other causes of foundation failure are more likely, the possibility still remains that the reason your home’s foundation is failing is a mistake made by the people who built it.
What You can do to Prevent the Main Causes of Foundation Failure
Most of the main causes of foundation failure are natural processes that can’t exactly be stopped. What you can do, though, is carefully monitor your home for signs of foundation failure and fix issues as soon as they arise before they have the chance to develop into a more serious problem.
While it may be impossible to completely stop processes such as erosion and transpiration, there are measures that can be taken to negate the damaging effects of these processes and fix the problems that they have already caused.
At Abry Brothers, we are experts at identifying the root cause of foundation failure and coming up with an effective, long-term solution. We’re familiar with all of the potential causes of a failing foundation and know how to diagnose the issue after a single inspection.
If you are noticing any signs that your foundation may be taking damage due to any of the causes outlined above, we urge you to contact us today. The sooner you fix the problem, the less damage it will cause.