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Know The Signs of Foundation Problems

Written by Michele Dawson on Monday, 07 July 2003 7:00 pm

Do your doors or windows jam when you try to open them? Are your walls or doors cracked? If so, it could be a sign of something more serious - foundation problems.

When the soil underneath your foundation expands when it's wet or contracts when it's dry, the foundation can potentially shift if part of the soil expands or contracts and the rest doesn't.

Poor drainage can be a major contributor to soil moisture gains. Roof runoff should be directed away from the house via gutters. And your gutter downspouts shouldn't release water next to the foundation. Surface drainage next to the foundation should slope away from the house about a quarter inch per foot.

Those in the foundation repair business say another trigger to potential problems is when a section of soil isn't compacted properly or consistently like the others, causing one section of the house to drop.

Ken Marquardt, who repairs foundations for a living in Eugene, Ore., says owners of new homes shouldn't assume that their homes will be free from foundation problems just because the house is new.

"We've done repairs on houses as young as two years old, and many within five years," he told Concrete Network, a consumer web site devoted to a range of concrete services. "Nine out of 10 have bad soil, especially the newer houses."

If your front door sticks and you can't get in and out, then consider yourself warned: you may have a foundation problem.

"People usually freak out when the door doesn't work and are clued in," he said.

Some cases are much more severe, like the sinkholes - about two feet across and 10 inches deep - that pepper a Hudson, Fla. Neighborhood.

The St. Petersburg Times, in a June 2 article, said residents of a neighborhood began noticing unusual depressions in their yards.

Engineers began investigating and ultimately discovered a giant air pocket beneath one home, a void starting at 25 feet down and ending at 48 feet down.

Many homeowners in the neighborhood ultimately discovered sinkholes. But once the problem is repaired - usually with steel pins - the appraised value returns to normal and the restored houses are selling at an average pace.

"We had two houses ... and I don't think they were on the market more than a month or so," Stephen Minderman, a real estate agent who has handled several sinkhole homes in the subdivision, said in the article.

Once the workers reinforce the foundation with steel pins and fill the underground voids with grout, Minderman said, the homes are good as new. The repaired homes fetch close to their pre-sinkhole price, he said.

Meanwhile, when it comes to other foundation problems, the cost to homeowners runs the gamut, depending on the extent of the problem. But if basement problems aren't fixed, you could potentially be left with a decreased property value, an unhealthy home environment that can lead to respiratory problems, an unsound foundation, and a basement that can't be used or finished.

Dick Young, who owns Young's Waterproofing in New York, said one question he hears repeatedly from homeowners is whether a crack in a basement floor or wall something to worry about.

"Often basement wall and floor cracks are nothing more than hairline fractures caused by shrinkage due to the curing process of concrete," Young advises homeowners on his web site. "These cracks are usually insignificant. However, if these cracks leak water or if they appear to widen as time passes, it can be an indication of a developing problem."

One of the solutions to an ailing foundation involves piling or piering - the technique of driving steel pipe pilings to remedy failing building foundations and to correct foundation settlement.

Some companies use high-carbon, steel pilings are driven vertically by 70,000 lbs. of hydraulic power to an average of 22 feet below the home to anchor the structure and prevent future settlement.

A hydraulic pump uses a synchronized lift to raise the affected areas of a house simultaneously to maximum practical recovery.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Waterproofing and Structural Repair Contractors says you could have foundation problems if you experience any of the following:

  • Sticky or squeaky doors.

  • A door sill that separates from the frame.

  • Windows that stick. Raise and lower the windows in each room, open and close all doors. Do they fit squarely without binding?

  • Cracks in interior walls near corners of doors or windows. Look at all the corners of windows and doors, and at joints where walls meet walls, ceilings or doors for signs that they are pulling away from each other. Also look for cracks in a brick fireplace wall.

  • Nails popping out of sheetrock or gypsum board. Examine walls and ceilings for evidence that nails may be working themselves loose.

  • Curling or separating wallpaper.

  • Curling and tearing of existing sheetrock repairs.

  • Leaks and cracks in and around the fireplace.

  • Cracks in the exposed concrete grade beam of the house. Check the exposed concrete at the base of the house for cracks. If there are only small cracks, they may also be nonstructural, but they may also be the first indication of trouble.

  • Caulking that pulls away from exterior surfaces.

  • Nails popping out of corner frames.

  • Obvious cracks in brick and mortar.

  • Cracks and uneven elevations in structures attached to patios.
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