Have you recently noticed any changes in your foundation? In that case, they could have been caused by the normal settling process or specific foundation problems. Because sometimes it’s easy to confuse normal settling, which is also called uniform settlement, with foundation failure, we wrote this blog post to explain the most important differences between the two. After all, being able to recognize the early signs of foundation failure is key to avoiding expensive home repairs.
Uniform Settlement versus Foundation Failure: Why and How They Occur
Uniform settlement represents a natural process that results from the downward force of gravity on a structure. This essentially means that every single structure settles over time, regardless of how well it was built. Furthermore, construction data shows that buildings tend to settle more in the locations that have clay soils, such as the Greater Houston area. Because these soils contain very small, flat particles, with little space between them, they expand and contract according to the moisture content more than other types of soil.
One essential aspect that every Houston homeowner should be aware of is that there are two types of uniform settlement that can affect a building. The first one, commonly referred to as initial settlement, usually occurs within the first few years following the construction. As long as the builder compacts the soil under the home properly and builds the foundation correctly, according to specifications, the initial settlement should be minimal. The second type is known as ongoing settlement and takes place over time, as the home ages. Both initial and ongoing settlement and their potential negative effects can be controlled with regular foundation maintenance.
Besides allowing you to control foundation movement, maintaining your foundation on a regular basis will reveal any issues that could cause damage to your home over time. While uniform settlement, which happens when a building settles evenly at all four corners, isn’t dangerous even if the slab sinks deeper into the ground, a foundation that starts to shift may spell trouble for your entire home. When that happens, the various loads that exert force on your home along with the soil movement due to repeated swelling and shrinking may force the foundation out of its normal position, which will eventually lead to failure. Because a failing foundation can considerably affect the structural integrity and stability of a building, your home may become structurally unsafe. Commonly called differential settlement, this is one of the worst types of damage a home could experience.
Uniform Settlement versus Foundation Failure: Assessing the Signs
To the untrained eye, differentiating between the signs of uniform settlement and the signs that point out foundation problems can be a lot harder than it seems. Because there are situations when immediate action is required and situations when there’s no reason to be alarmed, we’ve gathered below a few signs that could help you more easily distinguish between uniform settlement and foundation failure.
Some of the indicators of normal settling include:
- Hairline cracks that appear in stucco and/or drywall;
- Cracks that develop at corners or between drywall sections, bricks, and/or concrete blocks in the foundation, but don’t grow longer and wider over time;
- Jammed windows and doors.
Coming down to the warning signs that indicate foundation failure, most of these signs develop particularly when a prolonged drought occurs after a large amount of precipitation has fallen over a short period of time. Due to the sudden variations in the moisture content that cause clay soils to undergo significant volume changes, your foundation may begin to sink into the ground and settle unevenly, with one corner or side lower than the others.
Although the first signs of foundation failure may develop in a relatively short time frame, foundation problems become more noticeable over time. That’s because most foundation problems start out small and get worse as time goes on. Some of the warning signs of foundation failure are:
- diagonal cracks in your walls and/or ceilings;
- deep cracks in exterior stonework or brickwork;
- narrow cracks in the foundation that continue to expand;
- roof issues, such as uneven ridgelines, gaps, cracks, or loose fascia boards;
- walls that are no longer aligned with the framing;
- doors and windows that get stuck and fail to latch;
- warped, buckled, and/or soft floors;
- counters, cabinets, trim, molding, and window and/or door frames pulling away from the walls;
- water stains on the ceilings, which may be a sign that your roof has been compromised by foundation failure.
If any of the warning signs listed above are present, they might indicate that your foundation is experiencing something more serious than uniform settlement. In that case, the best solution to your foundation problems is to get in touch with a reliable foundation repair company, which can professionally address any foundation issue and prevent severe and costly damage in your home.