Top 5 Causes of Foundation Problems

While it doesn’t get much attention, the foundation is arguably the most important element of your home. After all, it holds everything else up! Whether you’ve already experienced foundation problems or you’re hoping to avoid them, here is an overview of the most common causes.

1. Expansive clay soil

Certain areas of the country have higher rates of foundation trouble, including Texas and Oklahoma. Highly expansive clay soil is the culprit. Clay acts like a sponge, expanding and contracting beneath your home with changes in moisture. When the ground expands, upper pressure is exerted on the foundation. When it contracts, there is insufficient support. Steve Gregory, owner and founder of Ram Jack Systems, a foundation repair company with a network of dealers across the country, explains it this way: “The constant heaving and shrinking can break the foundation of a home, much like a piece of wire that’s been bent too many times.”

United States map showing soil conditions: Glacial Till across the northern states, Loess in the Southwest, Karst in the Southeast, and Hightly Expansive Clay in Texas and Oklahoma


2. Improperly compacted fill soil

It can be a shock when a newer home experiences foundation problems. This often occurs because the fill dirt below the foundation wasn’t properly compacted, leaving slab-on-grade foundations at risk of settlement. If you’re building a new home, be sure that the compaction is up to standard.

3. Extreme seasonal cycles

If the weather in your area fluctuates between drought and floods, keep a close eye out for signs of foundation problems. Drastic changes in soil moisture lead to movement beneath your home and stress on the foundation. Outside, watch for cracks in the foundation itself, cracks in brick or stonework, a leaning chimney, and separation around doors and windows. Inside, watch for doors or windows that don’t open smoothly, uneven floors, or cracked Sheetrock.

Infographic showing how seasonal cycles affect soil conditions and cause foundation problems as a result

4. A below-slab plumbing leak

Another issue that can be troublesome for foundations is a plumbing leak beneath your home. Not only are these hard to access and repair, but they also cause a sudden increase in soil moisture under your home. If the leak is caught early on, you might not have a problem. However, if it goes undetected and a lot of water leaks into the surrounding soil, the integrity of your foundation could be impacted.

5. Tree roots growing beneath the foundation

If you have large trees growing near your home, their roots may extend below your foundation. Transpiration occurs when these roots suck water from the soil and leave the earth beneath your home dry and shriveled. Parched soil can cause the foundation to settle unevenly. If you are considering planting trees around your house, consult with a professional landscaper to make sure they are planted far enough from your foundation.

Can foundation problems be prevented?

Some things can be done to prevent foundation damage. Conditions vary across the country, so it is best to consult a local expert for specific recommendations for your home. Gregory says that “the best thing a homeowner can do to try and mitigate any future settlement is to manage drainage and vegetation.”

Here are some actionable strategies:

  • Use foundation watering systems to keep moisture consistent during dry spells
  • Install in-ground drains to move excess water away from the house
  • Plant trees and shrubs an appropriate distance from your foundation
  • Have the soil compaction tested before building a new home
  • Keep your gutters and downspouts clear and use extenders to direct water away

What if your foundation is already compromised?

In most cases, foundation problems can be corrected. The most popular way to repair your home is with steel piles that are driven deep into the ground until they hit stable soil. These are used to lift the foundation back into place and provide long-lasting support.

If you suspect foundation failure, don’t wait to call a professional. The damage typically gets worse with time.

Sarah Hutchinson is the Director of Digital Content at ConcreteNetwork.com, the top online resource for the decorative concrete and repair industry. For ten years, Sarah has worked with industry experts and contractors across the U.S. and Canada to educate consumers about the possibilities of concrete. ConcreteNetwork.com can also be found on Facebook and Instagram.

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