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Cracked Foundation

by Matt Goering

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A cracked foundation is no laughing matter. In fact, it can be cause for serious alarm. Foundation cracking is usually a sign of larger problems, and since your foundation ultimately holds up your home, this is one home improvement issue you don't want to waste any time addressing.

Causes of Cracked Foundations
It's nearly impossible to tell what causes foundation cracking if you're not an expert in engineering and foundation repair. Still, there are some common root problems that are severe enough to cause a foundation to shift and pull apart, and almost all of them have to do with soil quality and moisture. More specifically, most foundation problems are related to poor soil beneath the foundation that is either from settling or has uneven moisture content.

  • Settling Soil: If your soil is settling, you've probably got your home builder to blame. It's usually the result of poorly tamped footers or of a build site where loose fill dirt was used to level out the ground under one side of the foundation.

  • Soil Moisture: Besides settling soil, varying degrees of soil moisture in the soil around your foundation are the most common sources of foundation cracking. Soil shrinks when it dries and expands when it's wet. A home where soil moistures vary in areas around and under the foundation can suffer a cracked foundation from the differences in pressure on the concrete, brick, or masonry blocks that make up your foundation walls and floors.

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    Foundation Repair

    Call in a Structural Engineer
    If your home is the victim of cracked foundations, the first thing you should do is call in a structural engineer to evaluate the problem for you. A structural engineer usually performs two services for people with cracked foundations. The first is to identify the source of the problem by investigating your foundation and the soil around it. The second is to draw up a plan for repairing the problem and making sure it doesn't happen again.

    Another reason that it's a good idea to hire a structural engineer for an initial diagnosis is because they can serve as an honest third party once you start taking bids on the repair. Since they don't have a stake in the process after diagnosing the problem and determining a path of action, you can use their report and suggestions as a way to evaluate the honesty, and experience, of whoever you bring in to bid on the repair itself.

    Foundation Repair
    Structural engineers are likely to recommend one of two types of foundation repair for homes suffering from cracked foundations. The first is mudjacking, a process in which a concrete mix called "grout" is pumped beneath your foundation to raise it up to its original height. This solution is perfect for homes where foundation problems are the result of settling soil that has caused the foundation to shift and settle. If your foundation problems are more severe, however, you might need to look into piering to shore up your settling foundation. This process includes drilling steel piers down to bedrock or a suitable soil layer, and then attaching them to your foundation to raise it up to its original height.

    Act Quickly!
    Once your structural engineer has laid out a plan for repairing your cracked foundations, call the appropriate professional and get your foundation fixed as soon as possible. It's not going to be cheap, but your problem is only going to get worse if you leave it be. Remember, the integrity of your entire home rides on your foundation functioning properly. That being the case, it's important that you do whatever is necessary to fix the problem as soon as you can.

    Matt Goering, formerly a carpenter and house painter, is a freelance writer for the home improvement industry who has published over 600 articles.