How can I tell if the foundation of my house is damaged?

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The foundation of your home may not be on your renovation wishlist, but it should definitely be on your home maintenance checklist. Your foundation keeps your home’s structure intact. A damaged and overlooked foundation can lead to a snowball of costly and avoidable repairs. To find out how homeowners should address a possible foundation repair, we checked in with Ron Sluder, foundation expert and Consultant at Ram Jack Systems.

What are the signs that suggest a foundation may be in need of repair?

All houses can settle with time and that is okay as long as the settlement is minimal and the house settles uniformly. Problems occur when only a part of the house settles or heaves, depending on the clay content of the soil. If one corner of a structure starts to settle and the rest of the house does not, you may see cracks in the interior walls and the exterior walls--the bricks, blocks and siding. You may also see separations in the boards of a hardwood floor or tiles inside the house. Sometimes there may also be separation in the roof as the house begins to pull itself downward.

What are the causes of foundation cracking?

There are many reasons why a structure’s foundation fails, but it ultimately comes down to the simple fact that the underlying soil that the foundation is setting on can no longer support the load. The reasons for settlement are varied, but can usually be narrowed down to the following:

  • Soil and water. Too much water can cause the soil to become overly saturated which, over time, dilutes or weakens the soil’s bearing capacity.
  • Clay soils, prevalent in over 50 percent of the soils that houses are built on in the United States, creates its own unique problems. Too little water can make a structure’s foundation settle as moisture in the clay soil evaporates, causing the dry clay soil to shrink. As it shrinks, the foundation loses its soil support, causing the structure’s foundation to settle with it. Too much water can cause the clay soil to expand (known as heave), and as the soil moves upward it can literally “lift" the structure in the affected area or areas.
  • Sometimes the cause of a structure’s settlement is poor engineering or the lack thereof. At Ram Jack, we have seen houses with significant foundation failure but no obvious cause. As we begin our evaluation with the homeowner, we find out that they have remodeled and added additional rooms to the house, but never thought to have the house’s foundation reinforced to support the heavier loads.
  • Occasionally the problem is one of a construction nature. The builder under-engineered the project, resulting in an inferior foundation.

What could happen to a home if a foundation problem goes overlooked?

These are the three major reasons to solve the problem:

1. Problems will get worse: Every season, the damages can increase costing more to repair in the future.

2. Resale value is negatively impacted: It’s important to maintain positive equity. Nobody wants to buy a home with existing foundation problems.

3. Doors will start to stick: Doors and windows that do not open properly pose a serious safety concern to your family.

Are there any preventive steps a homeowner can take to avoid foundation cracking?

Yes, homeowners can make sure that their home has proper drainage. A good gutter system and soil with the proper grading that diverts water away from the foundation is a very effective way to prevent foundation failure.

If a homeowner does any remodeling that adds additional weight to a structure’s foundation, they should have an engineer determine if the current foundation can support the new loads that will be transferred to the foundation. Additionally, be sure to hire a contractor who uses engineering and follows the permit requirements for the area.

If a homeowner notices cracks anywhere, they should contact a foundation repair expert as soon as possible. Most cracks are minimal at first, but left unattended they can get worse costing the homeowner more to have them repaired.

Repair all leaking exterior faucets and ensure that condensing water from A/C units are diverted away from the structures foundation.

How often are homes in need of foundation repair?

This is dependent on many factors:

A. What is causing the settlement?

B. What repair method was applied in the initial repair?

C. Has the cause of the settlement been corrected?

D. What company completed the repair?

E. Have any additional loads been added to the foundation since it was last repaired?

When a structure is repaired by a company that uses steel driven piles or helical steel piles, as Ram Jack does, there should be no need to have that area repaired again. These piles penetrate through the soils that cannot support the structures loads until they reach bedrock or load-bearing strata in the earth that is dense enough to support the structure's loads. Again, done correctly by a reputable foundation repair company, it should be a permanent solution.

Foundation repair can be expensive so it is crucial that the homeowner chooses a qualified foundation repair expert with the following criteria:

  • The contractor will use a repair method that has the capacity to penetrate through the soils, that cannot support the foundation loads, down to soil that is dense enough (bedrock or load bearing strata) to support the foundations loads.
  • The foundation repair company needs to be an ICC-ES recognized company. The International Code Counsel-Evaluation Services (ICC-ES) is an independent company that can test a company’s products to its maximum limits to determine if they meet their guidelines. Ram Jack is one of only four companies in the United States that is recognized as meeting their strict requirements.
  • The foundation repair company should also have a "100% Transferable Limited Lifetime Warranty" with a warranty trust to protect the homeowner should future problems occur. Ram Jack has both.
  • The company should have a superior Better Business Rating.

Also get the answers to these questions:

  • How long has the company been in business?
  • How are their employees trained?
  • Is the company properly insured?
  • Does the company have any active lawsuits or pending litigation?
  • Does the company manufacture its products and how often are these products tested?

For complete information on questions to ask every contractor, see Consumer Protection: Everything You Need To Know About Hiring A Contractor Part 2 Of 3 and then check our contractor listings to find a qualified pro in your area.

For more information about Ram Jack Systems visit, www.ramjack.com

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