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Why do Concrete Tilt Ups Settle or Sink?

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Your concrete tilt up is strong, durable, and carries weight on its shoulders like a stationary version of Atlas. Even with all those great benefits and feats, they’re not immune to their fair share of problems. While they hold an amazing amount of weight, parts of themselves will find themselves sinking into the ground. Quite literally.

This is a problem you don’t want to deal with, especially when you have other people in your building. You want to find the most optimal way your tilt-up can be repaired.

Dalinghaus Construction has been in the foundation repair business since 2015, doing projects on residential and commercial buildings in areas such as Southern California, Arizona, and Nevada. While our 2,000 foundation repair projects have involved different types of structures, their repair processes are similar. Concrete tilt-ups are no exception.

What is a concrete tilt up?

They have concrete panels that are tilted up and put together to form exterior walls.

A concrete tilt-up is used for commercial use. At least having a concrete tilt-up residential home would be very expensive. They have concrete panels that are tilted up and put together to form exterior walls.

These buildings are load-bearing walls, meaning they carry a lot of weight.

They’re also heavier than your standard residential home.

Benefits of a tilt-up

They’re aesthetically pleasing to look at compared to a steel building, in my opinion.

They can go up quickly compared to having to frame everything up. You put the panels up, seal the joints, and paint.

They’re cheaper compared to other types of commercial buildings. Wood frame structures will be labor intensive. Steel beam construction is costly and better used for highrise buildings. And while prefabricated steel frame construction is economical, they have design limitations.

For more on concrete tilt-ups, take a read at How to Shore a Concrete Tilt-Up?

Drawbacks of a tilt-up

While the exterior won’t require framing, the interior will after everything else is set up. Steel buildings will have the framing already done when they’re built.

For tilt-ups, running utilities such as electrical will need to be exposed or put between walls while the interior framing is done.

Modifications to tilt-ups are difficult compared to steel buildings. You have to worry about cutting through rebar and having to shore everything up if you want to add something like a window.

This isn’t to say modifications are an issue. They can take longer compared to other commercial buildings.

They’re also heavier than steel buildings, making them more prone to foundation settlement.

Foundation settlement and concrete tilt ups

Any structure or building will be prone to foundation settlement. A concrete tilt-up is no exception, especially with them being heavier than a residential home. The weight doesn’t necessarily guarantee they’re more prone to foundation settlement. It is a contributing factor.

What is foundation settlement?

Foundation settlement is when an area of a structure starts to sink into the ground over time. This will depend on the amount of moisture expansive soils have. As water evaporates, these soils start to shrink down.

Foundation settlement depends on the soil under a structure

Soil needs to be compacted before the construction of a building at a 95% compaction rating. This has been a requirement standard recently as we’ve come to understand soil compaction better over time.

An older building might not fall under the current compaction guidelines contractors are currently expected to abide by.

And as much as this is less of an issue, it can depend on which company previously owned a building. For example, if the previous company was previously a water transfer zone only to later be replaced by a foundation repair contractor, the soil will start to dry up.

Soil drying and shifting from shrinkage will impact a concrete tilt-up as much as any other structure. Sometimes the weight of a tilt-up will exacerbate the foundation settlement process.

Check out our article on how expansive soil can cause foundation settlement.

Signs and symptoms of foundation settlement

  • Drywall cracks
  • Stucco cracks
  • Concrete slab cracks
  • Ceiling cracks
  • Tile cracks
  • Chimney cracks
  • Sloping floors
  • Doors and windows are hard to open and close
  • Water leaks

If you see a crack or two, this won’t mean you’re for sure dealing with foundation settlement. However, finding more than one of these signs might mean you’re dealing with some foundation settlement.

Methods to repair a concrete tilt-up

Funny enough, the method of repairing a concrete tilt-up is what we would do with residential homes (with some variation).

Galvanized steel push pier and helical pier underpinnings

The slight variation will be that there is more opportunity to use push piers compared to a residential home. The weight of a concrete tilt-up makes push piers more optimal.

Push pier underpinning

Push piers are hydraulically driven into the ground using the weight of your building until they reach competent soil or bedrock.

You can probably gather enough information from the name to understand what push piers do. Push piers are hydraulically driven into the ground using the weight of your building until they reach competent soil or bedrock.

They’re mounted onto a footing bracket before being driven via a hydraulic pump.

And because they already use the weight of a structure, they’re perfect for lifting a concrete tilt-up. Yes, it is possible to lift the portion of your building affected by foundation settlement, even with heavier buildings. The area affected can be brought to the optimal level.

For a better understanding of push piers, read our article – What are Push Piers?

Helical pier underpinning

These are galvanized steel piers that use helices to be screwed into the ground via a drive motor.

These are galvanized steel piers that use helices to be screwed into the ground via a drive motor. They’re driven into the ground until they reach competent soil, bedrock, or a required torque.

These don’t require the weight of a structure to be put in. They’re put in independently and then attached to footing brackets after they reach their required depth.

To understand more about helical piers, take a gander at our in-depth article on What are Helical Piers?

A combination of both push piers and helical piers

A building being heavy doesn’t mean some parts are lighter than others. There may be areas where helical piers are required.

What should I do about my concrete tilt-up?

So far, you’ve learned about concrete tilt-ups, what causes them to settle, and how they can be repaired. The next step is to schedule a FREE 60-90 minute foundation evaluation to have your concrete tilt-up looked at.

Dalinghaus Construction can schedule you with one of our project design specialists to see if your building has any foundation settlement issues and offer a repair plan for you.

Take some extra time to educate yourself and see how soil compaction affects your structure.

For additional questions or to schedule an evaluation, call Dalinghaus Construction at (877)360-9277.


Brian Dalinghaus

Brian is one of the Co-Founders of Dalinghaus Construction. He has been in the foundation repair industry since 2005. During his career, he has been associated with helping over 4,000 homes and structures throughout California and Arizona.

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