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How Much Foundation Settlement is Normal?

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Most homeowners understand that some amount of foundation settlement is normal. Still, many people remain unaware of how much settlement is ok and how much should cause them to seek a foundation settlement repair service.

Two Types of Foundation Settlement

There are two main types of foundation settlement, uniform and differential. Uniform settlement refers to when a building settles into the ground uniformly across its foundation. This means that all parts of the structure will settle at the same rate, and the building will maintain its original shape and alignment. Uniform settlement is pretty normal and usually nothing to worry about.

Foundation Settlement Differential vs Uniform

On the other hand, differential settlement occurs when different parts of a building settle at different rates. This can result in uneven settlement and cause the building to become distorted. Differential settlement is usually caused by variations in soil composition, density, and moisture content across the foundation. For example, if one side of a building is built on a weak soil layer and the other side is built on a strong soil layer, the weaker side will settle more than the stronger side, causing differential settlement.

What Causes Differential Settlement?

There are numerous factors that can cause differential foundation settlement, including soil type and composition, groundwater levels, changes in moisture content, and soil compaction.

Different types of soil have varying load-bearing capacities, and some are more prone to settling than others. For example, clay soils are notorious for their tendency to shrink and swell with variations in moisture content, leading to differential settlement. Similarly, sandy soils may be prone to consolidation and settling when subjected to heavy loads.

Groundwater levels also play a crucial role in differential foundation settlement. If the groundwater level rises, it can saturate the soil, making it less stable and more prone to settling. Conversely, if the groundwater level drops, the soil can become dry and brittle, leading to cracking and settlement.

Changes in moisture content can also cause differential settlement. For instance, during periods of heavy rain, the soil may become saturated and lead to uneven settling. Conversely, during periods of drought, the soil may shrink and cause cracking and settling.

Lastly, soil compaction is another significant factor that can lead to differential foundation settlement. If the soil is not properly compacted before construction, it can lead to uneven settling over time, leading to structural damage and instability.

Common Signs of Differential Settlement

The list below shows a few of the indicators that the settlement you see is not normal and calls for foundation settlement repair:

  1. Cracks in your foundation: Differential settlement is likely to leave cracks in your foundation. These cracks are often wide and long. In most cases, a crack resulting from differential settlement will be more than one-eighth of an inch wide and may grow over a short time.
  2. Sloping floors: The uneven nature of differential settlement results in floors that pitch in one direction or another. These sloping floors can occur at any level of your home.
  3. Stuck windows: If you experience differential settlement, the windows on all levels of your home may become difficult to open and close.
  4. Jammed doors: Similar to the previous issue, differential settlement will also make any doors in your home difficult to open and close.
  5. Drywall cracks: You might see cracks in your walls after differential settlement. Again, this can happen in your basement or anywhere else throughout your home.
  6. Drainage problems: Differential settlement could potentially affect your drainage system. Therefore, water-related issues may be a sign of uneven foundation shifts.

Signs of Foundation Problems

How Professionals Repair Differential Foundation Settlement

Discover what's normal and what's not regarding foundation settlement. Learn about the types of settlement that could affect your home and when to seek help.

Before we discuss how a professional will repair your differential foundation settlement, it is crucial to note that this is not a project you can take on independently. Performing DIY foundation repairs is likely to be unsuccessful and unsafe. Only an experienced foundation professional can accurately diagnose your foundation issue and match you to the ideal solution.

When you experience differential settlement that requires foundation settlement repair, the team you hire will likely use piers to solve the issue. These piers come in two leading forms, helical and push, both of which serve a similar purpose.

Your foundation team will insert these piers into the earth until they reach firm strata. After reaching firm strata, the foundation team will attach the piers to your foundation via a sturdy bracket. Using this connection, the foundation team will lift your home as much as possible. This process also holds your foundation in place to prevent future settlement. When the project is complete, you can expect your foundation to avoid settlement issues and have greater strength overall.

Tips On How to Prevent Differential Foundation Settlement

One of the most significant contributors to foundation problems is excess moisture in the soil. Groundwater is the primary culprit, as it can weaken the soil and cause it to shift. As a result, homeowners must take steps to control and manage the groundwater around their foundation. Here are some ways to do that:

  • To prevent excess moisture from building up around the foundation, homeowners must first ensure that the yard is correctly graded. If the ground slopes towards the foundation, water will accumulate around its base, causing the soil to become saturated. Regrading the yard is a simple solution that can help channel water away from the foundation.
  • In addition to regrading the yard, regular gutter maintenance is essential. Clogged gutters can cause water to overflow and pool around the foundation, resulting in soil saturation. To avoid this issue, homeowners must clean their gutters regularly and ensure that they are free of debris.
  • Another effective preventative measure is the use of downspout extensions. These extensions direct water further away from the foundation, preventing it from seeping into the soil.
  • Finally, installing a drain tile system can help channel excess groundwater away from the foundation. This system is composed of perforated pipes buried around the perimeter of the foundation. These pipes collect water and direct it away from the foundation, reducing the risk of soil saturation.

Tips on How to Prevent Foundation Problems

Get the Help You Need for Foundation Settlement Repair

If you live in Southern California, Nevada, or Arizona and have concerns about the settlement your foundation has experienced, contact the team at Dalinghaus Construction. We have extensive experience providing foundation repair and can offer you a wide range of other essential construction services. Contact us today to learn more.


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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