In the construction industry, building a strong foundation for a house is essential for the safety and longevity of the structure. The entire structure’s weight rests on the shoulders of the foundation, thus, ensuring that this should be done right at the outset is paramount.
This means that foundation failure can be completely avoided when the right type of foundation is chosen for a particular house or building.
Without a dependable and sturdy base, a building can quickly sink into ruin and decay, be it through weathering, or poor construction.
What is a House Foundation?
In simple terms, a house foundation is a built underground part of a building that bears the entire structure’s load. Technically, these support systems transfer the load of a building into the ground.
With regular changes in weather, soil conditions, and forces of nature, the building foundation should be able to withstand these shifts.
Different types of house foundations suit different needs and locations.
Types of House Foundations
One of the major roles of a good house foundation is to ensure that other building parts remain in their place. The type of house foundation chosen for a particular project depends on the soil type, overall budget, location, humidity, climate, and terrain.
Below are some of the most common house foundation types:
This is the most popular type of foundation used for residential construction. It’s built by excavating soil, pouring concrete walls into it, and reinforcing them with steel rods.
The basement foundation provides a large, dry space below grade where both plumbing and electrical systems can be run without taking up precious living area within the home.
Basement foundations are ideal for locations with shallow water tables since they provide a damp-proof barrier between the home and the ground.
A concrete foundation comprises of a thick layer of reinforced concrete, which is poured and left to cure in the ground. This type of foundation provides excellent support for heavier structures and can be used for both residential and commercial buildings.
Concrete foundations are particularly useful in areas prone to earthquakes as they are highly resistant to seismic activity.
The majority of homeowners prefer concrete foundations since they don’t require a lot of budget to build.
Steel reinforcement bars, wire mesh, and concrete are the only materials needed for this type of foundation, making it an ideal option for budget-conscious homeowners.
The downside of concrete foundations is that the drain pipes must be installed during construction. Failure to do so could lead to water penetration, which can weaken the foundation over time.
Crawlspace Foundation / Raised Floor
A crawlspace foundation is a basement-like structure, typically made from concrete blocks, that elevates the building above ground level.
This type of house foundation keeps basements and other areas dry, providing a space for HVAC equipment, plumbing lines, and other utilities to be run.
It’s also commonly used in locations where the soil is too wet or where the water table is high, as it provides a barrier between the home and ground moisture.
Crawlspace foundations are a great option for budget-conscious homeowners since they require fewer materials and labor than other foundation types. They’re cheaper than basement foundations and also offer easy access to below-floor utilities.
They’re mostly preferred by people living in warm areas, and because of their elevation, it’s also known in helping prevent a termite infestation.
This is widely used in coastal regions due to the constantly shifting soil. Pier foundations are also common in flooding areas.
Their construction requires some level of expertise and planning. A structural engineer should be consulted to determine the best design for a particular project.
Pier foundations are constructed by driving several concrete or steel pilings deep into the ground and then connecting them with beams and columns. These pilings act as footings, transferring the load of the building to the bedrock below.
Unlike other foundation types, pier foundations provide strong support to the structure even when faced with extreme weather conditions. They also provide good drainage, making them an ideal option for areas prone to flooding or high water tables.
Wooden foundations are constructed using wooden planks, which are attached to horizontal beams. This type of foundation is mostly used in areas where the soil is too wet or where the bedrock is too shallow.
The wood provides a solid footing to support the structure and also offers insulation against moisture buildup.
Wooden foundations are relatively inexpensive and can be installed relatively quickly.
They also provide good drainage and help protect the home from water damage. The downside is that these foundations need regular maintenance and repairs, as wood is prone to rotting and warping over time.
Redwood, cedarwood, cypress wood, and douglas fir are all good options for wooden foundations.
Signs of Foundation Failure
In any structure, a stable foundation is essential in providing a safe and secure living environment. Unfortunately, foundations can start to fail due to various factors such as poor construction, shifting soils, flooding, or even an earthquake.
While they shouldn’t be taken lightly, there are some warning signs that can help you identify foundation problems early on.
The most visible sign of foundation failure are cracks in the walls, floors, or ceilings. These can be caused by settling, shifting soils, or poor construction techniques.
If you come across some visible gaps on your floor, walls, and foundation, it’s a clear sign that something is wrong with your foundation. Leaving these cracks as they are can lead to further damage, with the crack growing over time, making it an even bigger problem due to foundation shifts.
However, take note that not all cracks signify a problem in your house foundation.
Serious cracks measure about 6 inches. If your home is made of bricks, it’s easy to detect a foundation problem, especially if you see cracks both in the interior and exterior parts of your home.
Difficulty Opening and Closing Doors
What does a door have to do with a home’s foundation? When a house shifts due to a foundation issue, it can cause the doors and windows to be misaligned, making it hard for them to open or close. In some cases, the door might get completely stuck.
Before even this happens, you may have probably come across some cracks in the foundation. To bring your doors back to optimal function, you will need to fix the underlying foundation issue.
Foundation issues can also cause the floors and ceilings to sag or dip in certain spots due to uneven settling. This can be a major safety hazard for you and your family.
A contractor may perform various tests such as hydrostatic plumbing to check for possible foundation leaks.
After understanding the cause of your foundation failure, the contractor will then be able to suggest the best solution for repairing the issue.
If you notice that one side of the house is lower than the other, or if parts of your foundation look like it’s sinking, then it’s a clear sign that something is wrong. As time passes, this issue can lead to major structural damage to your home and should not be ignored.
Unfortunately, this is usually common, especially on commercial buildings due to the extra load that these structures bear.
A sinking foundation can be corrected by adding more support or by installing underpinning. This process involves drilling piers underneath the existing foundation in order to provide additional stability and strength to the structure.
Flooding or poor drainage system can cause water to seep into the foundation of your home and in turn, weaken it. Over time, this will lead to issues such as cracks and sinking foundations.
Leaking pipes or a faulty gutter system can also be culprits for water damage. If you notice any dampness or musty smell in your home, you may want to check for any water damage and fix it immediately.
To detect water damage, inspect the basement walls or crawlspaces for visible signs of moisture or mold growth. If you notice any wet spots on the wall or floor, chances are that there is a leak somewhere.
Seal any cracks you come across using polyurethane grout injections or hydraulic cement. Replace any leaking pipes and make sure that your gutter system is working properly.
Sagging or dipping floors are clear indicators of foundation failure. When there’s a problem in your foundation, it causes the floors to become uneven, creating dips or slopes in some areas.
These issues can be fixed depending on the cause and severity of the problem. It may involve underpinning, soil stabilization techniques, or simply adding support beams to provide additional stability.
If you live in graded zones, there are high chances of experiencing shifting soil. These are natural movements that can affect your foundation.
To fix this issue, you can adjust the grade around your home or stabilize the soil by adding drainage systems.
Separation of Cabinets from Walls
During the installation of cabinets, the contractor usually fixes them tightly on the walls. But when the foundation fails, it can cause them to become loose, leaving gaps between the walls and cabinets.
You need to fix this issue before replacing the cabinets. To do so, you will have to use shims or wood blocks to fill any space between the wall and cabinet before tightening up the screws again.
This is majorly a result of excess water in the soil and is common in flooding areas. When there’s complete water saturation in the soil, it causes the foundation to shift, making walls rotate.
This is a major problem and should be dealt with as soon as possible.
Cracks Around the Door and Window Frames
If you come across some gaps around your door and window frames, your damaged foundation can be the one to blame. These gaps cause air leakage and can make your home uncomfortable to live in.
To fix this, use putty or a sealant to fill the gaps, and then apply a fresh coat of paint on the doors and windows.
A tilting chimney is another sign of foundation damage. If you notice that your chimney is leaning to one side, chances are that it’s due to a damaged foundation.
This can be easily corrected by underpinning the foundation and making sure that the base is strong enough to support the weight of your chimney.
Although foundation failures can be daunting to repair, it’s best to address them as soon as possible. Not doing so can cause the issue to worsen and become an even bigger problem in the future.
If you come across any of the signs mentioned above, reach out to a structural engineer or contractor for professional assistance. They will assess the situation and provide you with detailed recommendations on how to fix the problem.