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The Philadelphia Guide to Foundation Repair

Are you a Philadelphia homeowner in need of foundation repair? If so, you’ve landed on the right page. We created this guide to help Philly homeowners learn about foundation problems, their causes, and repair solutions, and provide tips on how to help prevent foundation trouble.   

What Is a Foundation?

A foundation is essentially the base on which a building or structure is built. It’s the very first step in the construction process, and is super important because it provides the necessary support to keep everything above it – whether it’s a residential home or a skyscraper – stable and secure. In fact, a solid foundation is so important that even the smallest deviations in its design or construction can lead to major problems.

Most residential foundations in the US are one of three types: slab, basement, or crawl space. They are typically made of poured concrete or concrete blocks. 

The Most Common Causes of Foundation Problems

The two most common causes of foundation problems are differential settlement and hydrostatic pressure.

Differential Settlement

Differential settlement is when a foundation settles into the ground unevenly. The best way to describe differential settlement is via an illustration:

As you can imagine, this uneven settlement puts a lot of stress on a foundation and can cause severe structural damage.

So, what causes differential settlement?

Various things cause differential settlement, including the following:  

  • Improper site preparation – Soil needs to be compacted before construction starts. If this isn’t done correctly before laying the foundation, it can settle into the ground unevenly.
  • Expansive soil – Expansive soil swells and shrinks depending on moisture levels because it contains a lot of clay. This creates movement under the foundation, which can eventually cause differential settlement and structural damage. 
  • Erosion-prone soil – Soil that’s prone to erosion can lead to problems if poor drainage under the foundation causes it to wash away. If voids form and the foundation sinks into them, differential settlement could result.
  • Poor drainage – If water is allowed to accumulate in the ground around the foundation, it can cause expansive soil to swell and erosion-prone soil to wash away.  
  • Seismic events – Obviously, these aren’t preventable. However, homes located in earthquake-prone areas should be built with special precautions in mind to minimize the risk of damage.

Hydrostatic Pressure

Hydrostatic pressure builds up in the ground around a foundation when excess moisture in the soil can’t drain off. In other words, hydrostatic pressure is caused by poor drainage. Hydrostatic pressure pushes against foundation walls – and if the pressure isn’t relieved, a foundation wall will eventually start to bow inward and even crack

Commons Signs of a Foundation Problem

If you’re wondering whether your home’s foundation might have some issues, there are a few signs you can look out for. These include:

  • Uneven floors – Uneven floors are usually a surefire indication that something’s going on down there. So, if you notice any sloping or sagging floors, definitely get them checked out.
  • Cracks in walls, floors, or ceilings – It’s pretty normal to have a few hairline cracks here and there, but if you start noticing wider or deeper cracks – or multiple cracks in the same area – it could be a sign that your foundation is shifting.
  • Stairstep cracks in brick or masonry walls – This is a telltale sign of foundation movement. 
  • Doors and windows that don’t open and close properly – If you’ve noticed that your doors or windows are suddenly sticking or jamming, or there are gaps between the frames and the walls, you might have a foundation issue.
  • Chimneys and porches pulling away from the house – If you see gaps between the chimney or porch and the rest of the house – or they seem to be leaning away from the house – that’s a definite indication that something’s up.
  • Walls separating from the ceiling or floor – This could indicate that the foundation is starting to settle into the ground unevenly.

If you notice any of these signs in your home (or anything else that looks suspicious), you should ask a foundation repair contractor for an inspection. It’s always better to catch these things early and fix them before they can turn into bigger and more expensive problems.

How Are Foundations Repaired?

The chosen foundation repair solution will, of course, depend on the specific problem. If the problem is differential settlement, underpinning using piers will probably be the chosen solution.

Underpinning involves excavating soil from beneath the affected area and then reinforcing the foundation with a series of piers that extend the foundation down to load-bearing soil. These provide added support and stability, helping prevent further settling or damage. It’s a fairly complex process that requires the help of experienced professionals, but it can be very effective in addressing foundation issues caused by differential settlement.

If the problem was caused by hydrostatic pressure, a cracked or bowed foundation wall can be stabilized using carbon fiber straps. These straps are made from a high-strength material attached to the wall using an epoxy adhesive. Once in place, they support the wall, helping prevent further cracking or bowing.

As noted above, the choice between underpinning and carbon fiber straps (or other repair methods) largely depends on what’s causing the problem in the first place. If it’s a case of differential settlement, underpinning is typically the way to go. If the issue is a cracked or bowed foundation wall, carbon fiber straps or wall anchors may be better.

Ultimately, it’s important to work with a contractor who can properly diagnose the issue and recommend the best course of action.

What About Buying or Selling a House With a Foundation Problem?

Let’s start with the buying side. If you’re contemplating purchasing a house with a foundation issue, there are a few things you should know. First, it’s important to get a professional inspection done to determine the extent of the problem and whether it can be easily fixed. This can save you a lot of money and headache down the line. 

Second, you’ll want to research to find out whether the foundation problem affects the house’s overall value. If it’s a minor fix, it may not make too much of a difference. However, if it’s a major issue, you may want to reconsider your offer or negotiate with the seller for a lower price. 

On the selling side, remember that potential buyers will likely be wary if you’re trying to sell a house with a foundation problem. To help ease their worries, it’s important to be upfront about the issue and provide any documentation or repair records you have. 

You may also want to consider getting the foundation fixed before putting the house on the market. This can help increase the house’s value and make it more appealing to buyers. 

What Happens if a Foundation Problem Isn’t Repaired?

If you let a foundation issue go unresolved, it could seriously damage your home and wallet. Remember, the foundation is what everything else rests upon. If it starts to deteriorate, the entire structure of your home is compromised. Large cracks in walls and ceilings, doors and windows that won’t close properly, and uneven floors are all signs of a foundation problem that has gone unchecked.

But it’s not just about aesthetics. A damaged foundation can also lead to safety risks for you and your family. As the foundation shifts, it can cause gas lines, water pipes, and electrical wires to break or disconnect. This, in turn, can lead to gas leaks, flooding, or even electrical fires.

And let’s not forget about the cost. The longer you wait to address a foundation problem, the more expensive it becomes. What could have been a simple repair may evolve into a major renovation project, requiring extensive excavation and rebuilding.

In short, ignoring a foundation problem is not worth it. Do yourself a favor and have a professional assess the issue immediately. It may seem like a big expense now, but it’ll save you a lot of stress (and money) in the long run.

Things You Can Do to Help Prevent Foundation Issues

The good news is there are some things you can do that will help prevent foundation trouble. These include:

  • Regrade your yard, if necessary – This means ensuring the land around your home slopes away from the house so that water doesn’t pool up around the foundation and cause damage. It might sound like a big project, but it’s worth it in the long run.
  • Use downspout extensions – You know those little pipes that come off the sides of your house and carry water away? Well, if they don’t reach far enough away from the foundation, water can still accumulate and cause issues. By extending those downspouts, you’ll help direct water away from the home.
  • Clean gutters regularly – If your gutters get clogged up with leaves and debris, water can overflow and soak the ground around the foundation – so make sure to clean them regularly.
  • Install a drain tile system – If you really want to go the extra mile, consider installing a drain tile system. This is basically a series of buried drainage pipes that divert water away from the foundation. It’s a bit more involved than the other steps, but can be a highly effective way to prevent excess moisture from building up in the ground around the foundation.
  • Keep trees away from the foundation – Some trees have a root system as wide as their canopies. If the roots invade the ground under the foundation, they can cause a lot of trouble.  So, it’s a good idea to keep trees at least 50 feet away from the house.

Notice that most of these tips involve controlling groundwater around the foundation. This is because most foundation problems are caused by poor drainage.

If you think your Philadelphia home might need foundation repair, contact us today to schedule an inspection. If we find a problem, we’ll give you a repair estimate. 

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