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Everything you need to know about foundation repair

Unexpected foundation damage can cost homeowners thousands in repairs. Learn everything you need to know about repair costs, warning signs, and prevention techniques.

Vivian Tejada
December 19, 2023
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The foundation is one of the most important aspects of a property. A sinking foundation can compromise the structural integrity of your home, resulting in dangerous living conditions and expensive home repairs. As a homeowner, it's important to be aware of warning signs, prevention techniques, and foundation repair methods. This will help you act quickly and strategically if and when foundation damage is discovered.

This article will discuss how to identify a sinking foundation, what causes it, and the long-term consequences of leaving repairs unaddressed. We’ll also guide how to fix a sinking foundation and the costs associated with different foundation repairs. 

Causes and consequences of a sinking foundation

Homeowners should know that minor foundation shifts are to be expected. As time passes, properties settle into the ground causing their foundations to shift slightly. Issues arise when a home’s foundation shifts too frequently or abruptly, such as after an earthquake. There are two ways homeowners can categorize changes to their foundation: sinking and shifting.

A sinking foundation can be caused by changes to the soil beneath the home, due to factors such as extreme weather, erosion, or poor drainage. Excessive downward pressure concentrated in one area of the home could also lead to the home’s foundation bending inward. This causes the home to appear as if it is sinking in the middle. A sinking foundation is extremely dangerous and can render a property uninhabitable.

A shifting foundation isn’t as concerning. As long as the shifts are small a shifting foundation shouldn’t cause major issues. The dirt under your home’s foundation naturally shifts over time, causing some level of breakage to your foundation settlement. Generally, homes located in warm climates with high humidity levels or coastal cities with a high risk of earthquakes are more vulnerable to rapid foundation shifts. However, a shifting foundation can become a sinking foundation if foundation damage remains unattended for an extended period.

6 warning signs of a sinking foundation

The key to keeping your home safe and foundation repair costs low is to detect foundation damage as early as possible. There are six warnings every homeowner can keep an eye out for. Some signs of foundation damage are obvious, while others are more silent. Consider some of the most common warning signs of foundation issues below.

Wall cracks

Foundation walls tend to move over time. It’s a natural occurrence and not usually a cause for concern. As time passes, small settlement movements can cause vertical hairline cracks that are barely visible along your home’s exterior and interior walls. These minor cracks are to be expected and minimally problematic. 

Horizontal cracks, on the other hand, pose a greater threat — concrete block walls should not be cracking in multiple places. Larger cracks following a zigzag pattern on a home's exterior walls are clear signs of foundation damage. Any cracks wider than a quarter of an inch should be assessed by a foundation expert. 

Bouncing floors

Sagging or bouncing floorboards is another sign of a destabilized foundation. At first, your floors may start to squeak, but if they start lifting or sinking when you walk on them, chances are the foundation beneath them has been compromised. In most cases, homeowners will discover that the foundation has settled incorrectly or their home’s support beams have shifted. 

Separated cabinets or counters 

Not all homeowners know that foundation damage can easily be spotted in the kitchen. While bouncing floorboards and wall cracks are two of the more apparent signs, crooked cabinets, and dislodged counters are also signs of a crumbling foundation. Cabinet doors can loosen due to overuse. However, the frame in which a cabinet is placed should never be loose. Loose cabinet frames and kitchen countertops could be signs of foundation issues in the home. 

Warped or cracked siding

The condition of your home’s siding also helps identify foundation issues. Cracked or warped siding can indicate cracks or gaps between your home’s siding and concrete foundation. These gaps are dangerous because they allow moisture and pests in — which only complicates your home maintenance needs. In addition to addressing foundation repairs, you may also need to address moisture accumulation or termite infestations. Both moisture accumulation and termite infestations are time-sensitive issues that should be addressed as soon as possible.

Stuck doors 

Similar to cabinets and countertops, foundation shifts can cause doors to separate from their original positions. Cabinet and countertop separations can make it difficult to open and close doors without them getting stuck. In some cases, a door may even visibly stick out of its door frame. 

You may notice these occurrences during the warmer months, given that increased humidity levels often cause wooden frames to shift. However, if your doors are difficult to open and close year-round, you should order a foundation inspection immediately to assess the ground beneath your home's doors.

Plumbing and drainage issues 

Lastly, another sign of foundation damage is running into plumbing and drainage issues. A sinking foundation can pinch pipes, creating proper drainage and flow issues throughout the property. Additionally, you may see water pool around the home, especially around uneven floors. 

It can indicate that the wooden panels on top of your home's foundation are starting to rot or are rotted. Replacing these wooden panels can be expensive, so it's important to ensure your gutters and other drainage systems are functioning year-round.

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How to fix a sinking foundation

If you notice any of the warning signs listed above, reach out to a foundation expert to determine the next steps. Sinking foundations require special tools and industry knowledge to fix. Only certified foundation experts can identify exactly where your foundation is sinking, the extent of the damage to your home, and how to fix it. Here are some common strategies used by foundation professionals to repair sinking foundations:

Basement underpinning 

Basement underpinning is a foundation repair method that requires an excavation of the area around the foundation to install hydraulic piers. Foundation repair experts will install these piers at various points beneath a home’s foundation to stabilize the entire structure. Underpinning is considered a more permanent foundation repair, even if the soil beneath it continues to shift. Homeowners usually spend $1,000 to $3,000 per helical pier.

Mud jacking 

Mud jacking also involves leveling a home, except it doesn’t require excavation or heavy equipment. Also referred to as slab jacking, this process involves pumping a grout mixture into a space below a home's concrete slab foundation. The grout mixture floats into the correct position and, consequently, levels the home. While mud jacking is a cheaper alternative to basement underpinning, it’s not a permanent solution to foundation damage. You’ll need to continue maintaining your home’s foundation as it settles. Mud jacking costs between $500 and $1,800 to complete. 

Foundation sealing

Not all foundation damage is due to soil shifts. Some foundation damage is a result of improper drainage and moisture accumulation within a crawl space. In this case, you may benefit more from sealing your foundation than leveling it. Foundation sealing involves waterproofing your foundation to prevent mold and mildew growth beneath your home. This technique costs anywhere between $2,300 and $7,575 to implement

Foundation reinforcement

A less invasive and more preventative method for foundation damage is foundation reinforcement. Minor foundation damage can usually be fixed by filling in a few cracks. This process is referred to as foundation reinforcement and is most effective when the foundation is showing minor signs of instability but is not yet sinking. Depending on the size and amount of foundation cracks that need reinforcing, this technique costs between $700 and $5,000 per section

How much does foundation repair cost?

Foundation repair costs depend on the foundation repair method used, the type of foundation being repaired, and the severity of the damage. On average, homeowners spend about $4,974 on foundation repair costs. In rare cases, severe foundation problems necessitate a full foundation replacement, which can cost between $50,000 to over $100,000. Given the high cost of repair, most homeowners won't go through with a complete foundation replacement, rendering the home uninhabitable. 

If the home is salvageable, homeowners should look into their financing options to fund foundation repairs. Some options even come with zero interest

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Final thoughts on how to prevent costly foundation repairs

Given the high and unpredictable costs of foundation repairs, it’s best for homeowners to avoid or at least mitigate foundation damage whenever possible. Scheduling regular inspections and maintaining landscaping is key to detecting foundation issues before they escalate. It’s also important to do a walkthrough of your property after severe weather conditions. Hurricanes, earthquakes, and even heavy rain can cause the soil beneath your home to shift and result in foundation damage.

Once foundation problems are discovered, promptly address the issue by calling a foundation repair company to assess the damage. Delaying necessary home maintenance often results in more expensive repairs. This is especially true for a foundation repair project because it's not usually the kind of home repair you can DIY. Chances are you’ll need to pay to fix your foundation issues which can be difficult if damage is suddenly revealed. 

Luckily, Point offers a convenient and accessible way to tap into home equity for home repairs or any other financial obligation. The Home Equity Investment (HEI) provides qualifying homeowners with up to $500,000, which they can use to fund home improvements, weatherproof their properties, or another life project.

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