Foundation cracks run in all shapes, sizes and directions. Some cracks are so tiny they are hard to see with the naked eye. And some are hidden deep in the interior of your foundation structure, so you may not know they are there.
Since your entire home (not to mention its occupants) depends on having a stable and safe foundation, it is vitally important to learn about the different types of foundation cracks, what they mean, which types are the most concerning and the steps to fix them.
In this post, find out what you need to know about foundation cracks, both those you can see and those you can’t.
Reasons Why Your Foundation Cracks
There are two basic reasons why your foundation may crack: normal settling over time and abnormal changes that trigger instability.
Normal foundation cracks
Normal foundation cracks especially occur with poured concrete foundations. Concrete is a naturally porous material that shrinks as it dries. This process of drying and shrinking can cause micro-fissures and even small cracks to form.
Frequently, these cracks run diagonally or vertically (in poured concrete foundations) or along block lines (in block concrete foundations).
Cracks due to natural foundation settling tend to stabilize as the foundation dries and also stabilizes. These cracks typically do not grow longer or get wider past a certain point. To monitor cracks you can see, use a pencil to mark their length and width and check back every week or so to see if there have been any changes.
If you do see the cracks growing longer or wider, or if any crack widens to more than one-eighth of an inch across, it is time to call a pro.
Abnormal foundation cracks
In addition to the normal settling process of the typical foundation, cracks can form for other reasons.
One of the most common is when the foundation is being subjected to increased hydrostatic pressure from water trapped in the surrounding soil.
Over time, the soil surrounding your foundation can change in composition or moisture content. Heavy rains, rising water tables, broken pipes, clogged plumbing and other causes can also create increased hydrostatic pressure on your foundation structure.
These types of cracks may suddenly appear in older foundations. Their appearance may be curved, crooked or jagged. Horizontal cracks are among the most concerning types of foundation cracks because they can weaken the foundation structure considerably.
Sometimes newer foundations may also crack horizontally if they have not been properly constructed. Poor-quality building materials, improper grading, inadequate drainage or a missing or malfunctioning sump pump system can all place increased pressure on even the most well-built foundation.
When the foundation structure is weak from the start, dangerous cracks are more likely to form earlier in the foundation’s useful life.
Basic Types of Foundation Cracks
These are the basic types of foundation cracks, along with an explanation of what each one may mean as far as your foundation’s health.
Some types of vertical cracks are small and form early in the process of your foundation drying and settling.
But another type of vertical crack can indicate increasing soil pressure or hydrostatic pressure, and these cracks tend to widen and leak over time.
Like vertical cracks, diagonal cracks are often associated with the natural settling process in a newly poured or built foundation.
If the cracks form a “stair step” pattern, this tells you that your foundation was built using bricks and the pressure from exterior soil and water is moving the blocks enough to break them loose from their mortar.
These cracks can widen and turn into leaks over time.
Horizontal cracks typically appear later in a foundation’s life cycle. (When they appear early on, they are most likely a sign of an improperly constructed foundation.)
These cracks can indicate increased hydrostatic pressure from the exterior that is pushing against the foundation structure. Water finding its way through into micro-fissures and narrow cracks left over from the settling process may cause bulges that turn into wider cracks.
Cracks that change direction
Cracks that change direction are indications of foundation damage, often due to hydrostatic pressure as water works its way through the concrete, using micro-fissures and narrow cracks for passageways.
Cracks that widen over time
Any crack that widens over time, regardless of direction or length, should be watched closely.
Cracks that are wider at one end
Cracks that are wider at one end than the other should be watched closely, regardless of which end is doing the widening. These are always signs of foundation damage.
How to Fix Foundation Cracks
Any signs of new foundation cracks deserve your full attention. With small, narrow cracks, it is often possible to watch and wait for some time until you see signs that the cracks are spreading or widening.
But for any crack that exceeds one-eighth of an inch in diameter or that appears to be widening, bowing, sagging, cracking unevenly or moving in a jagged pattern, this is an indication that you need to take action immediately to avoid foundation or basement damage.
Today’s advanced foundation repair technology makes it possible to completely repair most foundation cracks and apply interior basement waterproofing in just a day or two.
Fixing foundation cracks before they get worse can keep a small leak from turning into a flood.
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