How We Repair Cracked and Bowing Basement Walls (and Shifting Foundations)
Have you noticed your basement walls bowing inward? Maybe you’ve even seen some horizontal cracks forming? If so, this is a problem you should deal with right away because the longer you wait, the more expensive it will get! Bowed and cracked basement walls are usually caused by pressure from the surrounding soil, and it’s a problem that always gets worse over time, if left uncorrected. But by dealing with cracked and bowing basement walls quickly, you can literally save your home from crumbling around you—and save your budget from the higher repair costs associated with the more severe foundation issues that will undoubtedly occur later on.
What Causes Bowing and Horizontal Cracks in Basement Walls?
Bowing is the often result of the soil around your home pressing inward on the foundation and basement walls. It can get worse if the soil is full of water after heavy rains or flooding. This additional force is called “hydrostatic pressure,” and it increases the strain on your home’s concrete structures. The first symptom you may see is leakage because concrete is porous, and with enough pressure around it, water can eventually seep through to the basement interior. If you’re experiencing basement leakage for the first time—or a noticeable increase in leakage compared to your basement’s past history—it’s time to call a repair professional because the problem will only get worse.
Even without the presence of leakage, you may see another symptom: bowing walls. At this point, you should definitely call a professional.
The next, and most serious indication of a foundation problem is horizontal cracking, and your home is in serious trouble at this point.
Don’t worry it can be repaired, but again, the earlier, the better!
A Closer Look at Hydrostatic Pressure
Hydrostatic pressure is a major contributor to home foundation damage, and part of the problem is that the pressure increases and decreases as seasons change. You may notice that the bowing or cracking get better during dry months, when there is less water in the soil, and worse during wet months, when there is more. This flexing of your walls, in and out, over and over, causes tiny fault lines to form in the concrete. Tiny fault lines become big fault lines, and pretty soon, visible cracks appear.
Other Symptoms of Home Foundation Problems
The symptoms described above can show up in any order. You may see bowing without leakage. You may see horizontal cracks before you notice bowing. So, what types of early warning signs can you look for?
Some of the symptoms of a shifting foundation may not seem like much, at first glance, but if you train your “homeowner’s eye” to watch for them, you can recognize problems before they become more expensive to repair. We recommend that you do a visual inspection of your home’s concrete structures once a year, using this foundation damage checklist:
- • Drywall cracks inside, and exterior wall cracks on the outside. If you have a brick exterior, you may see small zig zag cracks. With other construction materials, you may see misaligned siding panels or caulking gaps around door and window frames.
- • Doors and/or windows are “stickier” than they used to be. When these basic, mechanical parts of your home become hard to open and close, a settling foundation is often the cause.
- • Gaps between ceiling and crown molding. This is an easy giveaway of a foundation problem.
- • Creases, wrinkles, or tears in wallpaper. As a settling foundation subtly reshapes interior walls, wallpaper can malform on their surfaces, exhibiting these symptoms.
- • Popped nails. This may look like a nail head trying to jut through the paint, or like a nail-head-shaped dent in the surface of drywall or exterior parts. This is an indication that the support structure of your home is shifting.
- • Your patio appears to have pulled away from the foundation. That’s probably not your patio moving. It’s your house.
- • Sloping floors. No house is perfect, even when it’s brand new. A difference of one inch in elevation every 15 feet is considered acceptable. But more than an inch means the foundation is moving. If the dog’s rubber ball always rolls to the same corner of the room, it’s time to call an expert.
- • Sunken floors. This is at the high end of the warning-sign spectrum. If you have low spots near the foundation—or notice a sinking foundation from out outside—your house’s structure is very sick. Don’t worry; it can still be repaired, but the complexity of the job, and therefore the cost, goes up.
- • Bowed basement walls. As we mentioned earlier, this is a dead giveaway of foundation shift.
What Else Can Cause Horizontal Cracks and Bowing Walls?
There are other potential causes of bowing and cracked walls, and it’s important to identify the cause, so you can deal with it promptly and effectively. Here are some possible culprits:
Tree and Shrub Roots
Your foundation damage could be caused by a huge root from the old oak tree, way off in the corner of the yard. Roots from trees and shrubs can travel amazing distances underground, and they can exert a lot of force when they hit a foundation or basement wall, as in nature, where roots routinely split boulders over time. This, too, is a repairable issue.
Cracked and bowing walls could be caused by a flaw in the home’s original construction that’s just beginning to manifest as a problem. This can happen when a contractor lays a foundation in poorly prepared soil, or when they simply cut corners to rush through a job.
On the other hand, if you see bowed or cracked interior drywall panels and no other problems, it may be that they were simply installed wrong. Whatever the cause, a foundation and basement professional can evaluate the damage and help you get to the bottom of it.
Soil and Settling
Most of us think of the earth as being solid beneath our feet, but it isn’t. Like the earth’s tectonic plates deep below the surface, soil also shifts and “flows.” This can become a problem if foundation footers are installed in loose soil. Or if they’re installed in soil with too high a clay content, the clay may expand drastically when wet and cause uneven pressure against the foundation.
If you’ve lived mostly in newer homes, you may not even think of the foundation as something that requires attention, but for homes over a certain age, foundation maintenance is as important as roof and siding upkeep. If you live in an area where the soil sometimes has high water content, the foundation may “age” even faster than normal.
Let’s revisit this in a bit more depth because it’s the most common cause of foundation problems. Hydrostatic pressure can exert force against the foundation from the sides and from the bottom, simultaneously pushing inward and upward against the walls. Over time this causes the characteristic bowing associated with foundation issues.
Repairing the Damage
The type of repair you need depends on the type of damage you have. Here are some techniques we may employ when you call AAA Basement and Foundation Repair:
The Power Beam System
This patented mechanical reinforcement system allows us to push back on leaning or bowing basement walls, locking them in in place in a very short amount of time. Unlike more extreme measures, this method doesn’t require us to excavate the landscape around the home. Instead, we fasten vertical joists to anchors installed in the basement floor, which arrests further wall movement. We love the results we get with this system, so we’re a licensed Power Beam dealer.
Grip-Tite Plate Anchors
This is another very cool invention that pushes back against the forces of nature. And it’s a great way to preserve the mechanical integrity of your basement and protect your investment in your home. The Grip Tite system employs its patented Earth Contact Product Plate Anchors, which form a sort of flat-faced vise that pulls outward on the basement wall by gripping a large section of solid soil outside. These “wall vises” can be tightened over time to straighten bowed walls. It’s very effective, and it’s one of the most economical foundation repair solutions available. Grip Tite Anchors are also a great option when water lines or electrical conduit obstruct access to the wall, or if your home has fabricated floor trusses.
Grip Tite Steel Piers
Some parts of the country are better than others for home construction because different soils have different levels of susceptibility to changes in moisture content. Some climates have more pronounced groundwater freezes and thaws—another huge factor in foundation longevity. Some construction sites can’t safely support structures at all without the use of deeply buried steel piers beneath the house.
If you live in such an area, your home may suffer from premature settling of the foundation, if piers were not used in the original construction. The problem can be remedied by the addition of Grip Tite Steel Piers to your home’s foundation. This budget-friendly solution stabilizes the structure and prevents future foundation movement.
To install Grip Tite Piers, we bury them much deeper than the original foundation, where the earth is solid and able to solidly support the building. The piers are then fastened to the foundation with heavy-duty brackets.
This bypasses the shifting soil problem that caused the foundation to settle and provides permanent structural support for the home.
Foundation piering also “squares up” the building, correcting shifted structural elements and thereby alleviating problems with sticking windows and doors. Wall cracks resulting from foundation settlement can then be permanently repaired.
Are You in Need of Cracked and Bowing Walls / Shifting Foundation Repair?
Let’s pause to affirm that many homeowners don’t give a lot of attention to foundation shift because it happens slowly and doesn’t occur as often as other home maintenance problems. If a light switch isn’t working, or your kitchen faucet is leaky, you know it right away, and you deal with it promptly. But concrete damage manifests almost invisibly over time, so it can escape your notice if you don’t deliberately add foundation inspection to your mental toolbox as you care for your home.
We recommend that you inspect your foundation once a year to look for signs of settling. Use the checklist above. If you see even minor changes, call AAA Basement and Foundation Repair right away at (316) 733-5400. The sooner we identify and correct the problem, the less it will cost. And one thing is certain: small foundation problems always turn into big foundation problems, if you don’t tackle them promptly.