Foundation Problems and Charlotte NC Home Values:
According to the “National Insurance Service”, foundation settlement has caused a “greater financial loss to homeowners than floods, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tornados combined.” The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that at least 1/4 of all homes in the United States have experienced some damage due to foundation settlement. That’s a lot of damage!
Charlotte, North Carolina is not an exception. In fact, foundation settlement is a common occurrence in and around the Charlotte area.
What Causes Foundation Failure?
More often than not, the answer is expansive soil. Most homeowners have never even heard the term before. I think the reason is because the damage is usually done slowly and cannot be attributed to a single event. Therefore, the damage is blamed on poor construction practices or the misconception that all homes experience this type of damage as they age.
So, what is this “expansive soil”? Expansive soils contain minerals, which are capable of absorbing water. When they absorb water, the soil volume increases. When they dry out the soil volume decreases. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, some expansive soils can increase or decrease volume by as much as ten percent.
More than likely you have seen expansive soils and just did not know it. Everyone in the Charlotte, NC area is familiar with the red clay soils. You know, the clay that ruins your white tennis shoes and stains your children’s clothes? That’s the stuff we are talking about.
During the dry, hot days of summer have you ever seen cracks in the soil under your house or even in your yard? These are technically known as desiccation cracks and they are the result of soil shrinkage due to loss of water.
How Do Expansive Soils Damage My Foundation?
The typical answer is the cycle of shrinking and swelling. During the wet times of the year, the soils will absorb water and begin to swell. As the soil volume increases, upward pressure will be placed on the foundation and in some cases the foundation will actually be lifted. This is known as “soil heave”. But what usually happens is some soil oozes around the foundation as it swells. Think of it like mud oozing between your toes.
Now, when the dry seasons come, the soils begin to dry up and shrink. Because some soil oozed around the foundation, some soil volume was lost. Therefore, when it dries and shrinks there is not as much soil under the footing. This cycle of events will eventually cause enough soil loss to allow the foundation to settle.
Clay soils can also lose bearing capacity when they become super saturated. Think of this like standing on hard clay in your yard. If someone where to turn the water hose on at your feet the clay will eventually turn to mud and you will begin to sink. The same thing can happen to your foundation.
Other Possible Causes:
While expansive soils are the most common cause of foundation settlement in the Charlotte area, there are certainly other causes.
It is uncommon, but builder error can certainly lead to foundation settlement. The typical error of builders is the foundation’s footings are not large enough or they are not situated deep enough in the ground.
Unconsolidated fill soils are another common builder error. It is totally acceptable to utilize fill soils, however great care must be taken to insure that the soils are properly compacted. If fill soils are not compacted properly, long-term soil consolidation will occur. This condition is guaranteed to lead to foundation settlement.
There are many scenarios which could lead to foundation settlement. If you think you might have foundation settlement, it is not advisable to waste time trying to figure out what caused it. Think of it like a flat tire on your car. It really does not matter if a nail or a screw caused the flat, you still have a flat tire.
How Do I Know If My Home Has Experienced Foundation Settlement?
There are some very common indicators of foundation settlement, which are visible to anyone. The most common, of course, is cracked brick. The cracks usually appear around a window or exterior door and will run in a diagonal stair-step pattern. The cracks are typically wider at the top than the bottom. Another common indicator is separation of window and door brick molds. This is the area where the brick meets the door or window. One side of the window or door will have a gap, which is larger than the other side. There are also the other common problems of leaning chimneys, doors and windows which will not open or shut properly, or cracks in the interior walls. If you have noticed any of these symptoms it is important to have a reputable foundation repair company provide you with a professional diagnosis and plan of repair. Left unattended foundation problems will do nothing but become more expensive.
Will homeowners insurance cover foundation repairs?
Most homeowner’s policies exclude coverage for foundation repair. Only in cases where foundation movements have been caused by sudden and accidental discharge of water from a household plumbing system (sewer or supply) is there a possible chance for coverage. It is recommended that you carefully review the exclusion clauses of your policy before you contact your insurance company.
Are You Selling Your House?
Foundation settlement can stop a real estate transaction in its tracks. Many real estate closings go down the tube due to foundation problems. It is typically only after someone has had this happen that they call us to correct the situation. If you are thinking of selling your house, it is extremely advantageous to have any foundation problems corrected before the home is listed. Not only will this prevent closing problems, a lifetime transferrable warranty will actually protect the value of the home, so be sure to ask your foundation repair contractor if they offer this kind of warranty!