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STRUCTURAL INSPECTIONS & DEFECTS
AGE of a BUILDING - how to determine
BRICK FOUNDATIONS & WALLS
CHIMNEY INSPECTION DIAGNOSIS REPAIR
COLD POUR JOINTS, CONCRETE
COLUMNS & POSTS, DEFECTS
DISASTER BUILDING INSPECTION & REPAIR
EARTHQUAKE DAMAGED FOUNDATIONS
FLOOD DAMAGE ASSESSMENT, SAFETY & CLEANUP
FLOOD DAMAGE TO FOUNDATIONS
FOOTING & FOUNDATION DRAINS
FOOTINGS EXPOSED, Repair Methods
FOUNDATION BULGE or LEAN MEASUREMENTS
FOUNDATION CONSTRUCTION TYPES
FOUNDATION CONTRACTORS, ENGINEERS
FOUNDATION CRACKS & DAMAGE GUIDE
FRAMING DAMAGE, INSPECTION, REPAIR
GRADING, DRAINAGE & SITE WORK
GUTTERS & DOWNSPOUTS
INSECT INFESTATION / DAMAGE
MOBILE HOMES, DOUBLEWIDES, TRAILERS
MODULAR HOME CONSTRUCTION
MOISTURE CONTROL in BUILDINGS
RETAINING WALL DESIGNS, TYPES, DAMAGE
RETAINING WALL GUARD RAILINGS
STRAW BALE CONSTRUCTION
STRUCTURAL DAMAGE PROBING
STRUCTURAL WOOD ASSESSMENT
THERMAL EXPANSION of MATERIALS
TIMBER FRAMING, ROT
WATER BARRIERS, EXTERIOR BUILDING
WATER ENTRY in BUILDINGS
WINTERIZE A BUILDING
Vertical foundation movement: this article gives details about how to evaluate & diagnose the cause of vertical foundation movement and the foundation settlement or other cracks that are observed. We discuss settlement cracks, leaning or tipping foundation walls, vertical or "up and down" shifts or heaves in foundation walls and footings and related problems.
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Vertical foundation movement may be foundation settlement, frost heaves, movement caused by expansive clay soils, footing settlement, or severe damage from earthquakes or other more sudden forces. Diagnosing the type of foundation movement and its cause are essential in deciding on the appropriate measures to repair a damaged foundation wall and to prevent future foundation damage.
Leaning buildings: Our photo, courtesy of Tom Smith, shows the Leaning Tower of Pisa - whose foundation has moved both laterally and vertically as the structure began tipping even during construction.
We distinguish among vertical movement, horizontal movement, leaning, tipping, bending, differential and uniform settlement, earthquake and storm damage, and other foundation damage patterns. This article series describes how to recognize and diagnose various types of foundation failure or damage, such as foundation cracks, masonry foundation crack patterns, and moving, leaning, bulging, or bowing building foundation walls.
Also see FOUNDATION CRACK EVALUATION for a discussion of the diagnosis of specific crack patterns in masonry foundations, and see FOUNDATION BULGE or LEAN MEASUREMENTS which explains a simple method for determining how much bulge or lean is present in a foundation or wall, then see FOUNDATION MOVEMENT ACTIVE vs. STATIC which helps determine if the foundation movement is ongoing, and see FOUNDATION DAMAGE SEVERITY for a discussion of just how much foundation movement is likely to be a concern.
To be used properly, this information must be combined with specific on-site observations at the particular building in order to form a reliable opinion about the condition of that building's foundation. Anyone having concern regarding the structural stability, safety, or damage of a building, foundation or other components, should consult a qualified expert. Photographs of types of foundation cracks and other foundation damage: we have a large library of photographs which we're always adding to this document. Contact us with questions or suggestions.
Foundation walls or building piers can be lifted vertically by frost heaving, by frost lensing, as well as bulged or pushed inwards by horizontal pressure from frozen soils. See BUCKLED FOUNDATIONS due to INSULATION? for additional details about these phenomena.
Here are some classes of vertical foundation or building wall movement which we illustrate and discuss in more detail below
A Common Source of Vertical Frost Heave - Un-heated Homes
Frost and soil pressure can also cause horizontal movement of the building foundation or piers, as we discuss further at HORIZONTAL MOVEMENT IN FOUNDATIONS.
Non-Uniform Building Settlement - Leaning or Tipping Buildings
Other Building Movement Causes & Cracks
Vertical movement between different sections of a masonry foundation wall, whether it is constructed of concrete, concrete block, brick, or stone, tends to produce vertical cracks or a combination of vertical and step cracks through the wall, though there are definitely exceptions to this rule, as we will point out.
But unfortunately this "rule" has exceptions. When a masonry wall is "shrinking" such as curing concrete (and some experts pose also drying concrete block), it is not held uniformly in place across its length.
The top of a poured concrete wall is generally unrestrained during the first portion of it's initial 28 days of curing, since nothing has been built atop the wall, or even if someone has started floor framing, the floor framing system does not secure the top of the wall against shrinkage movement.
On the other hand, the bottom of the wall is pinned (or should be) to its previously poured and cured footing. The bottom of the newly poured concrete wall is more secured against horizontal moment along its length than its top.
This might therefore produce some vertical shrinkage cracks that are wider at top than bottom. Why don't we always see this in concrete walls? As a concrete wall shrinks, the stresses produced in the wall are not concentrated at one single point, say the center of the wall; rather, shrinkage cracks may appear in various locations in the wall, not just at its center. Shrinkage cracks may be distributed rather than concentrated. However shrinkage cracks do tend to appear at local stress points in a wall such as at discontinuities in its form caused by windows, doors, or holes left for mechanicals and pipes.
We discuss the types of crack or movement patterns produced by shrinkage, expansion, and settlement further at SHRINKAGE vs EXPANSION vs SETTLEMENT.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about about diagnosing and repairing foundation settlement, movement, or cracking
Question: Pier or Pile Foundation settlement, movement, diagnosis & repair suggestions for a New Mexico home built on fill and clay soils
House dirt pad was built up on original earth and 13 cement pillars were poured along the raised portion of earth. The house is 33' X 83'. Just recently the entire north portion of the house (83') has developed a crack along the tile floor and plaster wall.
The most noticeable part of this 'shift' seems to be more toward the end of the house that sits on the pillared foundation.
The bathroom wall is about half way along this wall and the sewer line sits under this portion of the house. There is a subtle but noticeable odor in this area and the tile has separated from the wall about 1''.
What is happening and how do I fix it? The doors and windows are not opening smoothly and the wall appears to be cracking at an alarming rate. I have homeowners insurance. Thanks, - L.C.
Sketch at above left provided courtesy of Carson Dunlop Associates.
Reply: foundation diagnosis and repair suggestions for settling piers
This topic is also discussed at PIER FOUNDATION PROBLEMS. A competent onsite inspection by an expert usually finds additional clues that help accurately diagnose a problem. That said, here are some things to consider:
I'd be a fool to pretend to diagnose building cracks by email, not to mention sight unseen.
What to Do Next About Structural Cracking and Pier Repairs
If the explanation and repair advice you hear just doesn't make sense to you let me know what you were told and I can suggest some follow-up questions. And don't do anything expensive before you understand what's going on.
Our FOUNDATION CRACKS & DAMAGE GUIDE is the home page for discussions of foundation problem inspection, diagnosis, and repair.
Question: how much out of level can a foundation be - allowable tolerances during construction?
What is the acceptable differential/gradient for tolerances permitted during the initial foundation construction? I have heard that it is 2%, or 1" total differential over the span of about 20ft, but that statement had no real backing. - Kyle Olsen 8/5/11
Final authority on the requirement for level footings and foundations rests with your local building code official, but there are various building code guidelines.
2. FOOTING AND FOUNDATION DESIGN. Section R401 - R404 IRC 2009
Footings and foundations shall be designed and constructed in accordance with Sections R401 through R404.14.11. Footings and foundations shall be built on undisturbed soil or engineered fill. The top surface of footings shall be level. The bottom surface of footings are permitted to have a slope not exceeding 1 unit vertical in 10 units horizontal (10-percent slope). Footings shall be stepped where it is necessary to change the elevation of the top surface of the footing or where the surface of the ground slopes more than 1 unit vertical in 10 units horizontal (10-percent slope).
Question: what causes vertical cracks
i need information about vertical cracks how its happened ? how many type it have ? how we fix ? for my project can you help me sir ? - Ibrahim 5/4/12
Ibrahim, for a general understanding of how to recognize vertical foundation cracking and its common causes, start reading at VERTICAL MOVEMENT IN FOUNDATIONS. If you are asking for assistance with problems needing attention in your own home you will need an expert on-site to inspect, evaluate, and propose repairs. Typically you can find such help from an experienced foundation repair contractor, or if there is a more complex problem that requires foundation or foundation repair design work, you'll want to discuss the case with a professional engineer whose area of expertise and experience include residential foundations.
Question: house settled after a flood - damage not covered by insurance
We had no settling until after a flood swept through our property. The flood completely covered our land and invaded one room of our home that is lower than the rest of the house.
The structure was completely surrounded by lots of water and it went under the house into the crawl space as well. Immediately afterwards, the house began to sink and settle causing foundational and cosmetic cracks. Our living room floor has dropped a full inch below the chimney hearth. Both our home owners insurance and our flood insurance says the damage isn't covered by those policies.
We contend that the settling is a direct result of the flood water going under our home and permeating the ground making it too soft to maintain the structure of the home. Is this possible? What could be our possible course of actions? Thank you for any help you can provide. - Jill 7/5/12
Jill, an experienced professional can usually find evidence that explains the age and causation of foundation movement or damage. In the case you describe it sounds to me as if you'd want to hire a professional engineer whose area of expertise and experience are in foundation design, diagnosis, and repair. Typically a structural engineer or a civil engineer has the appropriate training but you might want to confirm that your professional also has experience with residential foundations. A detailed inspection and report by an expert with proper credentials should be a compelling argument to discuss with your insurance company.
Question: Professional Engineer Comments on Qualifications
There is no such thing as a licensed structural engineer that is "not familiar" with foundation design and/or residential construction. A licensed structural engineer, "P.E.", would determine the most cost effective and durable solution.
Well put, Dave P.E. and we agree with you and your advice except for the following warning:
Watch out: there are some licensed professional engineers who violate their licensing state's guidelines by practicing out of their area of training.
For example we have an unemployed aerospace engineer in one city who became a "home inspector" and who admitted publicly that for years "at the beginning I made plenty of mistakes", and we have an electrical engineer trained in circuit design in a second city both of whom perform what they advertise as "engineering inspections" of homes, offering diagnostic and remedial advice for structural problems.
Questions & answers or comments about diagnosing and repairing foundation settlement, movement, cracking in continuous wall foundations and footings or in individual posts, columns, or supporting piers.
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Technical Reviewers & References
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