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Foundation Failure explained

At Structural Design Solutions, we have the experience needed to effectively investigate and analyze the structural integrity of foundation systems and effectively provide a cost efficient solution. The causes of foundation failures are typically less apparent that most other engineering investigations. We have worked in and around the Charlotte, North Carolina areas for years and we understand that a solution to the underlying issues in more important that fixing only the cosmetic problems. Be aware that if what is cause the foundation to move is not corrected, the foundation will continue to move and crack.


Why is it happening?

Improper Ground Preparation
In most cases, site preparation includes properly removing inadequate soils from the site, usually the top several inches. This allows the house to be built on original undisturbed ground. However, sometimes the site requires fill dirt to placed to level the building foundation. If this material is not properly compacted, it can settle. This settlement causes foundation failures and interior home cracks.

Due to fluctuations in day to day weather conditions, the soil can experience expansion and contraction due to changes in moisture levels. As the moisture evaporates from the soil, it contracts and the foundation settles. When the moisture is returned through rainfall, the soil swells again. This type of foundation problem is cyclic, meaning the building will experience settlement then uplift depending on the current soil conditions.

Water Table Level
Unlike evaporation, changes in the water table happen less quickly under normal circumstances. Typically due to seasonal changes or more gradual short term climate shifts in the area. These foundation issues are more difficult to diagnose due to their slow progression.

Trees, large plants, or large amounts of vegetation require large amounts of water. If planted to closely to the foundation, water will be removed from the soil and cause foundation settlement.

Plumbing Leaks
Leaking pipes typically cause very location specific problems. The area near the leak can experience significant soil and foundation movements. Depending on the severity of the leak, the problem can progress, if left untreated, to significant foundation cracking and failure.

Inadequate Foundation Construction
Foundation construction techniques vary widely depending on the age, location, and type of building. This introduces problems that require the analysis of a licensed professional engineer to determine the adequacy of the foundation. Investigations should be made to determine the size and material of the foundation.

Poor Soil Conditions
Soil conditions vary based on general location of the building. However, the soil conditions can drastically differ from one property to the next. Underlying issues within the soil can also play a role in the overall stability of the soil. Sometimes hidden layers of inadequate soil is located below upper layers of acceptable materials.

Improper Drainage
Drainage is a key concern on most properties. Watershed should be accomplished in most cases through adequate grade near the building. Another common issue is gutter downspouts draining near the foundation. This adds excessive amounts of water near the foundation that will cause foundation movements among other problems. Other issues include and type of decorative item that could retain water after rains.


Signs of Foundation Failure

Inside the House

  • Misaligned doors and windows
  • Cracks in the sheetrock
  • Doors and windows that stick
  • Sloping of the floor
  • Cracks in the floor or tile

Outside the House

  • Cracks in the brick
  • Gaps around the doors and windows
  • Cracks in the foundation
  • Fascia board pulling away


  • Separation from the door
  • Wall rotating out
  • Cracks in the brick or concrete

Basement of the House

  • Walls leaning in or out
  • Cracks in the poured concrete or block walls
  • Water leakage through cracks at the base of walls