Foundation Failure – Possible Causes

There are many reasons that foundations can fail – anything that causes a foundation to move can have a detrimental affect on it. Lateral pressure, and differential settlement (over total settlement), are two major categories of foundation failure, and are what cause homeowners to call in the foundation repair service.

Rather than focus on foundation failures, focusing on the causes of these failures is important. Knowing what to watch out for can help save a homeowner time and money, by knowing when to check the foundation for potential failure. There are several major causes of foundation failure – when these things happen around the home, it’s a good idea to check for any foundation cracks, holes, and uneven settlement.

Changes in Soil

Heavy rains can cause soil to swell, and, if not properly draining, can cause pressure on the foundation walls. After a time, the walls can start to crack, especially if drainage is not adequate – this is both a problem of erosion and hydrostatic pressure (from the weight of the water in the soil, pushing up against the foundation).

Wet soil is a major problem, but it’s not the only problem – drying soil, and drought-impacted soil can cause problems as well. When the soil gets too dry, it shrinks, and causes the foundation to shift back against it. This movement in the foundation can also cause cracks and shifts and lead to failure.

Frost Heaves

When the ground freezes in the winter, water beneath the soil becomes ice. The ice crystal growth causes the ground to shift, making “heaves” all over the landscape. Should this occur near, or under a foundation, it can cause a differential shift, causing the foundation to fail.


Soil erosion from problematic plumbing, improper drainage, heavy rain, spring thaw, and the like can pull away at foundation walls, causing shifts, cracks, and foundation failure. Another problem that leads to erosion is improper ground preparation during construction. If not enough soil is used, or it is not packed properly, erosion can happen quickly around the foundation.

Vibrational Changes

Vibrational changes don’t need to be as dramatic as earthquakes in order to have an impact on foundation failure. Neighboring construction projects can cause enough vibrations to shake nearby foundations and the surrounding soil, causing failure.

Periodic inspections of the foundation walls and area are necessary to stay on top of any changes that can cause foundation failure. Even houses with the best drainage systems can fall prey to heavy rains and other causes listed above, which, if not handled early, can cost thousands to repair.

Prevention is always the best way to keep foundation failure from occurring. However, that is not always realistic. In that case, early detection is a must. A reliable foundation repair service can not only help homeowners spot these problems early, but fix them securely and help prevent repeat occurrences of such problems.

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