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Is Your Foundation Settling, or Does It Need To Be Repaired? (2024 Guide)

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Default Author Icon Written by Angela Bunt Updated 06/26/2024

A home’s foundation provides a strong and stable base, ensuring the building it supports remains level and safe. Foundations also prevent moisture and shifting soil from damaging or weakening structures. Minor settling is normal; you can expect it from most foundations over time. 

But there are some situations in which a homeowner should be concerned about a settling foundation. For example, cracks in interior walls, noticeable floor sloping, or doors and windows that no longer open or close can be signs of a more significant issue.

We’ll explain how to tell the difference between normal foundation settling and foundation problems. If you suspect a problem, you should hire a professional for inspections or repairs.

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Foundation Crack Repair

Foundation crack repair costs between $250 and $800.

Side of house with serious foundation damage.
Foundation Leak Repair

Depending on severity, leak repair can range from $2,300–$7,300.

Sinking concrete foundation in need of mudjacking leveling repai
Sinking Foundation Repair

The average cost for sinking foundation repair ranges from $600–$3,000.


What Is Foundation Settling?

A structural foundation is a solid, load-bearing base upon which a home or structure rests. Construction materials typically include concrete, masonry, or pilings, creating a durable and solid foundation

Even well-constructed foundations can settle or gradually sink into the ground over time. or gradually sink into the ground over time. However, uniform foundation settling is typically harmless, but differential settling can cause serious problems.

Uniform Settling

In uniform settling, foundation sinking happens uniformly across the entire building. This type of settling is more likely to occur when all parts of a home are resting on the same soil type or when the home’s structural design and weight load is uniform throughout.

Uniform settling usually doesn’t compromise a building’s safety. However, if the settling is substantial, it may affect the connections between a home’s plumbing and external sewer or water lines. Otherwise, you might not even notice uniform settling.

Differential Settling

Differential settling occurs when different portions of a home sink at varying rates or depths. It’s often the result of differences in soil conditions, unequal load distribution, or variations in the home’s structural design. Certain visible signs point to differential foundation settling:

  • Cracked walls or window glass
  • Sloping floors
  • Visible cracks in the foundation, especially horizontal cracks
  • Windows and doors that don’t open or close easily

In severe cases, differential settling can cause a home to shift out of plumb and make a foundation fail. 

If not addressed, foundation failure can compromise a home’s safety and structural integrity by causing it to become unstable, making differential settling more concerning than uniform settling.

Foundation issues can occur for various reasons, all of which lead to problems that impact a home’s stability. If you notice any of the following signs of foundation problems, reach out to a local licensed foundation specialist to determine the cause quickly and prevent further damage.

Basement Water Seepage

Unexplained puddles or damp areas in your basement or crawl space may indicate a foundation issue. Poor drainage around a home’s foundation or cracks and gaps in the foundation walls can allow groundwater to seep through and pool in a home’s lowest level. This water can then cause further foundation damage.

Bowing or Leaning Walls

Visible bulges or curves in a home’s basement or exterior walls can signal a foundation problem. Diagonal or horizontal cracks, especially near corners or windows, are another warning sign. While seasonal temperature changes can cause minor hairline cracks in concrete, hydrostatic pressure or soil settlement can cause bowing or leaning walls, signaling structural instability and potential safety concerns.

Chimney Separation

As a foundation shifts or settles, a chimney can begin to separate from the roofline. Water leaks and moisture damage around the chimney are other signs of a potential foundation issue, though lack of chimney maintenance can also cause these issues.

Cracks in Concrete Slabs

Ongoing settlement in a foundation can lead to cracks in its concrete slabs over time. If you notice visible cracks, especially wider than 1/8 inch, it’s best to conduct an inspection sooner rather than later to avoid further structural damage.

Higher Energy Bills

While an inefficient HVAC system can cause energy bills to soar, so can a settling houseas treated air escapes through cracks. If temperatures seem uneven throughout your home or you can’t seem to get a handle on your heating and cooling bills, look for other signs of foundation settlement that could be compromising insulation or causing gaps in your walls, floors, doors, and windows.

Mold or Mildew Growth

Visible mold or mildew on your basement walls, floors, or ceilings can indicate a moisture problem that may be caused by a foundation issue. Musty or damp odors can also signal excess moisture levels due to water intrusion.

Plumbing Issues

Sudden drops in water pressure, unexplained water bill spikes, and burst pipes are all examples of plumbing issues that a damaged slab foundation can cause. 

Retaining Wall Problems

Bulging exterior brick walls or other retaining structures are signs of foundation failure and can endanger a home’s structural integrity. Over time, inadequate drainage or soil settlement can cause a buildup of pressure that shifts and weakens a retaining wall.

Higher Energy Bills

While an inefficient HVAC system can cause energy bills to soar, so can a settling houseas treated air escapes through cracks. If temperatures seem uneven throughout your home or you can’t seem to get a handle on your heating and cooling bills, look for other signs of foundation settlement that could be compromising insulation or causing gaps in your walls, floors, doors, and windows.

Sinking Porches or Decks

Soil erosion can cause porches or decks to sink, slope, or sag. Look for gaps between the structure and your home to see if the issue is more severe than normal settling.

Sticking Doors and Windows

Spaces around door and window frames can distort during differential settling, signaling a foundation issue. Weather stripping—strips of insulation that seal gaps where air leaks in—may help seal gaps in the short term but will not combat the root cause if the foundation has a problem.

Uneven Floors

Noticeable sloping or dipping in the floors throughout your home can indicate serious foundation problems. While floor joist or subfloor issues may be responsible, it’s best to arrange a foundation inspection as soon as possible after noticing uneven floors.

How To Differentiate Between Settling and Foundation Problems

Settling is normal, even in a new home. This can be especially true for those in climates with extreme weather conditions. But how can you tell if settling is within normal range or a sign of a more serious problem? It often depends on the severity of the issue.

For example, small cracks tend to be cosmetic. However, significant cracks wider than 1/8 inch can signal foundation problems. Vertical cracks are also typically less of a problem than horizontal cracks.

Slight sticking in a door or window could be due to seasonal or temperature-related changes. But doors that are consistently difficult to open or close can signal more serious problems.

Slight and barely noticeable unevenness in a floor can be due to normal settling. But foundation problems can make a space unsafe or uncomfortable with abrupt floor sloping or dipping.

When in doubt, hire a professional to evaluate your foundation and confirm whether a foundation problem exists.

When To Call a Professional

Foundation repair is not a DIY job. You should call a professional if you observe visible structural damage to your foundation, misaligned doors and windows, uneven floors, or excessive moisture or mold. These signs point to potential foundation issues requiring expert assessment and possible repairs to prevent further damage. The cost of a foundation inspection is usually between $300 and $1,000, but it is well worth this cost to catch a foundation problem early.

Our Conclusion

Concrete foundations can shift and settle for various reasons, including improper soil compaction and erosion. Uniform settling is normal and usually doesn’t indicate a problem, but differential settling will compromise a home’s foundation when it becomes severe enough. Know the warning signs of foundation problems, and call a foundation expert for an inspection if you see them.

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FAQ About Foundation Settling vs. Foundation Problems

When should I be worried about my foundation settling?

You should be worried about your foundation settling if you notice cracks wider than 1/8 inch. More specifically, horizontal, diagonal, or stair-step cracks indicate different types of concerning foundation movement. Uneven floors, sticking doors and windows, and gaps between a room’s drywall or ceilings can also be reasons for concern.

How do you know if you have foundation issues?

Common signs of foundation problems, such as wall cracks and uneven floors, can also have other causes. If you suspect an issue, hiring a professional to inspect your foundation is best.

What can I do to fix foundation settling?

To fix foundation settling, call a foundation professional. This is not a DIY repair job. The process can be complex, and professional repair costs can quickly grow, so consulting with an licensed expert is important.

What are the steps for repairing a foundation?

The steps for repairing a foundation include identifying the cause of the shifting or settling, stabilizing the foundation, and fixing drainage issues. Once the foundation is secure, a contractor will fill any voids and cracks to restore the home’s structural integrity. 

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