There’s a reason why we use the word ‘foundation’ to refer to the fundamental structure of something – the foundation of a home is critical in creating a solid base from which the rest of the house takes shape. However, when the foundation of a home is no longer level, it causes major problems for the walls, floors, and ceilings throughout the structure. This is known as foundation heaving and can be extremely damaging for a house. The only solution is to level the home and restore the foundation to its original tilt.
This guide will provide an overview of house leveling – what it involves, why you need it, and how to spot signs of a non-level home. After all, if your house does start to shift, the sooner you realize, the better (for both your home and your wallet).
When building a house, it is imperative that the foundations are level. This has major knock-on effects for the structural integrity of the house – from the angle of the walls to the manner in which the forces are distributed. Usually, house building involves leveling the ground under which the house is built; however, it may also involve factoring in a slope into the pouring of the foundations. Regardless, maintaining a level base is critical for all other measurements within the home.
Should the home subside over time or simply not have been adequately constructed in the first place, you will need to level it. House leveling refers to the process of restoring a home to the level position after it has been built.
The American Concrete Institute code for new homes requires the slabs to be no more than
This effectively operates as the standard for restoration as well.
In reality, very few homes remain perfectly level, particularly if they are older than 20-25 years old. Very small variations in the slab are factored into the building design of homes.
The majority of property owners do not notice small variations in foundation elevations. However, once a house begins to move from the level, it is extremely unlikely to stop, and leveling a home is will help prevent further damage. Although house leveling can be expensive, it gets more expensive the longer you leave it – potentially culminating in the collapse of your home.
There is a wide variety of different techniques used to level a home. Ultimately, it depends on the type of home foundation you have. In all cases, however, it is preferable to act to level your home as soon as you notice the signs of damage. These are outlined in the section below.
As mentioned above, one of the strongest indicators that your home is no longer level is its age. The older a home, the greater the chances that it has subsided, at least in part. Unfortunately, the best evidence that your home has moved from level is damage to the structure.
Noticing cracking or other signs of damage by far the most likely way you will discover a shift in your home’s foundation. However, all is not lost! As mentioned above, the sooner you spot the damage, the cheaper (and easier) it will be to fix. So keep an eye out for the following:
CRACKS APPEARING IN YOUR WALLS OR CEILING
These cracks are the result of load pressures on your walls changing as the house begins to slip. These cracks may start small, but will soon spread as the house continues to slip. They usually appear (initially at least) in the corners of a room. Cracks in the foundation can also be early indicators.
CRACKS ON THE OUTSIDE OF YOUR HOME
These are the most visible signs when it comes to older homes. Because of the way brickwork is aligned, it is often extremely easy to spot any cracks, which usually appears in the mortar between bricks.
DOORS STICKING OR NO LONGER OPENING SMOOTHLY
If the foundation has shifted in your home, the walls may also begin to shift and, in some cases, bend or twist. This can lead to door frames no longer being level, which will mean that your door cannot open as easily as it once did.
FLOORS THAT SAG OR DIP
In extreme circumstances, you may notice that items left unattended will roll towards a particular corner of your floor. However, any sagging or dipping, or even a feeling of ‘sponginess’ can indicate that your home is no longer structurally sound.
If in doubt, run the ‘marble test,’ by placing a marble in the center of the floor. The speed and direction it rolls will tell you of the nature of the slope.
YOUR HOME NO LONGER LOOKS LEVEL FROM THE OUTSIDE
When standing outside, you may be able to see that your home is no longer level. If this is the case, the foundation may have slipped a great deal. You should not, however, proceed on visual confirmation alone, as there are many tricks of the eye that may make a house look off-kilter.
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF FOUNDATION HEAVING
There are very few examples of perfectly straight lines and right angles in nature. This is because everything is in a constant state of movement (albeit very slowly). The ground underneath us is fluid, and the foundations of our home are fighting a constant battle against that fact.
The primary cause of foundations not being level is the ground underneath a foundation changing in some way. This is usually due to the following:
Heavy or prolonged precipitation
Rain and snow have the potential to increase the moisture content of the soil underneath the foundation. In some soils, such as clay, this can cause major problems because it drastically alters the load-bearing strength of the soil. However, in general, a rapid increase in moisture will inhibit the foundation’s ability to support the weight of a house.
If you thought that damage to your belongings was bad as a result of a plumbing leak, how about damage to the fundamental structure of your home? One of the biggest problems from a plumbing leak is that it releases large amounts of water under your home, which is often not spread equally.
Unlike saturation from rain or snow, a plumbing leak can lead to an unequal disbursement of forces on the structure of your home, which is a greater danger for foundation heaving.
Like with water, the soil being too dry can have knock-on effects on the integrity of a foundation. The soil 3-10 feet below the original surface of the land is drier than the surface. Thus, if you cut the land in order to build a foundation, it can actually suffer from being too dry.
As such, most contractors regularly saturate the pad area as they are laying the foundation in order to create a consistent base. If this doesn’t happen, it can be as damaging as too much water.
As mentioned above, certain types of soil react differently to moisture and dryness. Building on clay, for example, can cause major problems when it comes to foundation heaving.
HOW TO LEVEL FOUNDATIONS
If the foundations have started to heave, then the manner in which you fix it is dependent upon the foundation type. To be very clear, this is not a job you can complete without professional help. The structure of your house is at stake, so this is not something you should cut corners on.
A professional will be best-placed to advise you as to what steps to take based on the severity and the materials involved. However, generally, the method of leveling will be one of the following:
If your home has a crawl space, a contractor will use a chemical mixture to stabilize the soil. This will help to level it, creating extra reinforcement in sagging spots.
On top of this, they will use braces and rods to shore up the existing floor of the crawl space. This process may need to be repeated over the course of several years.
PIER AND BEAM FOUNDATIONS
In general, the process of pier and beam foundations is similar to that of crawl spaces. However, since the rods and beams were already in place, they need extra fortifying. This usually means the use of steel I-beams to support the weight of the home.
The crucial task in leveling this type of foundation is ensuring the joists and girders are level. This may require them to be replaced, particularly if they are made of older materials.
Slab foundations are the most common types of foundations. They effectively ‘float’ on the soil beneath them. To level a slab foundation greatly depends on the soil underneath.
However, in general, the process will involve using a chemical mix underneath to stabilize the soil, followed by the use of piers underneath to help shore it up. Again, this process may need repeating over the course of many years.
House leveling prices can vary but the average price is between $3,000 and $6,000. It depends on a few different things:
The type of foundation.
Where you live.
The current damage to your foundation.
What is causing the damage.