When it comes to your home what’s the scariest thing you could hear needs repair? For many homeowners a foundation repair is the one thing that will shake them to their core. Why? The foundation of your home is just as it sounds – it’s the basis that the rest of your home rests on top of. So there’s a lot at stake if you discover an issue.
A cracked foundation is a big deal but you might not need a contractor to complete the fix. That all depends on what type of foundation you have and how willing you are to tackle some home improvement. For a handy person there could be ways to do it yourself (DIY), save money and find satisfaction in completing the job. First we should talk about the different types of foundations and how you can determine if they need minor, major or no repairs at all.
Table of contents
How can I spot an issue in the foundation of my home?
Reasons for Foundation Damage
Is DIY an Option?
A DIY Case Study
Foundaton Repair Costs
When to call a Professional?
How fast do I have to act?
How can I spot an issue in the foundation of my home?
There are a few different types of foundations a home could have – a crawl space, a full basement or a slab – and depending on the type they might be constructed from wood, pillars, stones, bricks, blocks or a solid wall of poured and reinforced concrete.
- Some types of foundations make it easier to spot when a repair might be needed. For example, homeowners with a slab are less likely to see their foundation because it is buried deep underground. The concrete part directly under your finished flooring, the part you walk on, is only a pad poured inside the foundation.
- Look to your inside walls for signs of needed repair. Angled cracks in the plaster or at joints above a doorframe can be the first sign of a shifting foundation. If the home is settling in an un-level manner, cracks in walls could be prominent.
- On the other hand, anyone with a full basement – whether poured concrete, stacked stone, concrete block construction, bricks, or something else – can easily access the inside of the walls of their foundation. Look for cracks of a substantial nature or other signs of damage such as window frames bending or lowered ceiling height.
- With a crawl space the foundation might be made of pier and beam construction. With pier and beam there are two types of materials that could be compromised – the piers commonly made from concrete and the wood beams. Check out all of the components of both materials to determine if the concrete is crumbling or the wood is decayed.
- Cracks around your concrete foundation could be a first sign of needing repairs. However, keep in mind that every foundation will settle a little bit because that’s just what they do. So try not to freak out if you do see a crack. The first step is to figure out why it showed up in the first place.
Has your foundation faced an increase or decrease of water?
First, let’s look at water building up around the outside of your foundation. Flooding and pressure from water can absolutely wreak havoc. When water builds up in the soil it pushes that earth outward. The push will eventually put pressure on your foundation. Over time that can move your foundation inward.
Water build up could impact a crawl space or full basement regardless if it is constructed from stones, blocks or a full wall of reinforced concrete. Look to see if your wall has bowed inward, if there’s evidence of water on the inside wall surface and / or if there are any cracks. Keep in mind also that a lack of water can cause just as much damage to a foundation as a flood. If there’s been a severe drought in your area it could mean the soil has pulled back from your foundation and that could also cause the structure to shift because the perimeter is no longer supported and has less protection from the elements. This is a particular issue in areas on slab foundations because the foundation is underground. A loss of underground moisture isn’t visible with the naked eye so a homeowner should keep their attention on the ground level.
The tell-tale sign that drought could impact your home’s foundation is in the ground just around the exterior. If you see cracks in the dirt then the moisture from the soil has evaporated. Depending on how deep the dryness goes it can increase the severity of potentially necessary repairs. A homeowner can water their foundation but it may not solve the problem in its entirety.
Is DIY even an option for repairing a cracked foundation?
As materials, tools and instructions become more readily available online more people feel confidence in learning how to repair things like a foundation. The foundation around your house can be repaired or maintained by you with minimal tools in some circumstances. Doing some low cost repairs can help to fix leaks, cracks or areas of crumbling concrete or mortar. Those who are ready to tackle simple methods to repair their foundation can start with things that they can see with the naked eye. There are many repairs a handywoman can do for just a couple hundred dollars and a small investment of time. Small cracks from settling can be injected with a grout product that provides increased stability. A stone foundation could be painted with a waterproofing paint. I did this on the inside of the foundation wall in my basement, for example. More on that in a bit.
A Case Study
Of course, the first step in any project, especially for a DIY project, is to figure out if the problem stems from another problem so you don’t spend money in the wrong places. In my case, once I stopped water from leaking between the stones of my foundation I knew I had to take care of the problem outside. I discovered a water build up in my back yard during a storm on the same side of the house where my foundation was bowing inward. I decided to fix the pooling water issue by installing a French drain.
On the afternoon I found the puddled water there was awful rain; it came down at about 2 inches an hour. So much water ran into my yard from the neighbor’s driveway that it ended up flowing over the basement bulkhead door and into my basement.I knew if that much water could build up once, it could build up numerous times. Over time, that pressure could move the totally saturated soil around my stone foundation and that would cause my foundation to shift. The next day I got right to work installing the new drain and luckily never had water in my basement again.
If this is the right solution for your home then installing one is simple:
Dig a trench about 2 feet deep leading away from the house.
Pour in a 2 inch layer of gravel. Wrap a perforated drain pipe in a landscape sock (to stop debris from getting into the pipe).
Top with gravel and then the dirt from the trench. Tamp it down lightly and re-plant grass or other landscaping materials.
A big benefit of completing this kind of repair is that it might save your foundation from needing further work done. Plus, a French drain is an accessible DIY solution. Not to mention the biggest benefit of all – the cost. The materials for a French drain system are inexpensive in comparison to some major home foundation repair costs.
So is the cost to repair my foundation going to be outrageous?
According to HomeAdvisor it will cost the average homeowner about $3700 to repair their foundation. In fact, they estimate a foundation repair can cost anywhere from $1200 to just over $7000. Ouch. After hearing numbers like that you might be tempted to do everything yourself! As you already know there are plenty of foundation repairs you can do, so what might those repairs cost? For a small crack, using something like a concrete caulking could be as inexpensive as $10, or thereabouts, for a tube.
You’re probably asking:
Wait, then just how much is a foundation repair going to run me, $10 or $7000?
The repair costs for my foundation came in right around $500 and required about a weekend of my time. My costs include the French drain materials and the waterproofing paint for the inside wall. I already owned the shovel. However, I was lucky because the problems weren’t more serious. Other repairs are going to be much more intensive and expensive than installing simple drainage options. For some basement homes with foundation cracks the only option is excavating the soil surrounding the entire foundation, waterproofing, shoring up and installing a more substantial drainage system.
Costs for this type of foundation repair are going to add up very quickly due to the amount of labor, materials and equipment needed to complete it. Extra needs could compound on top of that $7000 average. However, sometimes it is necessary to hire a professional regardless of your home improvement skills or the cost to complete the foundation repair.
What types of foundation repairs are better handled by a professional?
There are many types of foundation repair that require a trained professional. Again, we need to go back and inspect the issue that has started to impact the foundation, as well as how long the problem has been going on, to determine which repairs might be more severe.As you’ve already discovered, there are many variables involved in making a repair on a foundation. Those variables usually depend on the method required because, while some methods are okay for a DIY lover, others are going to be out of reach for many handy people. There are factors that contribute such as cost of materials, availability of equipment and even the particular skill set needed to complete the work.
Let’s look some different types of foundation repair methods and in what situations they might be better handled by a professional foundation repair specialist:
Pier and beam foundation repair
This type requires one, or both, of two methods – either making the foundation stronger by adding concrete columns or by shoring up the beams with additional timber. This type of repair will help prevent further movement as well as stop additional decay to any damaged wood that already exists. The issue with completing a pier and beam repair is that this type of foundation typically only exists in homes with a crawl space. The accessibility is limited so it might be difficult for even a handy person to navigate.
Carbon fiber foundation repair
If your full basement foundation is showing movement, a contractor could apply carbon fiber strips to stop the walls from shifting inward any further. First they complete a grinding process. Then an epoxy is applied to the foundation and the carbon fiber is embedded to form a permanent repair. Keep in mind though that this repair can only be done if the wall has moved 2 inches or less. Determining the bow to the wall, how serious it is, and grinding down the wall to apply the carbon fiber in the correct location is a specialized skill usually best handled by a professional.
Concrete slab foundation repair
Foam jacking, mud jacking, slab piers or total replacement are the only options for repairing a slab foundation. A slab is generally found in areas where the underlying soil can be graded flat without worrying about the elements of nature impacting the soil or foundation. For example, slab foundations are common in the southwest U.S., where I now live. Because the entire foundation is buried underground, any of the 4 fixes are best handled by a contractor. For homeowners who want to take action, however, preventative maintenance of watering can help avoid issues in severe drought conditions.
For foam or mud jacking the material (polyurethane or grout) is pumped in to make sure a settled slab is leveled back out again. The cost can range from $3 – $10 per square foot. Piers are the most invasive and usually the most costly repair option as the concrete must be jammed into the ground and the slab jacked up on top of the piers. Slab cracks can happen and then the foundation is broken beyond repair. Replacement can cost over $30 per square foot and since the entire foundation must be removed and replaced, the disruption is at maximum levels.
Concrete block foundation repair
Concrete blocks generally form a full basement at full floor height. Over time, these types of foundations can move inward if the mortar breaks down or when earth pushes heavily on the block. The repair can involve vertical beams that hold up the house while blocks are removed, re-pointed, and soil is re-stabilized.
The vertical beams used could be hydraulic posts placed beneath the house (to stabilize it). A total removal of the foundation wall section that’s impacted can’t happen without proper support of the structure. Once the blocks are removed, the soil may need to be shifted in the area of the repair before the blocks are re-stacked and mortared into place. Depending on the ground conditions outside, the exterior of the new foundation wall might need waterproofing. Costs can be extreme when the services add up this way so first, try to determine if a pressure injection could fill a foundation crack.
If I discover a foundation issue, how fast do I have to act?
Timing on making repairs is critical if the issue is a serious one that involves rebuilding any part of the foundation wall. The structural integrity of your home could be impacted and that’s a safety issue for everyone inside. Those repairs should be done as soon as possible.
In other cases the situation is less dramatically dire. Though it might not sound less dire. Because many homeowners will see cracks within days of a new foundation being poured or constructed! A drier or wetter concrete mix can take more or less time to cure but a typical cure happens in about 10 days. Mother Nature can do some interesting things during those 10 days. Remember, water plays a big part in your foundation for better or worse.
If your house is brand new those cracks are probably nothing much to worry about but do your homeowner due diligence and keep your eye on them over time. If they change in size or shape, or you see new ones, that’s a different story. Those cracks should be addressed quicker.
Older homes can have foundations created from just about any material including stacked stones with mortar joints. I had one of these homes in the northeast U.S. and the foundation was in need of a bit of love; it and the house were over 150 years old. It’s easy to show age at 150! The foundation had a small leak in the older mortar and the water caused a slight bow; this happened long before I bought the home. One of the easiest ways to fix that was by doing basement foundation waterproofing. A waterproofing paint was applied to the whole wall from the inside. As I mentioned, the French drain was also installed in the yard to pull water away from the foundation. I made sure to complete these fixes as soon as I noticed the problem. The wall didn’t seem to move or leak again after I learned how to make those repairs to save my stone foundation.
The Bottom line
There are times when a do it yourself, handyperson can complete some methods of foundation repair on some styles of foundations. Keeping an eye on your foundation and the ground around it is the best way to prevent major issues down the road. Catching an issue early will keep cost of a home foundation repair to a minimum.
I hope this guide helped you gain the confidence to look at your foundation with a more objective eye and make some repairs whether your home is on a slab, full basement or crawl space.