If you are moving into a new home for the first time, you might be surprised to find your home shifting and settling. You can see this shifting in several ways, from micro-cracks in the concrete and walls to an uneven spot on the floor. In most cases, it’s nothing to worry about, but these same warning signs might also indicate serious problems with your foundation.
Why Do Houses Settle?
There are several reasons why a home will settle during its first few years of life. For one thing, the immense weight of a house is sure to compress the soil beneath. When that happens, the house is likely to sink a few inches.
Houses also settle because of the natural drying process. Most foundations are made from poured concrete, which contains a lot of water. As the concrete dries and hardens, most of the water is converted or removed, but a little bit will remain. As the concrete cures over the first few years, it will lose more moisture, causing it to shrink very slightly.
The process is similar when dealing with wood. It is taken from the forest and cut into shape before being dried in a kiln. Most of the moisture is removed, but a small amount will remain. As the remaining moisture evaporates over the first few years, the wood will shrink and bend to a small degree.
Soil Conditions Play A Big Role
House settling will be greatly affected by the conditions of the soil underneath the foundation. You always want to build your home on a piece of ground with very compact soil. If the soil is loose, that means there will be a lot more room for your house to settle. Some home builders will deal with this problem by tamping the soil with heavy equipment. They drop a big steel weight onto the ground, over and over, until it reaches the desired density.
Soils that contain a lot of clay will also present specific problems. Although these clay-rich soils tend to be very hard, they have a hidden problem. Clay tends to expand and contract with the temperature, and it also expands and contracts in response to moisture. This movement of the ground can cause a home to sink too far, or it can put pressure on the foundation from below and cause cracking.
How To Tell When You Have A Problem
As we said before, this is usually no cause for alarm. No matter what the conditions, your home will settle a little bit during the first couple of years. It’s even normal to see a few cracks as the house settles fully into its new plot. These cracks will most likely appear where the wall meets the ceiling, but small foundation cracks are not uncommon. Of course, any visible cracks should be filled with a concrete sealer as soon as you notice them. This step is just a precaution to ensure that small cracks don’t develop into big ones.
You can also use a leveling tool at different points around your home to gauge the amount of settling that has taken place. When a building settles, it rarely settles evenly. The more uneven your floors become, the more your home has settled. Once again, a small difference is not a big deal, but the leveling tool will let you know when the settling has finally stopped.
That’s the real key to knowing when you have a problem: When the house does not stop settling after a year or two, you might need to get concerned. All of these little signs should stop after a couple of years. If they don’t, you might want to get a detailed home inspection to see if you have any serious issues with your foundation.
Certain problems will not manifest until your home has settled too far. Because your home will not settle evenly, you might eventually find that doors and windows become harder to open. That’s because their frames are no longer perfectly squared. When this happens, you know that the problem is starting to get out of hand. Normal home settling should not go to the point of rendering doors or windows unusable.
Don’t Forget To Seal Those Air Gaps
As your new home settles, you are likely to see some separation between the various pieces of your home. Chances are, they will be minimal. This settling will create tiny gaps through which air can flow. That will make your home harder to heat and cool, nullifying the effects of your insulation.
After you have lived in your new home for about a year, you should inspect the entire structure for any gaps or cracks that may exist. You can quickly fill these with spray foam or another sealer. Air gaps might not present a real threat to your home’s structure, but they will increase your utility bills.
Although we advise caution, this article is not meant to alarm you. In most cases, the signs of home settling are minor annoyances that do not warrant a lot of concern. As long as qualified people have built your home, it should last for many years. That being said, mistakes can happen, even for the best of home builders. We hope that this short overview has helped you to solve this problem before it starts. If you have any questions, feel free to contact the home building experts at Southdown.