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Foundation Wall Cracks- What They Mean & What to Do  

Foundation wall cracks are often the first sign of a larger problem. Learn how to solve them.  

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A crack in your home’s foundation is never a welcome discovery. Regardless of where you locate the crack, it doesn’t take a ton of construction knowledge to know it’s probably not a good thing and needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. In this article, we’ll address the different types of cracks, what causes cracks, and some productive and non-productive crack repair solutions.   

Types of Foundation Cracks  

It may seem reductive, but determining the type of foundation crack you have can begin to tell you a lot about what is going on at your home. Cracks can  be broken down into three categories: horizontal crack, vertical crack, stair-step crack.   

Horizontal Crack  

A horizontal crack in a cinder block, poured cement basement, or crawl space is usually a sign of outside pressure pushing in on your wall. The outside pressure can occur for several reasons, like tree roots being too close or poor construction, but by far the most common is hydrostatic pressure resulting from poor drainage.   

When water is allowed to pool around the foundation of a home, it saturates the soil. In areas like lower Michigan, where there is a high percentage of clay, this can cause big problems. Clay is highly absorbent, meaning it sucks up the pooling water and expands. This change in volume results in inward pressure on the concrete wall, causing a horizontal crack. It’s not uncommon to notice water leaking from the crack since the soil surrounding the home is often wet.   

Vertical Crack  

Although a vertical crack does occur in both concrete block and poured concrete wall foundations, they are typically more common in a poured concrete wall. This type of crack is a result of settling, sinking foundations.   

While there is some normal settlement, a vertical foundation crack should never be ignored. Depending on the size of the crack, the degree to which it changes, and the location, a vertical crack can be a sign of a significant problem. It’s always best to have any crack inspected by a professional from FSM who is familiar with the soil conditions and weather. They can assess if a hairline crack is caused by natural settlement or a sign of a larger problem.   

Stair-Step Crack  

Stair-step cracks are common in cinder block walls, with the cracking often running through the mortar joints. The crack usually begins in a corner and follows the cinder block steps down towards the floor in the middle of the wall.   

A stair-step crack, especially one that starts in a corner, is one of the most common signs of foundation settlement. Commonly you’ll notice this type of crack first, before other problem signs, like nail pops, drywall cracks, or a leaning chimney, occur.   

Foundation Wall Crack Causes  

Wall cracks can be a result of many different factors, but two of the most common are the soil type and the area’s weather conditions. Michigan has hot, humid summers and cold, snowy winters, and while the soil conditions differ from Royal Oak to Traverse City, both the clay soil in southeast Michigan and the sandy soil in Northern Michigan can cause problems for your foundation.   

Clay Soil Problems  

When your home is surrounded by clay soil, it absorbs water easily and expands. This adds pressure to the basement walls, causing them to bow inward. As they bow, foundation wall cracks appear, allowing water to enter. Basement floor cracks are often an issue with clay soils beneath your home. A poor drainage system accelerates this process.   

Sandy Soil Problems  

While sandy soil is typically better draining, it is also prone to erosion. When the soil around your foundation washes away, a void is created. Naturally, the weight of your foundation settles into this void, causing foundation cracks.  

Foundation Wall Sealing Solutions  

As you may have concluded, the solution for a basement wall or foundation crack depends on the reason the crack is occurring in the first place. Unfortunately, there is no amount of sealant, caulk, or epoxy that will stand up to the environmental pressures that cause foundation cracks in the first place. Below are a few of the suggestions your FSM inspector may recommend.  

Wall Anchors  

For cracks caused by hydrostatic pressure, the permanent solution is wall anchors. Wall anchors can be installed year-round and restore your home’s structural integrity by securing your foundation, preventing future inward movement, and in some cases can, even move walls back to their original location.   

Foundation Pier System   

Helical piers stabilize your home’s sinking foundation by transferring the weight of your home from the unstable soil that has washed out, to steel piers driven deep into stable bedrock. Foundation piers stop future settlement and may be able to lift the home back to its original location, closing the foundation cracks created.   

Temporary DIY Fixes   

It’s not uncommon for contractors who aren’t foundation specialists to suggest temporary, cheaper solutions to ‘seal’ your foundation walls. You can also find many temporary DIY ‘fixes’ on the internet. Commonly suggested ‘solutions’ involve polyurethane sealant, caulk, hydraulic cement, or epoxy injections. All these solutions are temporary bandages designed to mask the problem sign rather than address the underlying problem that caused the crack initially.   

Additionally, painting over drywall cracks or tuckpointing cracks can look messy and ruin the aesthetic of your home.  These solutions may be cheaper in the short term, but you will need to repeat them since the problem has not been resolved, and issues will reoccur, causing you to start the cycle over.   

Permanent Foundation Crack Experts  

Michigan homeowners know the area’s harsh weather conditions and turbulent soil conditions mean a permanent solution is not the only way to go. The experts at FSM have been repairing cracks from Port Huron to Sault Saint Marie for years and understand the unique nuances of the area. Schedule your free, no-obligation inspection to learn about the permanent, warrantied solutions FSM has to offer.   

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