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Does your building have settlement issues?

As a building owner or owner’s representative it’s often difficult to tell if you have a foundation problem. Let’s assume that while on a property walk, you notice multiple cracks forming along an exterior building wall. Obviously, you want to take care of this issue ASAP as it does not look aesthetically pleasing. You decide to paint the wall and patch the cracks and assume everything is fine. While this may be the case and it may only be normal thermal movement, you may have foundation movement, which is a serious issue and needs to be addressed for the integrity of the building.

Exterior Wall Cracking

How do you distinguish a potential foundation repair problem? Some of the most common problem signs along the exterior of the building may include cracks in the stucco, cracks in the foundation, stair step cracking in block buildings or shifting in the walls (rotating in or out). Along the interior of the building some of the most common problem signs are doors and windows that stick, cracks in brick or sheetrock, and floors that slope or are cracked.

Arizona Ram Jack’s approach is to perform a manometer survey. The manometer survey will provide elevation readings throughout the interior of the home. These elevation readings will then be referenced to the existing signs of stress such as wall, floor and ceiling cracks. Also any improper drainage and any ponding water areas next to the foundation of the home will also be evaluated around the exterior of the home. This information will then be imported into a mapping software program and will generate an easy to understand contour map.

Just like any problem, the more symptoms you have, the greater the chance of having a foundation repair related issue. To some extent, all buildings have some of these problems as seen as normal settlement. What you should be looking for is differential settlement. This occurs when one area of the building has settled more than the rest of the building.

In some cases, differential settlement occurs due to inexpensively designed construction, however most of the time differential settlement occurs because of an excess or absence of water. Moisture beneath the center of a foundation remains consistent unless aggravated by the introduction of excess moisture, such as plumbing leaks, landscaping and irrigation lines, or sub-surface water movement. As evaporation and transpiration cause the soils to dry and shrink around the perimeter of the foundation, the structure begins to move. Uneven moisture causes uneven movement; it’s this that can cause both structural and cosmetic damage to your building.

If you have already patched a crack and it comes back or expands, it is a good idea to have it checked out as soon as possible. It will be well worth your investment to hire a qualified expert for a nominal fee to perform a detailed and thorough evaluation of your foundation. In addition to his/her evaluation, you should make sure that they provide you with a detailed report on the current status of your foundation.

This report should include a footprint of the building that includes measurements taken from a monometer (floor level survey) that shows where the building is settling or heaving up, locations of problem zones and a plan of action. A manometer is a device used to take elevation readings (+/-) throughout the building showing where there is settlement or expansion that is excessive. This data used in conjunction with the visual problem signs is what a quality foundation contractor will use to diagnose a foundation settlement issue. Armed with this information you will be able to make an informed decision on whether cosmetic or structural repairs are needed.