Do All Basement Walls Crack? Causes, Symptoms, and When to Worry.

by | Oct 8, 2020 | Foundation

Concrete is an essential building tool. It’s a man-made concoction that literally paves the way for our walkways and driveways.  We use it to build bridges, retaining walls, dams, and even our homes.  It’s everywhere and we rely on it heavily in everyday life.

But concrete is not infallible.  It’s porous, which means water can penetrate it.  And if you build heavy structures on it and apply enough pressure, it can crack.  This means you can expect concrete foundations to form at least a few cracks over time.

Founded in 1996, Acculevel has been repairing both commercial and residential foundations for decades.  Our materials are designed for use with concrete, and we specialize in repair methods that are uniquely suited for buildings made of concrete.  We have restored and stabilized foundations for tens of thousands of homeowners, and want to address all of your questions about wall cracks.

In this article, we’ll discuss the most common causes of wall cracks and how you can recognize them.  We’ll also give you information about timelines, and when you need to take prompt action to preserve your home.

 

Why Do Basement Walls Crack?

Most of the time, basement walls crack for one of two reasons: settling or hydrostatic pressure.  Neither of these are things you can prevent or control- they’ve both driven by natural forces that shape our environment.

What Causes Your Foundation to Settle?

When your home was built, the ground was excavated to make room for the basement.  Depending on the age and location, it’s possible that the builder dug down to untouched soil.  This means it hasn’t been disturbed or moved in a very, very long time.  

Once the builder began pouring the concrete footers and building your foundation, they started adding new weight to that area.  This only increased as your home was built, furnishings were moved in, and people began regularly walking around in the home.  All of these combine to leverage more weight/pressure from the building to the property below.  

Now, add in seasonal changes: freezing, thawing, droughts, and floods.  It makes sense that the earth is going to move a little, right? These slight shifts and movements are what makes a home settle.  You should expect a few hairline cracks to form over time.  These should be filled and repaired, but they’re not a cause for undue concern for a homeowner.  

On the other hand, if your foundation is settling more significantly or unevenly, that’s a different story.  We’ll address that type of issue in a later section.

long vertical crack in concrete wallThis photo was taken by an Acculevel project manager during a free estimate appointment. The crack in this finished basement allowed water to seep in. 

Hydrostatic Pressure 

Hydrostatic pressure is a fancy way of describing what happens when the ground around your home is saturated with water.  Once soil starts absorbing water, it expands in every direction- including towards your home.  This puts pressure on your basement walls, until they crack.  Often, these cracks also let in water because there’s so much moisture in the ground.

Once a crack is letting in water, you need to have it fixed professionally.  Please don’t DIY foundation repairs.  The best methods- and the best materials- are not available to consumers.  The longer you wait to make repairs, the wider the crack will be.  These cracks usually start out vertically.  If they develop into horizontal cracks, or stair-stepped cracks, this is when you have a more urgent issue. 

When Do You Need to Take Action?

You should have any and every crack in your foundation repaired.  That’s the best way to make sure things don’t get worse (or more expensive).  

Having said that?  There are times when you need to get your foundation repaired, now.  This is when serious problems- including structural instability- are looming.

When Your Foundation Settles Unevenly

Earlier, we discussed how settling is a natural and inevitable part of house building.  But there are times when it’s a sign that something more problematic is happening.  For example, the ground under one corner of your home may be soft, or it may have eroded.  That corner will pull at the other three, putting unexpected stress on the structure and causing separation to occur.

Additional signs to watch for: you may have hairline cracks in the basement walls- but you may also have cracks on the outside of the basement, too.  Another indicator of uneven settling is doors and/or windows that are no longer opening and closing smoothly.  If you have any windows that are “sticking,” check around the window frame for cracks forming in the drywall.  All of these are symptoms of a settling foundation that needs repair.  The best way to restore stability to a settling foundation uses helical piers.  We discuss how piers work and what they cost in this article

When Your Wall Starts to Bow or Buckle

Depending on your foundation type, severe hydrostatic pressure will cause one of two crack types.  If your basement has poured concrete, it will develop a horizontal crack.  If your basement wall is concrete block, it can develop either a horizontal or a stair-step crack.

concrete block wall, with multiple cracksThis photo was taken by an Acculevel project manager during a free estimate appointment.  This basement wall has both horizontal and stair-step cracks. 

Regardless of which kind of crack you see, this is a bad omen. They’re a sign that hydrostatic pressure has compromised the structural integrity of the wall, and you need to get this fixed promptly.  If it’s not repaired, this wall will eventually collapse. We have several different repair methods for bowing walls; they depend on how significantly the wall is bowing and how your individual property is arranged.  We explore this topic more thoroughly in this blog entry

 

Do You Have More Questions?  Want More Information?

I encourage you to reference our free comprehensive guide to foundation repairs.  It can be read in its entirety, you can select the chapter relevant to you, or bookmark it as a reference when you meet with contractors.  

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If you have a major settling issue or a bowing wall, you may be ready to have a contractor come to your house now, and read the guide later.  

Please make sure you verify that any company you choose is reputable, insured, and accredited by the Better Business Bureau.  Not sure what questions to ask, or what information you should acquire about the company you hire?  Please use our guide to questions you should ask a contractor, with a free downloadable form.

If you live in Indiana or the surrounding states, contact Acculevel. We are a family-owned and operated company, and we provide free written estimates.  One of our experienced project managers will evaluate your bowing wall, then recommend the best course of action for you.  Our goal is to help you keep your home strong and healthy for years to come.

 

 

Over her twenty year career, Kelly has worked in a wide variety of fields: secondary education, nursing, biology, elder care, the postal service, multicultural development, and academia. She has developed a skill for translating industry-specific jargon into everyday language. Her goal is to share the knowledge and experience of the Acculevel team with homeowners, in a way that is both engaging and informative.

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