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Foundation Wall Cracks, Cause, Effect and Solution
There are no perfect homes and that would include establishing it. Whether you have a new home or a hundred year old home, the foundation of the home is cracking. Houses are moved and settled after construction. Houses will have cracks in either the cosmetic finishes or the structural elements. Most of these cracks have no structural significance. Common types of cracks in foundation walls include:
Vertical (or nearly vertical) cracks. Just because a wall is cracked does not mean it has failed or that corrective action is required. If the crack is narrow (1/8 inch or less), is nearly vertical, has no lateral separation between adjacent wall sections, and is not leaking water through the crack, no action is generally required. This is a shrinkage crack and occurs as moisture in the wall evaporates causing the wall to shrink in the gaps created by the escaping water. This type of cracking is controlled or minimized but not eliminated by using horizontal reinforcing steel, which helps distribute the stresses in the wall. If there is horizontal steel, you are more likely to see many very small cracks rather than one or two much wider cracks. Another method of limiting shrinkage cracking is to control the amount of water used in the concrete mix.
Re-entry cracks? Whenever a concrete element has a sharp angle, there is a concentration of stress. This almost always results in a crack called a re-entry crack that originates from the inside corner. It can be vertical, horizontal or diagonal as it exits the corner. This phenomenon exists in almost all materials. Round openings can dissipate pressure, but this is impractical in concrete wall construction. The standard treatment to reduce this type of cracking is to place steel reinforcements in the corners. It won’t eliminate those cracks, but it will keep them tight and under control.
Horizontal cracks? Horizontal cracks require greater control. Most residential foundation walls are designed to extend from the footing or floor slab to the connection of the floor construction above. An 8-inch concrete wall in normal ground conditions is usually strong enough to withstand the forces acting on the wall without vertical reinforcement. Exceptions include areas with high groundwater conditions or expansive soil conditions. If there is vertical reinforcement in the wall, a horizontal crack is probably not a concern. When a horizontal crack occurs, expert advice should be sought to assess whether there is a structural hazard.
These cracks usually result from one or more of the following.
1. Subsidence of the ground under the foundation resulting in downward movement of the foundation and shifting is common in most newly built homes.
2. Changing the local water table every time a new house is built. In particular, the soil under the house is drying out. the resulting soil shrinkage causes minor settlement of the footing which can lead to hairline cracks in the foundation walls.
3. A new house, without furniture and effects, does not impose a significant load on the foundation. Once all your furniture and appliances are moved, the weight on the foundation, and the structure in general, increases and causes some bending (or movement) of structural members throughout the building. This increased load can cause hairline cracks at the base.
4. Drying shrinkage. As poured concrete dries and hardens, it will shrink. The main factor affecting drying shrinkage is the total water content of the concrete. As the water content of poured concrete increases, the amount of shrinkage increases. Significant increases in sand content and significant decreases in the size of coarse aggregate used in poured concrete increase shrinkage because the total water content increases and smaller coarse aggregates provide less internal resistance to shrinkage.
5. Thermal expansion and contraction of concrete. Concrete poured during high daytime temperatures will contract as it cools overnight, this may be enough to cause cracking if the concrete is held.
6. Restraint. The restriction of the free movement of fresh or hardened concrete after completion of placement (pouring of concrete) in a formwork or within an otherwise limited space. The constraint may be internal or external and may act in one or more directions.
7. Underground settlement or movement. The subsidence of the soil or footing due to its mass, the loads imposed on it, or the shrinkage or displacement of the underlying support.
Most foundation cracks are small and insignificant. are common to both poured concrete and block foundations. Structural (horizontal) cracks in residential foundations are usually the result of subsidence and/or horizontal loading. It can be a result of hydrostatic pressure or the use of heavy equipment next to the foundation. The potential impact of cracks in your foundation is moisture infiltration, moisture that can damage finished wall coverings, floor coverings and furniture.
Water will seep through a foundation crack if there is enough hydrostatic pressure to force water through the crack. If a waterproofing system was installed during construction, the basement may not leak even if there is a large crack. Note that waterproofing is not the same as waterproofing. Installing an external waterproofing system after backfilling the wall can be prohibitive. The best solution is to use an epoxy injection system. It will stick to the side of the cracks and can actually strengthen the wall. These systems can be DIY, but it is highly recommended to have them installed by a professional.
If you take anything away from this article…take this. All foundations crack, your foundation, my foundation and most of these cracks are minor and have no structural impact. If you are concerned about the size and type of crack, call a professional for an evaluation.
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