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Walls - from exterior brick to basements - can be damaged by soil pressure. Stair-step cracking is a typical sign of foundation settlement and is very common in brick and concrete block walls. As your home continues to settle further, vertical cracks may widen, indicating that the wall is rotating outward.
How did this happen?
Drying and shrinking soils
During prolonged dry periods, the soils around your home may begin to dry. Clay soils shrink considerably when they dry, creating a void between the structure and the soil it's relying on to support it. When this happens, your foundation settles as well, frequently resulting in structural damage.
Wetting and softening of soil
Water can pose dangers for your home's foundation in several ways:
Heavy rain and flooding: When clay soils contact water, they retain it and become very soft. Soft soil does not bear loads well, causing heavy objects to sink into it.
Poor drainage: If water is allowed to "pool" next to the home due to poor soil grading, clogged gutters or some other factor, soils absorb the water. If soils around the home are clay, they will soften. This can cause the home to sink.
Plumbing leaks and broken water lines: Plumbing leaks under or near a home can saturate soils around it, potentially weakening their load-bearing capacity. Often, plumbing leaks push soil out from under the home, creating a void into which a home or building can sink.
Poorly compacted fill soil
When preparing for your home's foundation, builders often use soil from another location to fill hollow or depressed areas. This recently excavated fill soil can be looser and lighter than the dense, hard-packed virgin soils already present. To compensate, builders frequently compact the fill soil thoroughly before placing a foundation. If this compaction is not done, or is done poorly, your home's weight may cause the soil to compress, leading to foundation settlement issues.