Skip to Main Content

Differential Settlement

Differential settlement is something you must keep an eye out for. It can cause serious structural damage.

Get a Free Estimate

It’s safe to say that your home’s foundation is its key element. From carrying the weight of the structure above it to providing stability, it simply needs to be perfect. However, things don’t always go as we’d like them to. If the builders don’t inspect the soil beneath the foundation properly, your home can begin to settle, causing numerous problems. 

Not every type of soil has the same properties and load-bearing capacities. If you overlook this fact, you’re certain to face a settling foundation in the near future. That’s even before the whole construction process is over. Let’s delve into differential settlement, explain what it is, how it works, and what you can do to prevent or repair it. 

settling foundation crack

What Is Differential Settlement? 

Before we get into other details, it’s essential to explain what differential settlement is. Namely, this process refers to the uneven or unequal settling of a structure. It happens due to many factors, one of which is the uneven weight distribution of a building. This in turn will make the foundation unable to bear the load of the building as it sinks into the soil, resulting in severe structural damage. 

The soil beneath a structure can also expand, contract, and shift, causing your home to settle unevenly. The reasons for such soil behavior are many and include drought conditions, floods, tree roots, run-down water lines, and even poor drainage. The first clear signs of differential settlement are cracks in the concrete and the brick veneer as well as hard-to-open doors and windows

With time, the cracks will begin to grow, allowing both moisture and pests into the lower level of your home. On the other hand, the doors and windows will be unable to open and close properly. This will also lead to numerous problems such as drops in temperature and poor energy efficiency. However, these are just byproducts of a settling foundation, and the bigger picture is even worse. 

What Is Behind Differential Settlement? 

Like most problems, differential settlement doesn’t appear out of nowhere. It has its roots in the construction process on which you must keep an eye. Soil plays a major role in differential settlement, so we’re going to take a look at two polar-opposite soil types and explain how both can be behind differential settlement in Alabama and Tennessee. 

Expansive Clay 

This first type of soil is not a builder’s best friend. Depending on the weather, clay will either shrink or expand. You could say it’s somewhat similar to a sponge. Clay expands when in contact with water during a wet season while it reduces during a drought. This is the reason why experts call it highly expansive soil. Therefore, if your home is sitting on top of clay, it is more than likely to settle and sink. 

Bedrock Issues 

Unlike clay, bedrock is one of the strongest supports your foundation can have. But its strength and durability don’t mean that it is immune to differential settlement. The main problem is that the bedrock will interfere with the footing trenches, which will cause the structure to settle. Builders have serious problems while constructing a home on such terrain, as hilly and rocky areas have shallow and outcropping bedrock. 

These rocky terrains mean that the home will partly sit on top of bedrock and partly on the soil. And since bedrock and soil provide uneven support, one part of the building will eventually settle into the ground. The weight of the structure will be too much for the soil, while the part of the home that’s on the bedrock will remain in place. 

Other Causes 

Unfortunately, expansive clay and bedrock aren’t the only two reasons why your home might settle into the ground. You can experience foundation problems if someone is disrupting the stability of your soil by doing massive excavations near you. On the other hand, the same can occur if your soil is drying out and if there are trees with massive roots near your foundation. And lastly, it’s not uncommon to experience differential settlement if the dimensions of your foundation don’t match with the rest of your home. 

Signs to Look out For 

Differential settlement is rather unpredictable. It can often be predicted during construction while sometimes it can take years to develop. Nevertheless, you can watch out for clear signs that there’s something wrong with your foundation. And if you do, it’s essential to act immediately before anything serious happens and endangers you and your family. 

That said, the first and most obvious sign of differential settlement is if you see cracks developing on your foundation walls and the concrete slab they stand upon. These cracks will usually be wider at the top with narrow lines at the bottom. But that’s not all. You can spot differential settlement by observing your doors and windows too. 

If your doors and windows show signs of not working properly, it can be due to your home settling into the ground. You can see this if they don’t fit into their frames as they should. The reason is that they’re no longer on level with one another and it might take more of an effort to close or open them properly. Other signs might include bulging walls, crooked chimneys, and sinking exterior stairs. 

Solutions for Differential Settlement 

When it comes to differential foundation settlement, the best tip we can offer is to keep an eye out on the soil during construction. Prevention is key here as it can save you from unpleasant situations and more importantly, costly repairs. However, if it’s too late for prevention now, you can look into underpinning the foundation by using foundation piers to improve its stability. 

Of course, prevention is always better than the remedy. Before you start construction, you should contact a professional to examine the soil on your land. They will inspect it and determine whether it’s suitable for the type of building you’re looking to erect. If not, they will offer solutions such as replacing the soil with some other, more suitable type or using deep foundations to reach the bedrock under the soft layer above it. If you’re having trouble with your home settling into the ground, you can contact professional help at AFS Repairs. Our team will visit your home and provide you with a free inspection and repair quote. Afterward, they’ll offer you repair solutions. With their help, you’ll no longer fear for the safety of your home and family, and you’ll be comfortable for years to come.

Publish Date:

Last Modified Date:

PROUDLY SERVING ALABAMA, GEORGIA, KENTUCKY AND TENNESSEE

Birmingham, AL

(205) 286-5520
(205) 859-8550
130 Interstate Commerce Crt. Bldg. 100 & 200
Alabaster, AL 35007

Chattanooga, TN

(423) 212-8210
(423) 226-3582
214 Industrial Park Dr.
Soddy-Daisy, TN 37379

Huntsville, AL

(256) 344-6717
(256) 445-9070
2415 Jordan Road
Huntsville, AL 35811

Knoxville, TN

(865) 290-1305
(865) 290-1306
3028 E Governor John Sevier Highway
Knoxville, TN 37914

Mobile, AL / Biloxi, MS

(251) 250-1901
(251) 220-3457
5275 Business Pkwy.
Theodore, AL 36582

Montgomery, AL / Columbus, GA

(334) 209-5411
(334) 203-4899

Nashville, TN

(615) 246-7220
(615) 235-0525
1519 Heil Quaker Blvd.
LaVergne, TN 37086