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    Laura Daftari's Avatar
    Laura Daftari Guest

    Default 40 year old house settling too much?

    Ever winter, our two story house in CA settles so much majority of the interior doors cannot be closed all the way or don't line up with the strike plate at all. We have two exterior french doors that I have to yank on with all my weight to open 6 months out of the year. One of the interior walls on the second story is so unlevel now, a bubble level doesn't even register. This wall has a bedroom on one side and is completely open and seen from the first floor on the other side. There are also cracks forming from the corner of various windows around the backside of the house on the first floor. The second story is only above the back half of the house and the front portion doesn't seem to have as many issues.
    We bought our house 4 years ago and the home inspection didn't list any major issues. There is some slight dry rot on a major beam under the roof but it is on the other side of the house and still has many years left. We have a friend who installs security alarms (and crawls under houses every day) take a look at our foundation and he said there weren't any noticeable cracks and everything was bone dry (this was during winter). He did say majority of the supports were adjustable metal supports instead of wood. He says he sees those all the time but not in such a high ratio. We do have a retaining wall close to the foundation in the backyard but don't have any noticeable drainage issues. The retaining wall does have 1/8" cracks every 3' or so and is made out of concrete.

    I'm scared to be in the house at times since the doors are a fire hazard but my husband thinks this much settling each year is normal. I have only lived in 1 story houses but have never had this much settling. Any help/ideas would be greatly appreciated!

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  2. #2
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    Default Re: 40 year old house settling too much?

    Quote Originally Posted by Laura Daftari View Post
    Ever winter, our two story house in CA settles so much majority of the interior doors cannot be closed all the way or don't line up with the strike plate at all. We have two exterior french doors that I have to yank on with all my weight to open 6 months out of the year. One of the interior walls on the second story is so unlevel now, a bubble level doesn't even register. This wall has a bedroom on one side and is completely open and seen from the first floor on the other side. There are also cracks forming from the corner of various windows around the backside of the house on the first floor. The second story is only above the back half of the house and the front portion doesn't seem to have as many issues.
    We bought our house 4 years ago and the home inspection didn't list any major issues. There is some slight dry rot on a major beam under the roof but it is on the other side of the house and still has many years left. We have a friend who installs security alarms (and crawls under houses every day) take a look at our foundation and he said there weren't any noticeable cracks and everything was bone dry (this was during winter). He did say majority of the supports were adjustable metal supports instead of wood. He says he sees those all the time but not in such a high ratio. We do have a retaining wall close to the foundation in the backyard but don't have any noticeable drainage issues. The retaining wall does have 1/8" cracks every 3' or so and is made out of concrete.

    I'm scared to be in the house at times since the doors are a fire hazard but my husband thinks this much settling each year is normal. I have only lived in 1 story houses but have never had this much settling. Any help/ideas would be greatly appreciated!
    Hi Laura,

    Sounds like expansive soils. Recognize that I am just making a guess here. Clay or adobe will swell/contract as it becomes wet/dry seasonally. In the winter, the soil under the house will become wet and the clay will swell. In the summer, the soil will dry and shrink, often leaving large cracks, both in the soil and around the foundation and mid-span piers. Very common in my area as well. As a general rule, the trick is to stabilize the soil so it does not move as much seasonally.

    Does it get wet under your house during the rainy season? Standing water?

    The comments below are assuming no significant structural damage has already occurred. If there are significant cracks in the foundation, I recommend you speak with a licensed structural engineer.

    Often, this can be controlled (not eliminated) with the installation of drainage. Get the roof water away from the foundation and possibly install "french" drains around the perimeter of the foundation.

    Another thing that might help is a "vapor retarder" on the soil under the house. There are varying opinions on vapor retarders; some say they are effective and others disagree. A vapor retarder is essentially 6 mil plastic laid on the soil (not up piers or the foundation). This will restrict evaporation of water from the soil and can help to stabilize moisture content, which can in turn reduce the seasonal cycle of expansion/contract of the soil. Similar to your situation, I would get sloped floors and stuck doors in my first house. I put in exterior perimeter drainage and a vapor retarder on the soil under the house and saw a significant decrease in seasonal movement.

    This will not address the movement that has already occurred. You can probably hire a licensed and qualified contractor to adjust the jacks and/or wood piers to level the home once you have addressed the cause; however, it will likely not result in perfectly level floors. If you do choose to do some leveling, recognize that there is a very good chance that it will result in additional wall/ceiling cracks and misaligned doors that would require correction.

    More information can be obtained from a soils engineer.

    I hope this helps.

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    http://www.FullCircleInspect.com/

  3. #3
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    Default Re: 40 year old house settling too much?

    Expansive clay soils would also be first on my list of probable causes. The wide retaining wall cracks being a good clue. I inspected a house in SW Colorado that had a very similar problem (kitchen table had more than 3/8" of slope on it, but homeowner said it "got level" every summer when things dried out, outside). She also had a tall (8' +/-) retaining wall in her sideyard with abnormally wide transverse cracks every 2' or 3', with weeds growing out of a few of them.

    The best solution for new homes (besides keeping water away from the foundation) was building a styrofoam "cushion" in the bottoms of all the spread footing foundations. I used 2" thick material in the 2 high-end home foundations I designed in Montrose, CO, and it performed well (combined with over-sized, 30"-thick footings). Existing homes were often retrofitted by spreading a healthy layer of bentonite just beneath the topsoil around the house perimeter, to keep any stray water away from piers and footings.


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    Default Re: 40 year old house settling too much?

    I note your profile location (if I'm reading it correctly) as "Concord, CA(lifornia)". A seismic area.

    I would advise a complete geotechnical evaulation/survey and SE evaluation. The presence of multitude jacks is concerning. 40 y.o. home - and suspect improper or lack of seismic retrofit and possible prior movement/damage, and/or the possiblity of fault slippage/creep and/or liquifaction, in addition to the other factors already 'touched upon'.

    Helpful resources might include state (of california) sponsored sites, geologic, office of state architect, etc., the city of Concord site, and the US Geological Survey information, as well as FEMA information on seismic damage repair and retrofitting, and much at UC Berkley Seismological Labortory.


    "(1) The City of Concord is within an active seismic area."

    Concord, CA | City Government | Municipal Code: Chapter 14

    Static Shaking Maps for Future Earthquake Scenarios ABAG Earthquake and Hazards Program

    http://www.abag.ca.gov/bayarea/eqmap...cord-Annex.pdf

    Earthquake Hazards Program

    possibly of interest as you explore Hayward fault activity, and concord/green valley for example: http://earthquake.usgs.gov/research/...05HQGR0029.pdf

    Ask an Earthquake Expert: What's Going On with the Hayward Fault? - Concord, CA Patch

    Frequently Asked Questions


    Certainly you had a home inspection and investigtions prior to purchase 4 yrs ago, seismic concerns, and the presence of these screw jacks wasn't any surprise, right?

    Last edited by H.G. Watson, Sr.; 10-20-2012 at 09:17 AM.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: 40 year old house settling too much?

    Quote Originally Posted by H.G. Watson, Sr. View Post
    Certainly you had a home inspection and investigtions prior to purchase 4 yrs ago, seismic concerns, and the presence of these screw jacks wasn't any surprise, right?
    They might not have been mentioned in a report, or only mentioned in passing, if there was no problem. These screw jacks are pretty common in my area and I am only a 70-80 minute or so drive from Concord. I do see corroded/damaged jacks under homes in my area due to standing water. Laura, since you did not mention damaged jacks, I did not address the possibility of movement caused by corroded/damaged metal. While HG's comments are possible, I am more of the opinion of expansive soils. I am not overly familiar with the type of soils in Concord, but clay is pretty common throughout much of No.Cal.

    Department of Redundancy Department
    http://www.FullCircleInspect.com/

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