Settling Houses

By November 17, 2011 Understanding your home

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 10 seconds

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Skinny House

So you got wrapped up into the new home building frenzy of a few years ago, and purchased a freshly built home out in the ‘burbs’. Lots of folks were doing it; The money was flowing and building was rampant. the home you moved into was so fresh the darn thing didn’t have time to settle in. A few winters later and the new home smell is long gone, the warranty period is also ancient history. You are finally getting to know the neighbors and settle in yourself. It is time to see what goofy little things have occurred, despite our best efforts to wish the contrary. The truth is that some of these things happen seasonally and others just happen so slowly that they are hard to notice.

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Foundation Crack

This is not just a new home problem. We have also seen cracking when additions are constructed. Despite our best efforts, things just seem to move a little – and a little is all it takes.

This phenomenon occurs as a result of compaction of footing material, caused by expansion and contraction with temperature and humidity changes. We go from -15 deg. in the winter to +105 deg. in the summer here in Boise, Idaho, and that is a pretty wild shift. Frost heave from an unusually cold winter may be an issue. Overwatering near a foundation can settle improperly compacted backfill too, and tree roots are occasionally to blame.  All of these dissimilar materials getting attached to each other are bound to cause problems.

From foundations to ridge vent and everything in between, we see all sorts of issues. Fortunately, most are minor and purely cosmetic. Occasionally they signal major structural problems, but this is rare.

Here is a short list of things we have seen at Levco.

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Drywall Crack

Drywall cracks: These are seen over the corner of doors, in joints of drywall. We saw one crack through the middle of a sheet on a ceiling that occurred when a house was racked by a tree that fell during a wind storm. That takes a tremendous amount of force.

Grout cracks: These are found in the corner of walls, where tile meets granite or other dissimilar materials.

Foundation cracks: Found at angled connections, Mid Span, and Slab cracks. We have seen many examples of stairs sinking, as well as doors not operating as they should, “sticking”

How are you going to address this stuff?

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Cracked Grout

Some things can be done ahead of time to mitigate the risk of the problems, such as doing extra compaction and using re-bar in the footings and foundations. We occasionally make footings larger than they need to be in order to spread out the weight. We also use epoxy and re-bar to tie old concrete to new to keep the foundations where they belong.

When it comes to connecting dissimilar materials or working with materials at 90 degree angles, a flexible caulking is the answer. They make color match for every grout (sanded or not) and that works best. In fact, a trick I use is to caulk first and grout second.

When it comes to drywall cracks, we recommend a patch drywall mud with mesh tape. The problem comes with matching textures. There are lots of spray can patching mixtures; I recommend a water based material to keep the fumes down, and the initial texture is water based too.   Always use primer prior to repainting a patch, this allows for a sheen match. Occasionally it is necessary to re-texture a large area to make a patch blend in to the woodwork.

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Stuck Door

Doors are a mixed bag. Often just a smack with a hammer on a block of wood will shift the jam enough to get things working again. Other more serious adjustments may involve removing the casing and reworking the shims. The temptation is to shave the door, but resist this temptation. Adding to a door later is problematic at best. Always try to figure out why the problem exists, as I said, these things are not random. There is a cause we just have to try to understand what is going on.

Foundation cracks are a difficult thing to address with a blanket statement. Sometimes caulking can be what is needed to keep additional moisture out. In other cases, removal of a section and addition of a replacement, as we have done in one case, is the answer.

At Levco we look at the home as a whole and try to understand what is happening then figure out why. The final step is to make some prescriptive suggestions. IE: if it took 75 years to shift, perhaps cosmetic repairs are enough. If the home is slipping off of the hillside in 25 years it is time to take action!


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