Homeowners typically expect foundation failures to occur downward. As soil shifts, portions of the foundation can begin to sink. This movement can lead to noticeable cracks and a weaker structure. If the problem becomes severe enough, a sinking foundation can even leave your home dangerously uninhabitable.
Sinking isn't the only potential threat your foundation faces, however. Lateral movement can be just as damaging. This type of failure occurs when pressure from the surrounding soil pushes inward on your foundation walls, leading to leaning, bowing, or horizontal cracks. Unaddressed lateral foundation damage is a critical problem that can potentially lead to structural collapse.
What Causes Lateral Foundation Failures?
Your home's foundation resists pressure from several directions, including inward pressure from the surrounding soil. If that pressure increases beyond the original design of the house, the walls will begin to fail. Several factors can influence how this failure occurs, including the style of foundation, existing weak points, and the ultimate cause of the increased pressure.
Horizontal or stair-step cracks are usually the first signs of a lateral failure. In other cases, the wall can begin to lean inward from the top or bottom. You should treat both of these symptoms as a potentially critical emergency and immediately call a foundation contractor for an evaluation.
What Options Are Available?
Although leaning or bowing foundation walls pose a severe threat to your home, you do have repair options. Your top priority when walls begin to fail should always be to evaluate and stabilize the current situation. If you catch the problem early, your foundation may not yet be in significant danger, but never assume that you do not need to act quickly.
Once you have evaluated the situation, a foundation contractor can likely repair bowing, buckling, or leaning walls by installing ground anchors. This solution works by placing plates on the interior of the walls and attaching them to anchors installed around the perimeter. The anchors "pull" on the walls, counteracting the inward pressure from the surrounding soil.
Wall anchors are typically the best option, as long as suitable anchoring locations are available and the walls are not too severely damaged. Anchors will initially stabilize your walls, but your contractor can also use them to pull the wall back into place over time. Once installed, anchors are a permanent solution that will remain in place to support and stabilize your foundation.
Can You Always Use Anchors?
In general, you can almost always use anchors to support a failing foundation wall, with two exceptions: your walls are severely damaged, or there is no space around your walls. Anchors must always be installed at least several feet from your foundation, so you need access to this property. Anchors are also a poor solution if the existing walls are already failing.
Aside from these caveats, wall anchors offer a cost-effective and long-term solution to lateral foundation wall failures. This relatively simple repair method can ensure that your home remains structurally sound for many years into the future.