Possible Foundation Issues with Older Homes
Older homes always have a history behind them. Old homes also feature fascinating handmade craftsmanship, in terms of overall construction and design that is little seen today. However, some older homes are often not taken care of, which means that they are neglected and eventually deteriorate. It’s also inevitable that an older home may also have a foundation that’s greatly in need of repair, depending on its age and how it’s constructed.
There are many homes in the Austin area that are youngsters, meaning in the thirty to forty year range, but there are even older homes that are still standing. The Texas Governor’s Mansion, for example, dates back to the 1850s, and neighborhoods such as the Old West Austin District have homes dating back to the 1880s.
Homes built before World War Two most likely do not have a modern foundation, unless it’s been completely renovated. The slab foundation, which is pretty common these days has only been around for some 70 years, so if you live in a home built before 1945-1950, you may have a different type of foundation that may cause you problems in the end.
Why Do Older Homes Have Foundation Issues?
The stability of a home can vary on numerous things. This includes the quality of the construction, the location of the house, climactic conditions and when the home was built. If your home is a much older one, then there is a possibility that it will fall victim to foundation issues over time.
The quality of craftsmanship in construction has changed over time as well. Present day materials can sometimes be questionable, as construction companies often go for items that are less expensive, to build the actual house. However, the materials may differ greatly from what is used to build a home’s foundation today. Older homes may have used different materials to serve as a foundation, such as slate, soil or cobblestones, to name a few. These types of foundations predate the more commonly used concrete slab, which is more durable, but, it can also fall victim to problems over time.
Why Concrete Slabs?
Today’s concrete slab foundations weren’t used widely until after the end of World War Two. With a surge of soldiers returning home after the war, there was a dramatic need for homes and housing developments (Levittown, NY is one example), which often led to quick construction. Builders found it more cost effective to lay out and pour a concrete foundation, roughly four to six inches thick, compared to the old school method of framing out a floor with wood beams and joists.
These early slabs were poured within stem walls, which are small perimeter walls, which then helped to support the home’s wood frame. In some cases slab foundations were poured without any reinforcement, which would cause problems as the slab had a greater tendency to crack. Reinforcing the slab, with wire mesh or rebar, would greatly alleviate that issue. Many homes in Austin started to use slab foundations in the early 1950s, and before that, most homes in Central Texas used pier and beam as a standard foundation, and some still do.
Some slab foundations use a thickened perimeter, which would work as a base, or footing, that would make stem walls not necessary. This is referred to as a monolithic slab, as it’s created by one major concrete pour.
Foundations Issues with Older Homes
The main issue with a problematic foundation may just be the passage of time. Issues such as erosion can cause the soil under a house to shift. Tree roots can expand and cause a headache, especially if they grow underneath the foundation. Depending on the age of your home, you may simply not be able to notice such things, until it’s too late.
Experiencing Uneven Floors
It may be hard to tell if you have uneven floors at first. It may not be noticeable originally, especially when the trouble first starts. Initial warning signs tend to be doors and windows that won’t properly shut, cracks in your drywall, usually near doors and windows. You can also determine if you have uneven floors, by using a cylindrical object, like a bottle, or marbles and seeing if they roll on the floor. This doesn’t always mean that you have a foundation problem, but if you can tell that the floors are staring to feel uneven, then you may have a problem.
Slab leaks are pipe leaks that happen within or underneath the foundation of a home. There are several possibilities for the source of this, including a leak in the homes water line, or problems with the sewage line. A shifting foundation can also be the source, especially if you have an older home. Such shifting can cause excessive stress on the pipes and cause them to crack and eventually break.
If ignored, a slab leak can create major headaches as water coalesces underneath. You may notice such things as mildew, rot, mold and soil erosion over time, which can gradually lead to foundation damage, which, in turn, can lead to major structural issues for your Austin home.
Cracks in Your Walls and Chimney
Noticeable cracks can be caused by foundation problems. These primarily appear in walls and within the vicinity of windows. These may be more noticeable if your home is very old. Always check your walls for hairline cracks, which are very thin and are common in plaster or drywall. Hairline cracks can be considered normal wear and tear, such as a house settling, but they expand and grow over time, especially if your house is older.
You should also be on the lookout for problems with your chimney (if you have one) as cracks can appear near the flue. Many Austin homes have wooden chimney chases which protect the exhaust pipes; over time they can experience rot, water damage and slowly deteriorate. If you have a brick chimney, look for cracks on its exterior. Cracking can appear not only in the brick or stone, but also in the mortar. Minor cracks in the mortar are fairly common and can be repaired by repointing the chimney, but major cracks, such as stair-step cracks or vertical ones that expand over several years, may be related to your foundation.
Know the Signs of Foundation Problems
It can be difficult to determine if a minor crack is just normal aging, or the result of something more serious. If you’re buying an older house, you need to have it inspected, so make sure that all potential problems are reviewed and analyzed. Foundation problems are not always noticeable at first, but should you come across something that doesn’t seem right, such as deep cracks in floors, uneven floors, cracks in interior or exterior walls, then you should have your foundation inspected.
If you have an older home, there is a chance that your foundation may be in need of repair. Many of these above issues can be fixed, but it’s determining the cause that’s most important. If you are having issues with your foundation, reach out to our foundation repair company. Our highly experienced team will thoroughly evaluate your home’s foundation and work with you to safely and properly fix any problems you might have.
*If you’re interested in old homes, The French Legation State Historic Site, at 802 San Marcos in Downtown Austin, is the city’s oldest documented structure, and is still located on its original site. Built between 1840-41, to represent the French Government during the new Republic of Texas, the building has been restored and has operated as a museum since 1956.