Moving into a newly constructed house can be exciting for any homebuyer. But when you discover issues such as wall cracks or doors and windows sticking, you may question the structural integrity of your new home.
Does it mean your house is settling, or are you experiencing severe structural issues?
In most cases, it might mean your house is settling. If house settling sounds like one of your worst nightmares, we’re here to help.
This article discusses what house settling is, how long it takes, signs, and reasons for settling.
What Is House Settling?
House settling is a natural process where a house gradually sinks into the ground. Whether the home sits on a solid foundation or not, it will begin to settle over time. You may fail to notice any signs of settling in the first few years.
When a house settles, the soil under the foundation shifts. This process occurs when your newly built house gets used to the new place. During settling, movement will occur and cause the wood or concrete to shift.
Environmental factors may cause foundation damage as your house settles. A house built during a drought with a solid foundation should not cause worries when settling begins. That is especially true if settlement distributes evenly across your home.
How Long Will It Take a House To Settle?
House settling will vary from house to house depending on weather, soil type, and foundation. Generally, newly built homes may take 1-3 years to settle. For most structures, complete settlement occurs within the third year.
Some homes, especially those made on favorable soil and during drought, may finish settling within the first year.
Additional settling may occur in the future due to weather changes. For example, flooding can lead to further settling during the rainy season and cause foundation damage. It’s therefore advisable to install drainage systems in areas prone to flooding.
Signs To Look For in a Settled House
A house that has settled will experience minor changes, such as cosmetic issues. Fix those issues immediately after you discover them to avoid dealing with larger problems in the future. Below are the signs to look for in a settled house:
Thin cracks on the wall or foundation might result from the house settling. You may notice gaps on the wall or foundation, especially where the structure is weakest. You should be okay if the cracks are about 1/8 inch wide and don’t grow larger. Wall cracks resulting from house settling should be vertical and 2-6 inches long.
Try to fit a credit card to determine if the cracks are 1/8 inch wide or smaller. If the card doesn’t fit in, patch the cracks right away. If it fits in, you’re dealing with a significant structural issue that needs a professional fix.
You’ll also need to be wary of cracks inside your house that match those you’ve noticed on the other side of the wall. Such cracks indicate foundation issues and need a professional to handle them.
Sticky Doors and Windows
If you have thin walls resulting from a settling house, your doors and windows will likely get sticky. To determine if you’re dealing with a severe structural problem, check whether the door fit in their frames properly. If not, the issue might be more significant than settling.
Doors and windows won’t lock smoothly if the locking mechanism fails to line up correctly. They may also jam and open with a lot of struggle. They might swing back and forth instead of resting in one place when you open them.
Call your builder to fix or replace doors and windows. If house settling is still in progress, the issue might arise again.
Uneven floors may indicate settling has taken place. However, if slanting exceeds an angle, your house might be experiencing a structural problem. And if your home is new, slanting can result from poor craft. Check for structural issues like a cracked foundation and rotted floor supports.
Cabinets and Countertops Separating From the Wall
Kitchen cabinets and countertops might separate from the wall due to the house settling. However, if you find noticeable gaps between the wall and your cabinets or countertop, you might be dealing with a foundation problem. Contact a professional when you notice the gap or sift to have them fixed.
Minor house settling might not damage your roof. However, if the house settles beyond the norm, you might notice issues such as cracks or gaps on the roof.
Burst Water Pipes
A sinking foundation (during house settling) is likely to twist water pipes. In some cases, the pipes might start to leak or burst. Inspect your leaking pipes and align them correctly to avoid bursting. If your pipes burst due to a shifting foundation, call your plumber to get them fixed.
Reasons for a House To Settle
If your home is still new and looks strong but has signs of settling, you might want to know the cause. Here are the reasons why houses settle.
Loose or Clay Soil
A house built on loose soil or soil with a lot of clay will sink over time. The weight of the house puts more pressure on the loose soil, causing the house to sink. Clay soil might expand and contract due to weather changes, leading to house settling.
The house’s weight, soil density, and clay quantity influence how fast settling will occur. If your story house sits on loose soil or soil with a lot of clay, settling may occur in a few months.
Weather changes can cause the house to settle over time. Laying the foundation when the soil has moisture will cause the house to settle during the dry season. Soil, especially clay, will expand during rainy seasons and contract during the dry season.
If you live in colder climates, the cinder blocks in your basements will expand and contract when the weather becomes extreme. The expansion and contraction can result in cracks in your foundation.
When installing the home’s foundation, builders remove the topsoil and backfill the space to a certain level. This crucial step removes loose or moist topsoil and replaces it with reliable backfilling material.
After backfilling, builders should heavily compact the soil to make the foundation stronger. Failure to compress the backfilling material properly increases the chance of setting.
If you have trees surrounding your home, their root systems can lead to house settling. Roots grow beneath the foundation, creating pockets of unstable soil. With time, your foundation begins to shift, and you might notice signs of settling.
The best way to prevent root systems from causing house settling is by clearing the land, cutting the roots, and backfilling. Doing so provides stable soil for laying the foundation.
Fresh Wood and Concrete
A newly constructed home has fresh wood and concrete with water in them. With time, wood and concrete dry, and the water evaporates, causing them to shrink. Factors such as type of wood, concrete mixture proportions, and climate will determine how fast or slow wood and concrete shrink.
You might notice various signs of the house settling as the wood and concrete shrink, such as wall cracks or stuck windows and doors.
How To Protect Your House From Future Settling Issues
Now you must be worried about settling and the damage it can cause your home. So, how do you protect your home from future settling issues?
Repair or Patch Cracks
While house settling is expected in newly constructed homes, you can prevent severe damage from occurring. After noticing minor house settling issues, the first thing to do is repair with your builder.
Call your builder to find the cause of the settling. Your builder will patch hairline cracks on the wall or foundation to prevent them from getting deeper. Failure to fix the foundational problems might result in long-term issues that can destroy your curb appeal.
Inspect the Foundation
If your foundation is prone to sinking, you can hire a professional to inspect it every six months. The professional can detect and assess any foundational issues that can cause the house to settle. Fix those issues before they cause foundation damage.
Install Gutters and Diverters
Rainwater can flood the foundation and lead to sinking. To prevent rainwater from damaging or exacerbating the settling process, install gutters and diverters to direct rainwater away from your house.
Install Drainage system
Besides installing gutters and diverters, you may also need to install a drainage system to direct rainwater or floods away from your house. You can also slant the ground away from the home to move water away from your foundation.
House settling may manifest in many different ways over the years. For most newly constructed homes, settling might take 1-3 years. This timeline can vary depending on the soil type, weather, house size, and foundation.
Cracks on the walls and foundation, sticky doors and windows, slanted floors, or burst pipes might indicate that your house is settling. Inspect them and have them fixed to prevent more severe damage.