Stair Step Foundation Cracks and What You Should Know

Not all foundation cracks should be treated equally. For example, vertical cracks can sometimes be ignored as a cosmetic problem. One type of crack, however—the stair step crack—is a type of damage that can mean you have a bigger foundation problem to address.

Stair Step Crack Basics

Stair step cracks are most often seen on concrete block or brick foundation walls, such as is common for many basement foundations. These cracks are less common, although not unheard of, on poured concrete.

Common Locations

These cracks can form on the outside foundation walls, or you may notice them on an indoor basement wall. Although they are quite noticeable on a bare block foundation, you may also notice stair-stepping on brick mortar or even coming through a stucco wall.

Concern Reasons

A stair step crack indicates that the wall is moving in different directions or at different rates, thus causing a stress crack to open up. This type of movement can quickly degrade a home’s foundation, leading to a loss of structural integrity in your home if it is not repaired.

Doors may fail to open or close properly, floorboards and walls will come out of alignment, and further cracking and failure of other parts of the home’s structure may follow.

Common Causes

Many root causes exist for stair step cracks, which must be determined if a full repair and future prevention is the goal.

Settling Issues

A variety of settling issues can lead to stair-step cracks. On new construction, the cause can often be traced back to poor soil preparation at the time the foundation was built.

Settling that begins to spontaneously affect an older home, on the other hand, may be due to vertical movement of a more direct cause. For example, building another structure or parking heavy equipment too close to a foundation can displace the soil, causing an older home to begin settling again as the nearby soil moves.

Expanding Soil

Certain types of soil are prone to expanding when exposed to moisture. When that expansion happens right next to a foundation wall, the soil puts pressure on the wall until cracks begin to form in the telltale stair-step pattern.

Fine textured soils that contain a lot of clay, for example, will absorb higher volumes of moisture than coarser, sandier soil particles. Areas with clay soil are at a higher risk of expansion damage on foundation walls.

Frost Heave

Frost heave is the soil movement caused by the repeated water expansion of freezing followed by the contraction of thawing. As the water in the soil freezes next to a foundation, it expands and puts pressure on the walls which may cause cracks to form.

Soil won’t experience frost heave unless it has too much moisture trapped within it, since it is the moisture that is actually displacing the soil as it freezes and expands. Causes for excess moisture include water runoff collecting near the foundation walls as well as overly absorbent soil types that don’t drain excess water quickly.

Repair Options

The great news is that stair-step cracks in your foundation are often repairable. Both the cracks and the conditions that caused them must both be repaired.

Gutters and Drains

For frost heave and other root causes that are due to too much moisture near foundation walls, gutters and drains may be the answer. Guttering should be installed around the perimeter of the roof, with the downspouts emptying down the slope and well away from the foundation.

Drains may also be needed, especially if there are concerns about runoff collecting near the foundation. French drains are underground drains that are installed around the outside perimeter of the foundation. You may also need interior basement drains and possibly a sump pump if there are issues with water collecting inside the basement foundation.

Soil Replacement

Expansive soil or soil that moves too easily has no place up against the foundation of your home. The best long-term repair option is to remove any expansive soil that sits up against the foundation walls, and then replace the old soil with less expansive soil.

The existing soil may be mixed with less expansive fillers and then backfilled back against the foundation, but this is only viable if the soil quality isn’t too bad. Otherwise, you may need to have all of the existing soil removed and new, less expansive, backfill installed.

Crack Mending

Once root causes are repaired, the cracks must also be repaired. Otherwise, moisture can seep in and cause ongoing issues. Further, the cracks are unattractive and can provide entrance to pests.

Flexible fillers are a common method for filling in cracks. These contain cement and resin epoxies that will move slightly in response to temperature so that the filler won’t put stress on the surrounding foundation. A better solution, especially if movement is still a concern, is carbon fiber repair straps. These are placed over a filled crack. The straps are designed to take some of the pressure off of the foundation wall so the crack doesn’t reform.

Contact Straight Line Construction if you notice any cracks stair-stepping up a foundation wall.

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Straight Line Construction

Straight Line Construction has changed a great deal over the last 30+ years in the industry, but one thing remains the same: our commitment to quality and to designing and installing permanent solutions to foundation settlement issues. Beginning with small residential jobs more than 30 years ago when the family-owned company was founded by Tim Davis, Sr., Straight Line Construction today repairs cracking residential and commercial foundations through its Ram Jack product toolkit and designs solutions for large infrastructure and industrial projects. We specialize in matching the right solution to each type of foundation repair issue.

Are you building a new home and want to ensure it has a solid foundation? Or is your house experiencing unwanted sagging or a cracking foundation? Are your walls cracked or your doors and windows sticking? As a bonded, licensed, and fully insured foundation repair company, we are proud to serve Colorado homeowners, builders, and commercial contractors. Our technical certifications enable us to offer the highest quality services and the best American-made, environmentally safe products available for foundation repair. Regardless of how your building is shifting or sinking, we can help you stop it. Our 30 years in the business and our designation as a Ram Jack certified dealer means you get the most technologically savvy solution to fix your foundation.

From the factory to the field, we strive to ensure the quality of our products and workmanship meet the highest industry standards. We work with other vetted professionals in the industry. All of our helical piers, push piers, and mounting brackets are manufactured by Ram Jack in Ada, OK, at an ISO-certified facility with American-made steel. Williams Form Engineering in Golden, CO, manufactures our reinforcing bar for ground anchor systems and shares our commitment to quality control and quality assurance.

About Ram Jack

Ram Jack is a family-owned business that began operations in 1968, in Ada, OK, where we currently source our piers and brackets. Back then, concrete piering was the original repair method used simply because it was the only technology available at the time. Over time, it became evident that concrete piers did not provide long-term stabilization of foundations and only provided a short-term warranty period. To guarantee the highest grade of customer satisfaction, a greater solution needed to be found.

The Ram Jack owners embarked on a research program to develop a foundation repair system to stand the test of time. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office first issued a patent to Ram Jack for its foundation repair system in 1985. Over the next few years, additional refinements and patents have followed, resulting in the strongest patented system in the industry. Ram Jack driven pilings are ICC-ES recognized (International Construction Code—Evaluation Services). Ram Jack is one of only two ICC-ES recognized foundation repair companies in the industry. Ram Jack’s products meet or exceed code requirements set down by ICC-ES for both commercial and residential properties.

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