Horizontal Foundation Cracks: Are They Always Bad?

October 17, 2023

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are horizontal foundation cracks always bad

You walk downstairs into your basement and notice a long horizontal crack running along your foundation wall. Uh oh. 

Could this mean your foundation is failing and your house is slowly sinking into the ground? Are horizontal foundation cracks always bad? Take a deep breath – horizontal cracks aren’t necessarily a disaster waiting to happen

Here’s a look at what may be causing them and when you do (or don’t) need to panic.

What Causes Horizontal Foundation Cracks?

Before freaking out about horizontal cracks, it’s important to understand what forces cause them in the first place. Sometimes, foundation crack repair is necessary. 

Let’s look at the main culprits:

Settling

Like teenagers, foundation walls go through some “growth spurts” after a house is built. Concrete continues to cure and dry for years after it’s poured, which causes some settling and shifting. This natural process can lead to horizontal cracks as the foundation adjusts. Minor cracks (1/4 inch or less) are usually just signs of normal settling and aren’t cause for concern.

Temperature Changes

Concrete expands and contracts with changing temperatures throughout the seasons. In colder climates, the freeze/thaw cycles in winter can flex and stress concrete, opening up horizontal cracks. Again, small cracks are typical and not necessarily an issue. Just think of them as your foundation’s way of yawning and stretching on a cold morning!

Hydrostatic Pressure

Horizontal cracks can also form due to excessive hydrostatic pressure against the foundation walls. This pressure builds when groundwater accumulates around the home’s perimeter and “pushes” against the foundation. Poor drainage, heavy rainfall, and high groundwater tables can all increase hydrostatic pressure. The horizontal force may cause inward bowing and horizontal cracking over time.

Are Horizontal Foundation Cracks Always Bad? When are They Problematic?

Okay, so some horizontal cracking is normal. But how do you know when a crack is more serious and requires attention? Here are some red flags:

  • The crack is large: Cracks wider than 1⁄4-1⁄2 inch may indicate a more significant issue like ongoing settlement. Large offsets or gaps may mean foundational elements are pulling apart.
  • The crack is expanding: If you notice a crack getting progressively wider over time, this points to an underlying problem. The foundation may still be settling or soil contraction/expansion issues.
  • The crack has vertical running through it: Vertical cracking intersecting horizontal cracks is a sign of increased stress on the foundation. Vertical cracks result from downward pressure on the walls.
  • The crack shows water leakage: If you notice water or moisture coming through the horizontal crack, this means hydrostatic pressure is finding its way inside. Water infiltration needs to be addressed to prevent further foundation damage.
  • There are multiple horizontal cracks: More than one horizontal crack may indicate soils with poor load-bearing capacity that are still compacting under the home’s weight.

If you notice any of these red flags with horizontal cracks, it’s best to get a professional foundation inspection to determine if repairs are needed.

cracks on concrete

How are Horizontal Foundation Cracks Repaired?

The good news is that there are several effective methods for repairing horizontal cracks in poured concrete foundations. A structural engineer can help diagnose the specific problem and recommend the right solution, which may include:

Epoxy Injection

This involves injecting a two-part epoxy resin into the crack under pressure. The epoxy bonds to the concrete and forms a permanent waterproof repair that restores structural stability. Epoxy injection works for cracks greater than 1/8 inch wide.

Polyurethane Foam Injection

Similar to epoxy injection, but a polyurethane foam resin is used. The foam expands into the crack up to 25 times its initial volume, sealing the opening completely. It works well for cracks too small for epoxy injection.

Carbon Fiber Strap Reinforcement

CFRP (carbon fiber reinforced polymer) straps are applied externally over cracks up to 1/8 inch wide using an epoxy adhesive. The carbon fiber straps provide additional tensile strength to bridge the crack opening and prevent further spreading.

Steel Wall Bracing

For more extensive foundation damage, steel channel braces may be anchored into the foundation walls and backfilled with concrete to provide structural reinforcement. This helps resist bowing and further cracking.

Drainage and Grading Improvements

Sometimes, fixing exterior drainage issues is the best way to reduce hydrostatic pressure and stop horizontal crack progression. Improving drainage may make major foundation repairs unnecessary.

Can Horizontal Cracks Be Prevented?

While some horizontal cracking is inevitable as concrete cures and the foundation settles, there are preventative steps you can take:

  • Install an interior foundation drainage system to relieve hydrostatic pressure
  • Make sure downspouts and gutters direct water well away from the foundation
  • Slope soil away from the house so water flows away from the perimeter
  • Seal any exterior cracks with epoxy or urethane caulk to prevent water intrusion
  • Avoid large trees or heavy landscaping near the foundation which can cause soil drying and shrinkage
  • Maintain stable moisture levels around the foundation by watering during hot, dry weather

With proper site drainage and moisture management, many horizontal cracks can be avoided. But if they do show up, stay calm and consider them character marks that give your foundation personality. Just like your wrinkles tell the story of your life experiences, foundation cracks add vintage charm to your home!

About Lansing Foundation Repair Experts

Lansing Foundation Repair Experts specialize in diagnosing and repairing all types of foundation problems, including horizontal cracks. Their team of structural engineers and foundation repair specialists can recommend customized solutions to stabilize your foundation using methods like epoxy injection, carbon fiber reinforcement, and steel bracing. If you notice horizontal or other foundation cracks in your home, call us at (517) 296-6174 for an expert evaluation and repair quote.

 

FAQs

Are horizontal foundation cracks common?

Horizontal cracks in concrete foundation walls are quite common and occur in most homes at some point. Minor horizontal cracking is generally due to normal shrinkage and settlement and is not a major structural concern as long as the cracks remain small

Should I buy a house with horizontal foundation cracks?

While minor horizontal cracks don’t necessarily mean foundation problems, larger cracks, multiple cracks, or cracks showing water intrusion should be carefully inspected before purchase. If an engineer’s report confirms the horizontal cracks are cosmetic and not structural, or if repairs to stabilize the foundation are reasonably inexpensive, the cracks wouldn’t necessarily preclude buying the house.

Which cracks are worse vertical or horizontal?

Vertical cracks are generally more concerning than horizontal cracks because they indicate downward pressure and structural movement in the foundation walls.

How much foundation cracking is acceptable?

Minor cracks less than 1/4 inch wide are typically not a major concern and can be expected as concrete cures and foundations settle. However, multiple large cracks wider than 1/2 inch or any cracks showing leakage, continuous expansion, offsets, or vertical running are signs of foundation instability and should be evaluated by an engineer. In general, cracking that exceeds commonly accepted standards or impairs the strength and function of the foundation is unacceptable and requires repair.

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