Suppose you recently moved into a 10-year-old home with fresh paint. After a few months of living there, you start to notice multiple hairline cracks develop above doors, windows, and several walls. Is this normal, and what steps can you take to prevent it? 

    The good news is this is normal to a degree — here are five steps you can take to avoid wall cracks from shifting soil. 

    Why Cracks in Walls Happen

    You may be surprised to learn that homes naturally shift and settle to some degree. The type of cracks you’re seeing, and their location typically result from minor movement in the home’s structure. 

    Two key factors influence the amount and frequency of this shifting — the type of soil underneath and surrounding the house and the topography and drainage around the property.

    Large amounts of water collecting around the foundation can lead to cracks as moisture changes cause soil expansion and contraction. Your cracks likely appeared after recent warm, dry weather altered soil moisture levels.

    You can prevent worsening cracks by controlling drainage and stabilizing moisture levels:

    1. Install rain gutters and downspouts around the entire house to direct water away from the foundation. Extend downspouts at least 5 to 6 feet out.
    2. Grade flat areas of soil to slope water away from the house. Shape beds 10 feet out to slope 1 inch per foot.
    3. Avoid overwatering plants near the foundation and adjust sprinklers to prevent runoff.
    4. Consider a French drain if neighboring lots slope onto yours.
    5. Ensure proper ventilation under the house using foundation vents.

    Proper drainage and moisture control offer the best protection against shifting foundations and resulting cracks. Routinely inspecting safeguards will help stabilize soil before movement damages walls.

    How Expansive Soils Cause Foundation Movement

    While soil may seem solid, it can expand, contract, and shift from moisture level changes. This movement puts pressure on foundation walls and slabs, often cracking indoor finishes. Expansive soils with high clay content are especially prone to shrink and swell cycles.

    Besides wall and ceiling cracks, symptoms of expansive soils also include:

    • Separations between walls and ceilings
    • Cracks in brick veneer and concrete surfaces
    • Jamming doors and windows
    • Uneven floors

    Proper moisture control minimizes seasonal movement. Grading, gutters, downspout extensions, and French drains all help stabilize moisture levels around the foundation.

    Evaluating Foundation Cracks

    Image Credit: Canva

    Seeing any foundation crack can be worrying. However, small cracks often result from concrete or lumber curing, seasonal moisture changes, and minor natural settlement.

    Hairline cracks from shrinking or swelling soil are common. But rapidly worsening cracks need a professional inspection to check for necessary concrete crack repairs or failures needing reconstruction.

    Get Free Estimates From Home Restoration Experts
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    So, Is A Shifting Foundation Movement Preventable?

    You can expect some degree of seasonal foundation movement. However, excellent drainage and moisture control can reduce the impacts of this movement. Proper grading, gutters, ventilation, and routine inspection of drainage systems keep soil moisture consistent year-round.

    With effective moisture control measures, minor shifting should not damage the home’s structure or require expensive repairs. Consider improving drainage safeguards now to protect your property and prevent significant foundation shifts. 

    FAQs About Shifting Foundations

    What causes minor foundation cracks?

    Common culprits of minor cracks include drying lumber, curing concrete, and changing soil moisture. Significantly unleveled floors, large wall cracks, or sticking doors and windows also indicate substantial structural issues.

    How much does foundation repair cost?

    Mudjacking to lift settled areas averages $1,600, while steel piers installed underneath your foundation can run $8,000 to $15,000. Major reconstruction with helical piers may cost over $20,000.

    What does homeowner’s insurance cover for foundations?

    Homeowner’s insurance typically does not cover shifting or settling foundation damage. You need separate earthquake or flood policies to cover foundation damage from those specific causes.

    How long does foundation repair take?

    The timeframe varies by foundation repair method. Mudjacking takes one to three days. Steel piers may take three to five days, while total reconstruction takes over two weeks. Consult a structural engineer on the best option.

    Editorial Contributors
    avatar for Jonathon Jachura

    Jonathon Jachura


    Jonathon Jachura is a two-time homeowner with hands-on experience with HVAC, gutters, plumbing, lawn care, pest control, and other aspects of owning a home. He is passionate about home maintenance and finding the best services. His main goal is to educate others with crisp, concise descriptions that any homeowner can use. Jon uses his strong technical background to create engaging, easy-to-read, and informative guides. He does most of his home and lawn projects himself but hires professional companies for the “big things.” He knows what goes into finding the best service providers and contractors. Jon studied mechanical engineering at Purdue University in Indiana and worked in the HVAC industry for 12 years. Between his various home improvement projects, he enjoys the outdoors, a good cup of coffee, and spending time with his family.

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    photo of Amy DeYoung

    Amy DeYoung


    Amy DeYoung has a passion for educating and motivating homeowners to improve their lives through home improvement projects and preventative measures. She is a content writer and editor specializing in pest control, moving, window, and lawn/gardening content for Today’s Homeowner. Amy utilizes her own experience within the pest control and real estate industry to educate readers. She studied business, communications, and writing at Arizona State University.

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