As our ancestors converted from nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes to settled agricultural societies, the need for permanent structures arose. As a result, it was discovered that having a strong and stable foundation was a must if you expect your dwelling to last. These homes were typically very heavy as their building materials were usually stone and large timber and attention to the foundation was of major importance. The foundations were often so strong that in many archaeological digs, this is all that remains.
In modern times, technological advancements have brought us lighter building materials and the necessity for such foundation construction would be unwarranted. This by no means takes away from it’s importance, in fact in many aspects of modern home construction rely on a firm foundation to operate correctly. Examples of this include the roof, plumbing, doors and windows.
The roof is affected by settling by buckling and tearing as it is stretched and twisted into shapes differently than when it was installed. Most roofing materials are not designed to take this sort of abuse and leaks can and do occur. Pipes can be crushed, separated, and tilted so that they no longer flow in the proper direction. Doors and windows rely on square openings to seal and latch correctly.
Many things can cause the foundation to fail, from poorly compacted soil to water keeping the soil unevenly moist and even trees that are close to the house can heave the foundation upward. A small amount of settling can break water lines that allow water to saturate the soil that the foundation is resting on and causing further damage. The improper use of soaker hoses can leave the footer sitting in soft mud that allows a great deal of settling to occur.
Just a few short decades ago, it was common practice to build pier and beam foundations using cedar posts. Many houses still have these and its not hard to find them rotting and failing, especially if there is moisture present. This is why it is crucial to have the soil around the perimeter of the home slope away from the house. Often, a commercial building will be built in an old residential neighborhood leading to the flooding of adjacent yards where water will find its way under houses.
Foundation damage can occur when different types of soil are present because of differences in expansion rate when moisture is introduced. The soil can be uniform but some areas stay wet or dry out at different rates due to the grade of land around the house or lack of proper gutters.
Vibration is another common cause of settling and can be found in houses that are near railroad tracks, freeways, and where heavy equipment is used frequently. The constant rumbling of the earth in these scenarios not only causes accelerated settling but can also cause drywall to loosen from the walls and over all shake the house apart. Many places that experience frequent seismic activity take this into consideration by retrofitting the foundation in one of several ways.
From the times when humans first planted their roots and began permanent dwellings, foundations have been constructed in a variety of ways, each with thier own strengths and weaknesses. As time goes on and technology improves, new ways to build and new materials for building foundations will emerege that could potentially make foundation repair a thing of the past.