Floor joists are the wooden beams which are placed horizontally in your crawl space. They make up the bottom of the foundation, support your floor, and help keep your house upright. Floor joists are an important part of your home, but if they are placed in less-than-ideal environments, they will deteriorate and fail to support your floor.
Wet crawl spaces are not ideal environments for floor joists to be in. The humidity in a crawl space can trigger certain events that weaken the floor joists (or the support columns) and cause the unevenness of your floor. If your floor is uneven due to structural problems in your crawl space, then Dry Pro can provide you with a repair solution in the form of IntelliJack™, a crawl space structural support jack.
What Are Crawl Space Structural Support Jacks?
Crawl space support jacks are steel piers that are used to underpin the failing floor joists. The support jacks provide the floor with the support it needs to stay even. When a crawl space is built, the floor joists are supported by multiple piers, usually made of concrete, wood, or a mix of both. When a floor joist begins to fail, however, these support piers offer little support because they cannot be moved to accommodate the change. Even if they could, it would leave other areas of the crawl space unsupported.
How Do Floor Joists Fail?
Floor joist failure can happen for various reasons, but most of those reasons stem from having a wet, humid ventilated crawl space. A wet crawl space is common in rainy cities like Charlotte, NC. Crawl spaces are partially underground, and because it rains so much in Charlotte, the soil that surrounds the foundation is constantly saturated with water. If the crawl space isn’t prepared to deal with all the moisture, then the materials inside the foundation will deteriorate.
Fungal growth runs rampant in any crawl space that lacks waterproofing measures. This is because, to survive, fungus needs darkness, humidity, and organic matter. Crawl spaces are underground, so they don’t see sunlight. They are also incredibly humid. As for what the fungus eats, the wood in your crawl space is made up of starches and sugar, so it’s the perfect place for a fungal colony to infect.
The fungus eats the wood, so the structure grows weaker. Depending on the kind of wood rot it is, it will either get soft or begin to break apart. When this happens, the wood never returns to the strength it once had, and it becomes too weak to support your floor.
Deteriorating Support Posts
When a crawl space is built, the floor joists are supported by columns made of concrete, wood, or a mix of both. These support columns are vulnerable to water and moisture, so when damaged, they cannot provide the joist with proper support. For columns that are made entirely or partially of wood, this means structural damage in the form of wood rot or waterlogging.
When a wooden structure becomes waterlogged, it means that it has been saturated with water. Wood is an absorbent material, so when the crawl space is flooded, there’s a chance for the wood to become waterlogged. When taking in moisture, there’s a molecular change in the structure as the wood expands to accommodate the intake of water. If all the water content in the wood completely dries up, then the wood shrinks to smaller than it was before.
Once wood has been waterlogged, it loses its strength. When saturated with water, it becomes soft and much too flexible. When it shrinks, its structural integrity has been compromised.
For concrete columns, structural deterioration is also possible. Sometimes, it’s because the concrete was accidentally made with a low psi and is naturally weak, so it breaks down under the weight of the house over time.
Other forms of structural deterioration in concrete are caused by the freeze-thaw effect. The freeze-thaw effect refers to the cycle that water goes through as it freezes and thaws and the effect that it has on its surroundings. When water freezes, it expands by around 9%. Concrete, like wood, is absorbent, so when saturated with water, the moisture in the crawl space freezes and expands.
As the ice expands, it creates micro-tears from within the concrete. At first, these micro-tears are insignificant, but as time passes, they break down the concrete column to the point of deterioration.
Lack of Support
Without the support from the columns, the floor joists would not be able to function. The columns need to be strategically placed throughout the crawl space to guarantee that the floor joists have enough support. If there was an error during construction or if one column is weaker than the other, then the effects of this will appear over time. Wood is flexible, but if it needs to support heavy loads without the proper support, it will warp to the point where the floor will sag.
Your crawl space relies on an even layer of soil to stay stable. If that soil erodes, then it will leave a gap underneath your foundation. In Charlotte, NC, soil erodes because of all the heavy rain. The water causes the soil to swell and loosen up. When dry, the soil shrinks and loses its volume, which is what causes the gaps under the foundation. Foundation settling is when your house begins to sink onto the gap left behind by the soil.
Foundation settling affects your floor joists because the house is tilting sideways. This creates an uneven pressure distribution across the house, so the joists can no longer support the floor like it could when the entire house was stable.
Why Do I Need Structural Support Jacks?
Structural support jacks are needed in every crawl space that sees joist failure. Your crawl space is the foundation that keeps the house stable, so if one part fails, the entire house begins to fall apart. This is because, without an even floor, the weight of the house is distributed unevenly. When this happens, pressure is exerted that the house isn’t ready to deal with. If something isn’t done the moment you detect a problem, then your home will experience the following structural damage:
- Uneven floors
- Broken tiles and floorboards
- Jammed doors and windows
- Wall cracks
- Wall and floor gaps
- Drywall nail pops
Not repairing your crawl space also can lead to higher energy bills because of the stack effect, a term that describes how air flows into your home. Around half of the air that you breathe in your home comes from the crawl space. This is because warm air from the outside flows into the foundation, and because warm air is lighter than cool air, it rises into your home. During the winter, the freezing air enters and pushes out the warm air since colder air is denser.
When you have joist problems and your floor becomes uneven, gaps form that expose your crawl space. These gaps only make it easier for the air to enter your home. During the summer, the warm crawl space air interferes with your AC’s ability to keep the room cool, so it must consume more energy. During the winter, the same happens with your HVAC. This causes a rise in your energy bills.
The Best Support Jack for Your Crawl Space
Struggling with uneven floors? Your local foundation experts at Dry Pro have your back. For crawl spaces with foiling floor joists, we have IntelliJack™.
IntelliJack™ is a support system that uses support piers to stabilize floor joists and even out sagging floors. It’s made of non-corrosive galvanized steel and can support 85,000 pounds. Our support system can be installed in a single day and can adjust as needed to accommodate potential settling. IntelliJack™ has many advantages, such as:
- Year-round installation
- Evens out sinking floors
- Does not rely on unstable soil
- Invulnerable to water
How IntelliJack™ Is Installed
The installation process for IntelliJack™ is simple, non-invasive, and can be completed in a day. To start, the foundation experts first need to assess your crawl space to see if any floor joist needs to be removed and replaced. If a joist is too weak to support the floor, even with aid, then it needs to be removed. If it is salvageable, then the experts will restore the wood. Once that is done, they will mark where each support joist needs to be installed.
A two-foot hole is excavated in all the previously marked places. Engineering fill, which is a type of soil that has no organic matter, is poured into the holes. Because the soil has no organic matter, it is less likely to erode, since organic material is what makes the soil soft. The area is measured, and the base of the support jack is placed in the hole. The experts will then begin to cut the columns of the post to fit your crawl space perfectly.
The steel support piers are attached to their base and then adjusted so that they can hold up the support joist. If your floor is sagging, then the jack can supply enough support to lift the joist so that the floor is even again.
Even if IntelliJack™ is all you’re looking to get, you should still consider waterproofing your crawl space. Floor joist failure mainly occurs due to humidity and standing water in a crawl space, so if the foundation isn’t waterproof, deterioration will still occur later down the line.
IntelliJack™ versus Concrete Piers
Steel crawl space support piers aren’t the only type of support system that can be used in crawl spaces. Another kind of support system called concrete piers is often used. Concrete piers, as the name suggests, are made of concrete and are used to underpin failing floor joists.
Concrete piers are inferior to steel pier support systems for several reasons, such as:
The material that IntelliJack™ is made of is a lot stronger than concrete. Unlike concrete, steel is not harmed from certain environmental damage like the freeze-thaw cycle.
Steel support jacks can support an incredible load of 85,000 pounds. Most concrete piers can only support up to 40 pounds. Concrete piers are more likely to break apart if the weight becomes too much to handle, making them an unreliable solution for failing joists.
Support jacks like IntelliJack™ can even out your floor, which is something that concrete piers are incapable of doing fully. IntelliJack™ can do this thanks to it being adjustable. Because the jacks are adjustable, they also can adjust to any settling that may occur in the foundation.
Crawl Space Support Jacks
Some homeowners are skilled enough with wood working that they will attempt to DIY projects involving it. Therefore, when a crawl space floor joist is somehow damaged, they won’t hesitate to try and fix it themselves. A common solution to floor joist failure is sistering a joist. It’s relatively simple and can be done by many, even those with limited experience with crawl spaces.
However, sistering a floor joist isn’t always the solution. Often, DIY solutions are a band aid on the problem instead of a permanent fix.
- The Problem with Sistering a Floor Joist
Sistering a floor joist involves attaching a second piece of wood to the failing floor joist. The idea is that the damaged joist can be reinforced with a healthy piece of wood. The joist itself lacks strength, so the “sister” joist aids it in holding up the floor. There are two problems with this and it’s that, while a healthy piece of wood can provide some reinforcement, it’s not a solution that will last long. If your floor is sagging because of wood rot and you don’t waterproof your foundation, then the healthy joist will soon get infected as well.
Not to mention, while a piece of wood can provide temporary reinforcement, it cannot even out your floor. Your floor will still be uneven after sistering a joist because there is no way to exert upwards pressure on the floor with the wood alone. Sistering a joist is fine for a quick fix as you wait on foundation repairs, but if you care about the long-term health of your crawl space, you’ll need another solution.
- What To Do Instead
Instead of sistering a floor joist, contact your local foundation repair experts as fast as you can. The more the floor sags, the more likely it is that the floorboards get damaged or that someone gets hurt. Walking on an uneven floor is a safety risk, so evening out the floor should be a priority. Also, sistering a floor joist might not help you solve the issue because the problem could lie in the concrete posts or walls instead of the joists.
There are certain solutions that are specially designed to repair joists permanently, and sistering a joist is not one of them. A foundation expert can bring you better, more cost-effective solutions, so consider calling a professional if your floor is sagging.
When the damage becomes too much, floor joists need to be replaced. Your home cannot stay stable if the floor joists are damaged, so leaving them in the crawl space to break down will only cosmetically and structurally ruin your home.
Whether you replace or repair your floor joists will depend on what broke it down in the first place and for how long the problem was going on before something was done. Replacing floor joists tends to be a little more expensive than repairing them and adding a support jack system, so it’s something you’ll want to try to avoid as much as possible.
When to Replace
Wooden joists should be replaced when they are too weak to support your floor. If they are broken or too cracked, then they need to be replaced. The same thing goes for joists that have a fungal infection. When the infection advances enough, the wood becomes too soft to do its job or too broken down. The same thing happens when the wood is waterlogged.
It is not advised that you try to replace the wood yourself. You should always hire a foundation specialist to decide whether it needs to be replaced first. There are times when unnecessary expenses can be avoided because an expert was able to find a better solution.
When Not to Replace
When it comes to wood rot, there are times when the wood can be preserved if the problem is caught early. Before the fungal infection can completely colonize the wood and weaken it, the infection can be cleared, and the wood can be coated in a wood preservative. This wood preservative will help keep fungus away from the joist. Sometimes, resin is used to fill any gaps left behind by the infection so that the wood can have the strength it needs. Of course, even when the fungus can be removed, the joist will still need a support jack.
Remember, this is only possible if the problem is caught early. If you do not have a waterproof crawl space, even if you don’t see anything there, then your crawl space is most likely growing mold. Standing water may not be a huge priority, but that’s only until the structural problems begin to appear. Don’t hesitate to contact foundation specialists, so they can tell you what you need to keep your crawl space safe and spot the problem signs.
The freeze-thaw effect is something that causes a lot of harm to the interior of your crawl space. The moisture that saturates your concrete, wood, and soil, expands when freezing and tears up your crawl space over time. The damage that results from the freeze-thaw cycle can lead to foundation failure and structural problems like wall cracks, uneven floors, and higher energy bills. To prevent the freeze-thaw effect from ruining your crawl space, there are a few waterproofing solutions you need to invest in:
Vent Cover and Encapsulation
Crawl spaces are built with vents, but they really shouldn’t be. Crawl space vents allow water, humidity, and snow into the crawl space, which leads to freeze-thaw damage. In Charlotte, there are 59 days a year that fall to or below freezing, which means that your crawl space is subjected to two months of the freeze-thaw cycle. By closing the vent with a vent cover, you guarantee that rain and snow won’t get through that way.
Encapsulation entails putting up a vapor barrier that completely covers your crawl space. From the walls, to the floor, to the support columns that underpin your joists, the vapor barrier will cover the crawl space so that it’s completely sealed. This will prevent moisture and water vapor from permeating through.
To keep the temperature in your crawl space controlled, proper insulation is needed. Many crawl spaces are insulated with fiberglass, but this is a poor insulation material for crawl spaces. Fiberglass is absorbent, so it takes in all the humidity in the crawl space. Over time, the moisture begins to wear the fiberglass down, causing it to deteriorate and leaving the crawl space vulnerable.
Instead of fiberglass, consider a reflective insulation material like ExTremeBloc™. Instead of absorbing the humidity and heat in the crawl space, it reflects it and causes it to bounce around in the space. It will keep the crawl space warm during the winter and prevent moisture from freezing in your foundation.
Need Support Fast? Call Dry Pro for Crawl Space Repairs
Is your floor uneven or sagging? Your crawl space might be due for some structural support jacks. At Dry Pro, we provide the homeowners of Charlotte, NC with the best repair solutions for their foundation. If you want a free, thorough inspection done by a certified expert, then give us a call or use our online contact form. If you need annual maintenance services, then you can contact us to schedule that too. Not only will you receive a same-day quote, but also you can also take advantage of our flexible financing options and multiple foundation solutions that will guarantee a structurally healthy home.