When the floor of a residential home becomes uneven, it’s usually not a problem with the floorboards themselves. Uneven floors indicate that there’s something wrong with the home’s foundation. Because the foundation is what holds everything together, if that fails, then the entire house could begin to fall apart.
The moment you notice that your floor is uneven, it’s important to take a closer look around your home to see if you can spot any signs of foundation problems. If you have a basement or crawl space that isn’t waterproof, you most likely do have something wrong with your foundation because of how damaging moisture can be to construction materials. Checking for signs will allow you to take action before the foundation completely deteriorates and your floor becomes irreparable.
Problem Signs That Lead to Uneven Floors
Once you’ve noticed your uneven floor, you will start to notice other problem signs around your home. Uneven floors are never an isolated issue. Because they are a product of foundation failure, uneven floors are usually accompanied by other structural problem signs.
Some of the signs are less obvious than others. Even if you can’t spot any other signs, it’s a good idea to still contact your local foundation experts for an inspection. When it comes to your home’s stability, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Here are some of the common problem signs that could accompany uneven floors:
When the foundation issues are rather advanced, you might see some of your furniture tilt. You might even be able to feel the unevenness when you sit on it, though it might be more difficult to detect in heavier furniture. A good way to tell if furniture is uneven is by positioning yourself low to the ground and getting a worm’s eye view of the footings of the furniture. Even if the tilting is slight, your eyes will still be able to detect it.
You also should consider moving the furniture so that you can get a closer look at the floor itself. Use a level ruler to detect unevenness, and make sure to do this for every piece of furniture you might think is lopsided.
If a pencil falls to the ground and rolls a few centimeters, then there’s nothing odd to report there. However, if objects roll far away every time they are dropped, it could be because your floor is uneven. This will be a little harder to detect on the areas of the floor that are covered in carpet unless the unevenness is severe.
If your floor is uneven, then your doors could be jammed as well. This is because the cause of the unevenness, the foundation failure, will have an impact on the way the house’s weight is distributed. The pressure from the uneven house warps the door frame. Because of the warping, the door gets caught on the frame and cannot open or close like it used to.
Depending on how and where your floor is failing, it may also interfere with the door’s ability to function. If part of the floor is sinking, then another part of the floor could be lifted up. The part that’s lifted grazes the bottom of the door, which can cause it to jam.
The baseboard is the decorative wooden piece that skirts the bottom of your wall. When the floor is uneven, there will be a gap between the floor and the baseboard. Depending on how the floor sags, there might even be some pressure applied to the baseboard by the floor that can cause it to crack. Even if you don’t see a gap, if the baseboard is breaking or detaching itself from the wall, it’s a sign that there’s something wrong with the floor.
Wall and Ceiling Cracks
When your foundation fails, the floor isn’t the only part of the house that’s affected. The damage starts in your foundation and then begins to affect the rest of your home. Sometimes, however, other parts of the house will be affected before the floor is. If you notice that your walls and ceilings are cracked, then it’s a sign that your floor will follow shortly after.
When you walk around your house and feel your floor bounce, it indicates a problem. The floor joists that support your floor are meant to keep your floor stable and even. Wood is flexible, so for the floor to give way just a bit is normal; but, if it bounces significantly, especially when it’s only in one specific spot, it means there’s a problem.
Being able to detect the unevenness just by looking at the floor is never a good thing. It means that the foundation problems are so severe, the unevenness is very visible without any tools. It might be a little easier to detect the unevenness with just your eyes on hardwood floors. The straight lines that separate each floorboard will act as a guide to let you know where the foundation is failing.
What Causes Uneven Floors?
Uneven floors are almost always caused by a problem with the foundation. Foundations in Charlotte, NC, have problems due to moisture and soil erosion. Soil erosion occurs when soil gets displaced or moved around due to an external factor. This can be earthquakes, wind, or rain. In Charlotte, the number one cause of erosion is water—mostly from rain and snow.
Another reason why foundations begin to deteriorate is due to humidity. Humid air may not seem like a big deal to us, but to the materials in your foundation, it can be extremely harmful. Very rarely do we have to stay in extremely humid places for long, but the materials in your foundation are constantly exposed to moisture.
Wood rot is when wood gets infected with fungus. Fungus needs moisture and food to survive. There’s plenty of humidity in a foundation that isn’t waterproof, and wood contains starches and natural sugars that provide the fungus with nutrition.
The wooden joists in your foundation are vulnerable to wood rot because of all the moisture in your basement or crawl space. There are different types of wood rot, and they can affect your joists in different ways. When infected, the fungus slowly breaks down the wood until it is soft or cracked. Eventually, as the infection progresses, the wood becomes too weak to support your floor, which is what causes the unevenness.
Basement Wall Bowing
The soil that is found in Charlotte, NC, is called Cecil soil. Cecil soil has clay in its subsoil, so it retains water really well. This characteristic can be problematic when it rains, because all the rainwater accumulates next to your basement wall. The groundwater exerts a lot of force on the wall, a force known as hydrostatic pressure. The hydrostatic pressure causes the wall to bow inwards.
As the wall bends forwards into your basement, the foundation itself begins to break down. Your floor doesn’t just depend on your floor joists in order to stay even; it also depends on the walls of your foundation. If you have uneven floors, then you’ll definitely want to check if your basement walls are bowing.
Because of the amount of clay it has, Cecil soil shrinks and swells depending on how much water it contains. When wet, the soil shrinks and loosens up, but when dry, it compacts, becomes denser, and loses volume. Because of the soil properties of the region and the clay bowl effect, soil erosion in Charlotte is common.
This shrinking and swelling can happen to the soil right underneath your foundation. Originally, when the foundation is built, a dense soil layer is placed down and compacted to make sure it’s tough enough to hold the house steadily. Unfortunately, this soil erodes over time.
As the gaps under the foundation form and the soil layer shifts away, the foundation settles against the uneven layer. The settling causes the house to sink to the side, which also causes the floor to tilt sideways as well.
Lack of Joist Support
Floor joists aren’t the only thing supporting your floor. There are support posts that reinforce the joists every couple of feet apart. These posts can be made of wood, concrete, or a mix of both.
If there aren’t enough support posts holding up the joists, then the floor will not have the support it needs to stay even. The same happens when one of the supports begins to weaken due to wood rot or the freeze-thaw cycle.
The freeze-thaw cycle mainly affects concrete posts. When water turns into ice, it expands by about 9%. When a concrete post is saturated with water that later freezes, the expanding ice creates micro-tears inside the concrete structure. These micro-tears add up, and after a few years of being subjected to the freeze-thaw cycle, the support post fails and is unable to support your floor.
How Can Uneven Floors Be Fixed?
If your floor is uneven, the problem can be remedied with the right foundation repair solution. When it comes to foundation repairs, there are no DIY solutions that can truly fix your uneven floor problem. Many DIY fixes for foundations focus on the cosmetic side of home repair, but very little of them address the problem that caused the uneven floor in the first place.
When joist failure occurs in crawl spaces or basements, they need to be supported with structural support jacks. Structural support jacks are steel posts that underpin the joist and provide it with the stability it needs to keep your floor even.
Crawl space support jacks can actually save you from having to replace your floor joist if they have been infected by wood rot. Instead of replacing the wood, the fungus is cleared, the wood is reinforced with resin, and the support jack can be used to make up for the loss in strength, providing your floor with a permanent support.
Wood rot debilitates the joists in your foundation, causing a slew of structural issues like uneven floors and wall cracks. There is only one way to prevent wood rot in your foundation, and that is to control the humidity levels of the space. Without being able to control the humidity, the chances of clearing wood rot from your crawl space or basement are next to impossible.
This is mostly due to fungal species like dry rot. Dry rot is able to absorb moisture from afar, so even if the foundation looks dry, if there’s a bit of humidity somewhere, the dry rot will thrive.
The first step in making sure that there is no wood rot in your foundation is to make it impossible for water to get inside. As long as there is standing water in the foundation, there will be humidity, so waterproofing measures must be implemented. The first thing every Charlotte home needs is a sump pump, which is a device that collects water that enters the foundation and then pumps it out.
You’ll also want an interior drainage system to go with the sump pump to deal with the surrounding groundwater. Groundwater can leak into the basement through the joints and the concrete itself, so the less groundwater there is, the less moisture will enter your foundation.
For humidity control, you’ll want a vapor barrier and a dehumidifier. A vapor barrier is a thick sheet of polyethylene. It is applied to the walls to stop water vapor from permeating through the concrete. In crawl spaces, vapor barriers can be used to completely encapsulate the crawl space so that no moisture can get in or out. Without the vapor barrier, the air in the foundation would be constantly humid.
A dehumidifier is a must if you want to take control of the humidity levels in your crawl space or basement. Dehumidifiers absorb humid air and guide it into its cold coils. The contrast between the warm, humid air and the cold coils creates the perfect temperature for condensation. The dew drops are collected in a basin, and the moisture can be sent to the sump pump. With a dehumidifier, you can manually determine how humid or dry the foundation can be.
When the floor of a home is uneven, it’s never because of the floorboards themselves. When uneven floors are repaired, the focus lies on the specific foundation problem that caused the unevenness and the floorboards themselves are left untouched. However, there may be some cases in which the floorboards need to be replaced due to floor unevenness.
When to Replace
The longer the foundation problems continue, the more uneven the floor will become. What may start off as unevenness can turn into sagging floors and visible warping of the floorboards later on. When this happens, your floorboards can become so warped and damaged that they break apart. Even if the foundation problem is resolved, the floorboard itself will still be broken. Broken floorboards are a safety hazard because of multiple reasons, so you’ll definitely want to do something before one of them breaks.
You should replace any broken floorboards due to how dangerous walking on splintered wood can be. If the problem is severe enough that the floorboard nails pop out, you might also have to replace the floorboard. If the damage is minor, only the nail will have to be replaced, but if the popped nail damaged the wood severely on its way out, you’ll have to get a replacement floorboard. Whether or not the floorboard needs to be replaced should be determined by professionals, so getting an inspection is advised before deciding on anything.
When Not to Replace
Replacing floorboards when the floor is uneven is rare, but it is not a possibility that should be discarded. Of course, this happens when the floor problems are incredibly severe. Wood is a flexible material, so it can withstand a lot before breaking. However, you should never allow the problem to get to that point. Not only because of how dangerous a broken floorboard is, but also because of the costs.
When the floor of a home is uneven, floorboard replacement can be avoided as long as the issue is resolved as soon as trouble is detected. Whether the unevenness is caused by foundation problems or joist problems, the floorboards will not be affected as long as the problem doesn’t go on for too long. Professionals will be able to determine the health of your floorboards, so always speak to experts when looking to fix any unevenness.
When the floor joists in a home have problems, sistering them is a popular solution. However, if your floor is uneven, sistering the problematic joist shouldn’t be the only solution.
What Sistering Does
Sistering a floor joist refers to the act of attaching a healthy wooden beam to the failing floor joist. This can be done by nailing the pieces of wood together or by using an adhesive. The idea behind sistering a floor joist is to provide the failing joist with support from a healthy piece that is capable of supporting more weight than the original joist. This avoids having to replace the original floor joist while also preventing it from deteriorating further.
Sistering a floor joist is one of the most popular floor joist repair solutions among homeowners because it’s something many can do themselves. All that is needed is a wooden beam, a strong adhesive, or some nails. Despite the popularity of the method, sistering a floor joist will not help you even out your floor. This is because the method focuses on temporary stabilization instead of leveling.
Why Sistering Doesn’t Help
Sistering a floor joist is a good way to temporarily provide the joist with some stability. After sistering, however, your floor will remain uneven because this solution fails to address the problem at hand. It’s a temporary solution because the healthy beam will eventually begin to fail like the original one after some time. This solution also fails to actually lift the floor back to its original position, so it’s not a good method to use on its own if your floors are uneven.
In order to permanently stabilize your floor and lift it so that it’s back to its original position, structural support jacks must be used. Structural support jacks are made of steel, so they will not deteriorate the same way a wooden beam would. Apart from their longevity, support jacks are capable of lifting the floor so that it can be even once more.
Fix Your Uneven Floors with Help from the Experts at DryPro
If your floor is uneven, the team at DryPro can get you the best foundation repair solutions. We’ve been in the industry since 1999 and have established ourselves as the leading foundation experts in Charlotte, NC. Along with permanent repair solutions, we provide flexible financing options, as well as unbeatable warranties. Contact us today to schedule a free inspection and repair estimate.
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