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FAQ: Soil Movement/Subsidence

1. How does soils movement affect buildings?

There are several mechanisms of soils movement that can damage buildings or other structures. The main categories of soils problems are as follows:

  1. Soil Subsidence: Subsidence, or soils settlement, is a common occurrence, especially on structures built on imported fill. Many developers import soil in order to construct a building pad. Soil needs to be imported to create a level surface. An extreme example is when a canyon is filled by imported soil, so that buildings can be constructed on top of the newly created level pad. The fill soil can subside, or settle, over time. This results in movement to the building.
  2. Expansion: Soil movement can also occur when the soil expands. A common problem occurs when structures are built on soils that contain a large amount of clay. The clay soils absorb and hold onto water, which causes expansion. The soils swell, or heave, which causes building movement. In times of drought, the water in the soil might be reduced, which causes the soils to shrink, or reduce. This heave/shrinkage cycle also causes building movement.

2. What type of damage is commonly associated with soils movement?

Soils movement can affect the buildings in many ways. The most common damage associated with building movement includes cracks in building walls and slabs. An expert, such as a geotechnical engineer or geologist, is typically required to assess whether a crack is due to a soils problem, or some other cause.

3. Do cracks from soils movement mean that the building is structurally unsound?

The evaluation of the seriousness of the problems caused by soils movement can be complex. However, soils movement, such as subsidence or expansive soils, can affect the structural integrity of a building. Serious soils problems can result in a residence being unusable without significant repairs.

4. Will cracks caused by soils movement get worse over time?

In many cases, the answer is yes. As water is introduced to a development over time, the problems associated with settlement, or with expansion, can continue and cause greater damage.

5. How long does it take for soils problems to become evident?

Damage associated with soils problems might become evident fairly quickly, or may take many years to become evident. It depends on the nature of the problem. If a building is built on deep fill that is not properly compacted, the problems may show up fairly quickly. If the problem is related to the expansion of soils, the problems may not manifest for several years, until enough water penetrates into the soil to cause heave or expansion.

6. What does it take to remedy problems related to soils movement?

The spectrum of repairs to remedy a soils movement problem is large. Some problems can be repaired with little cost; others require many hundreds of thousands of dollars, or more. Most problems can be fixed, but the solution can take an expert to identify. Common types of repair include installation of new caissons, which tie the building foundation to the underlying bedrock; correction of drainage to prevent water from migrating under buildings or structures; compaction grouting, where a cement like material in injected into the soil to strengthen it; and micro piles, where small diameter holes are bored into the soil and filled with cement.

7. As a building owner, what rights do I have if my building is damaged by soils movement?

A building or home owner generally has the right to recover damages from a developer if the developer placed a home or building on soils that are causing damage.

8. How long do I have to make a claim against a developer for soils movement?

Any claim brought against a developer, general contractor, or engineer, is subject to a Statute of Limitations. This means that a claim needs to be filed within a set period of time. If you suspect problems related to soils movement, contact this office immediately for a free consultation.

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