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What is "Normal Settlement?" of a Home or Building

I receive a good number of calls from owners who have noticed cracking, sticking doors or windows, or other indications of soil movement, and have been told by the developer that these are "normal settlement" and that they should not be worried. So what is "normal settlement" that a building owner should simply accept? Although there is no easy answer to this question, I offer several observations:

1. When cracks in walls or floors appear, the nature of the cracks need to be analyzed. Are the cracks offset (one side higher than the other)? Are the cracks getting larger or wider over time? Are the cracks appearing at the same time that other concerns with respect to potential soil movement are being observed? It is important to understand that if cracks or other indications of soil movement are appearing, the typicall only GET WORSE over time. The more water that is introduced to the environment over time, the more likely soil problems will continue.

2. Are the cracks or other soil movement evidence appearing after a wet winter? Keep in mind that most soil movement problems are directly related to the introduction of water. Heavy winter rains may trigger soil movement.

3. What is the degree of soil movement evidence? A hairline crack in a driveway may not be too concerning. An offset slab crack in a building interior is definitely something to worry about.

4. When are the cracks appearing in relation to the age of the building. Concrete shrinkage cracks typically occur within the first few months after the concreteis poured. Cracks related to building movement can occur a number of years after completion. If cracks are starting to appear several years after the completion of the development, these are most likely related to soil movement. They are likely to get more frequent, larger, and longer as time progresses.

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