When it comes to your home a few things are certain: your roof should not leak, the walls should be straight, and your flooring should be even. That’s why seeing signs of damage and unevenness in your property’s floor, or any part of its structure is a cause of real worry for many homeowners.
Uneven, sagging, or damaged floors can be caused by several underlying issues including, but not limited to, foundation damage. You should consider them serious warning signs and act accordingly.
Learning to recognize co-occurring problem signs and forms of damage is a wonderful skill for homeowners. Catching these issues quickly will not only prevent avoidable damage but will save you money in the long run. Most issues are easier and cheaper to fix when you catch them early on. Here’s what you need to know.
What Do Uneven Floors Mean for a Home?
Uneven flooring in your home is generally a warning sign you should not ignore. Here are some of the issues that uneven floors in a home can signify:
Your property’s flooring is supported by a system of wooden joists that are precisely placed to provide optimum support. These joists can become overspanned for a multiple reasons. Overspanning refers to joists that are being burdened by too much of your floor’s weight.
The most common causes of joist overspan, however, are defects in the wood and mistakes in the design and construction of a property. This is more common than you might think. Calculating the correct size and span for joists requires the consideration of many factors, including:
- The kind of wood being used
- The weight of the floor
- The dimensions of the flooring
- The size and weight of the joists
It can be tempting to think that larger joists are always more effective, but there is a point at which joists become too heavy to be effective. Overspanned joists will lead to unevenness, sagging, bounciness, and even collapse in flooring if left unaddressed.
Dampness and Rot
The majority of flooring joists and supports are made of wood or have wooden parts that make them susceptible to dampness, mold, and wood rot. Dampness and humidity can come from both inside and outside your home, but no matter where the moisture comes from, it has the potential to damage your flooring and joists.
This can happen through the formation of mold, wood rot, or a combination of both. While most species of mold are relatively harmless, there are those that can eat away at organic surfaces and even cause or exacerbate health problems (especially for those with compromised immune systems).
A far more pressing and common issue, however, is wood rot. This can take on different forms through dry or wet rot. A wooden joist that has started to rot will be soft and slightly slimy to the touch. It could even have a white sheen or coating on it. It will also be crumbly and easily misshapen. When this happens, the joist will start to bend under the weight of the flooring.
If the joists in a home are basically healthy, properly placed, and the property has been designed with all the appropriate factors in mind, then the most likely cause of uneven flooring is some form of foundation damage. Foundation damage can come in many forms, but uneven flooring and walls are very common symptoms of most kinds of foundation damage because of how this undermines the stability of a whole structure.
Most foundation problems start in the soil underneath a property and cause movement in a structure. Subsidence, for example, is comes from marshy or weak soil that is incapable of supporting the weight being placed upon it. This can cause the flooring to seem off-balance because the whole property is becoming uneven.
Settlement and foundation movement, by contrast, is more likely to cause uneven flooring by damaging joists or creating space between the flooring and the joists that support it. A property set on very loose, sandy soil, for example, can start to shift and move, while a property set on expansive soils can experience settlement when the soil becomes dehydrated. This can cause uneven floors by sinking a single support or joist or by affecting more than one.
These are just broad categories, and each situation tends to be different. This is why it is important to be aware of the many different problem signs that can help you to identify just what is happening in your home.
The Problem Signs You Should Not Miss
There are many different problem signs you can look out for if you want to catch foundation damage, wood rot, and joist damage before it snowballs and causes avoidable damage to your home. Some of the most common problem signs to be aware of include:
Springy or Bouncy Flooring
The first sign of damage to a floor or its support joists will generally be springiness or a slight bounciness underfoot when you step on it. Flooring should be firm and stable if the joists are doing their job, so any changes in texture should be treated as the first indication of possible damage.
Over time, this bounciness can be incredibly pronounced and will eventually start to form an obvious sag or unevenness in the affected flooring. This is either a result of an increase in damage to the joist or damage to the floorboards themselves.
Floor and Wall Gaps
If you start to see gaps forming between your floors and walls, you should call a professional immediately. This is a sign of serious structural damage and should not be ignored. These gaps can be caused by a number of kinds of damage. These gaps can form because damaged joists are causing flooring to sag and bow, pulling away from the walls, but there is also a chance that the walls themselves could be damaged.
Basement walls that have started to lean or bow, for example, can result in floor and wall gaps in the rooms above. Bowing walls occur as a result of excessive lateral pressure from the soil around a home usually caused by expansive soils or underground water sources. This type of damage is accumulative and will only get worse over time. Do not ignore it.
Visible Sagging or Unevenness
One of the strongest signs of unevenness and flooring damage is visible unevenness and sagging. Paying attention to the nature and severity of the unevenness can be helpful in diagnosing the underlying issues.
However, if the unevenness is consistent throughout the room or your whole home, there is a good chance your property is experiencing subsidence. Inconsistent or irregular sags, dips, and tilts, however, are a sign that the issues in your home are local.
Spreading Wall Cracks
Spreading cracks are never a good sign, no matter where you find them, but if you see spreading cracks in your walls alongside uneven floors or floor and wall gaps, this is a sign that something is really wrong. Foundation damage is one of the few things that can have a serious impact on your walls and flooring at the same time.
However, spreading cracks are just a sign that your property is struggling with some kind of strain or pressure. When you see these issues, it’s important to call in a professional.
If you find pools of water in your basement or crawl space, you should take the time to investigate the potential causes. As well as being a potential health hazard and a source of humidity (and therefore wood rot or mold), pooling water is a sign that there is something wrong in your home. As such, pooling water can actually cause uneven floors as well as being a sign of other issues.
Some of the most common sources of water include interior leaks from pipes and appliances, seepage, leaking window wells, and foundation damage.
Sticking Doors and Windows
If windows and doors throughout your home start to stick for seemingly no reason, there is a chance that your foundation could be damaged or sinking. This is especially the case if you notice sticking windows and doors in tandem with uneven flooring.
Windows and doors can start to stick in a property that is experiencing subsidence, settlement, or other forms of foundation damage. That’s because of the way the shifts in the structure deform the door and window frames.
Mold and Mildew Formations
Mold and mildew are very general signs of damage in any property. What these things really signify is that the levels of humidity in a property have become unmanageably high. This unhealthy humidity allows mold spores to take root and grow. Once the mold has formed, it can cause completely new issues.
For example, mold and mildew can cause bad odors, attract pests, eat away at organic materials, and exacerbate underlying health issues. When you see mold in conjunction with uneven flooring, this is a sign that structural damage may be one of the underlying causes. This is because structural damage is a common source of water and dampness.
While some of these problem signs are early warning signs for floor and joist damage, many are more general signs of foundational and structural damage to a home. This is why you should always call in a professional when there are signs of structural damage in a home; there’s really no way to tell how bad it is without a thorough assessment.
What To Do When Your Floors Are Uneven
If you have noticed uneven flooring in your home, we understand that it can be very tempting to try to address the issue alone in order to save time and money. Nonetheless, it is best that you contact a professional rather than attempting DIY. This makes repairing it very difficult. A foundation and basement specialist, however, will make short work of even the most complex issue.
Uneven floors are far from ideal in any home, but the seriousness of potential issues depends on the underlying causes of damage. If the damage is localized, the issue could be easily solved, but there is also a chance that it goes deeper.
Joist Damage and Wood Rot
One possible cause of uneven flooring in a property is joist damage. Overspanned joists are fairly common issues, for example, which can be caused by design flaws and wood defects, as well as damage to support beams. This can easily lead to uneven flooring, even pronounced dips in certain areas, but is not likely to lead to the collapse of a floor.
Wood rot, however, is another matter entirely. Generally caused by dampness, humidity, or flooding and often accompanied by mold formation and even pests like cockroaches or spiders, wood rot can affect both the joists and the floorboards. This will first cause a slight bounciness underfoot but will eventually lead to visible sagging and even collapse.
One of the most worrying potential causes of issues within your property’s flooring and support joists is foundation damage. Foundation problems generally start in the soil beneath a property and can quickly affect every single part of a home. Of course, the lower floors of a building are the most likely to show early signs of damage (which is why uneven floors are such a common sign).
Issues like sinking or subsidence and settlement, in particular, can cause uneven floors by distancing floor joists from the surfaces that they are supposed to support. Over time, this will cause damage to the floorboards. It can also be exacerbated by rot as dampness is a commonly co-occurring issue in homes with foundation damage. If this issue is left unchecked, it can lead to the collapse of affected sections of flooring. If you have foundation damage, uneven floors may well be the least of your worries.
As we have stated, uneven floors can collapse if left to deteriorate over time. However, there are many stages and warning signs that you should be able to spot before this happens.
Early Signs of Damage
The earliest signs of uneven floors tend not to be visible, but rather manifest as changes in the way that a floor feels underfoot. For example, flooring that is suffering from minor damage may feel a little soft and springy underfoot. Over time, this will become a pronounced bounce and, eventually, it will develop into a visible sag or unevenness in areas of damage. If you pay attention to the way that your flooring feels, you could catch the damage before it escalates.
Once there is a visible sag, you are likely to notice that the flooring feels incredibly unstable underfoot. As this unevenness becomes more and more pronounced, it may form a tripping hazard. By this point, the damage is advanced, but if the floor remains connected to the walls, collapse is not a real and present threat.
Signs of Imminent Collapse
One of the most worrying signs of advanced and severe damage to your flooring or the joists that support it is a gap between the flooring and walls. This is a sign that the floor has dropped sufficiently, or bowed enough, to break away from the rest of the structure. This can lead to the collapse of the floor (or a section of wall) with alarming speed.
Another serious red flag that you should not ignore is the presence of spreading cracks in your flooring. Wooden floors are notoriously flexible and tough. If you start to see cracks in the floorboards themselves, this is a sign that the floor is under immense pressure and is starting to give way. By the time you see large cracks in your flooring, collapse is imminent, and you should call in a professional as quickly as possible.
To put it simply: no, you cannot tackle these issues alone and expect to get the best possible result. There are so many factors to consider and a very real chance that there are foundation issues at work in your home.
Do-It-Yourself Repairs Can Go Wrong
The problem with DIY repairs is that they so often go wrong. This happens often, but the most common cases are misdiagnosing the underlying damage, failure to recognize connected issues, and failing to identify the best solution for the situation at hand. The best way to prevent these issues is to turn to someone who has extensive experience in foundation repair and solutions.
Even if you do identify all underlying causes of damage, find all co-occurring issues, and choose a suitable solution, there is still the matter of applying the right repairs. Trying to undertake DIY repairs to damaged floor joists can be tough but trying to repair a damaged foundation alone is certain to end in trouble.
Professionals Know What to Do
There are many benefits to hiring a professional, but one of the most relevant is the fact that they already have the training and experience needed to deal with these issues. Whether your flooring is uneven because of damage to a single joist, or you are dealing with widespread and serious foundational problems, foundation repair specialists will be able to deal with every aspect of the problem. Better yet, they can guarantee a certain standard of work.
This means that you can rely on getting the right solution the first time around. Professionals are also well-versed in safety precautions and have all the equipment and tools they need to hand. This can reduce the real cost of repairs in the long run, especially when you consider the fact that professional repairs are permanent in nature. You won’t have to deal with the same issue repeatedly.
Efficient Foundation and Floor Repair in Toledo and Cleveland, OH
Ohio Basement Systems has been the premier foundation repair firm in Toledo and Cleveland, Ohio, since 1999. With a diverse and highly trained team of contractors and inspectors, we have helped thousands of homeowners to resolve problems of all kinds, building ourselves a reputation for excellence that is hard to beat. If you want to know what we can do to help us, all you need to do is contact our team.
You can do this by calling us directly or thorugh our online contact form. Once you contact us, we will arrange a convenient time and date for a home inspection and send a team member to assess the damage. They will identify the underlying causes and any co-occurring damage and then provide you with a written estimate for the cost of their suggested repair work. You won’t have to book work on the day of your inspection.