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Question DetailsAsked on 10/4/2016

How do you stop a house not build to code from sagging and having cracks in walls and ceilings every time it rains?

Built in 1998 by Bubba and his cousin. They poured a concrete slab, then put two by fours, then they put sub floors. There is no crawling space. When it rains the separation of ceiling and walls and the separation between walls and floors increases: in 3 rooms in front of the house, one in the back. One part of the house is a 2 story. the second part who was built later is one story. When it rains cracks get worse on walls and ceiling. Cracks are also between several sheetrocks panels. The middle of the 2 story has a bow under the floor hallway, but still, the ceiling in the middle of this part of the house is going down. How do you like that puzzle? Please help!
PS: the roof had some leeks who may have affected the an area of the foundation:where the old house joined the new. We had a roofing company install a complete new roof.

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2 Answers


Good old Bubba - he does get around.

You don't say if the cracks close back up between wet periods - if so, I would guess you are looking at expansive soils (generally in Midwest from Dakotas down through western 2/3 of Texas, eastward from the Rockies (and a bit into them) to generally about 100-200 miles or so west of the Mississippi, plus locally elsewhere in the West predominately but scatterings around much of the country. When it is wet the clayey ground swells, moving the foundation (and likely moving the addition differently from the main house because it was a separate slab plus only 1 one story versus two, so lighter), then it gradually shrinks back to normal dimensions as it dries out in the weeks after a rainy period. In some areas this is primarily seasonal during the rainy season, in other cases it occurs most every significant rainstorm or heavy lawn watering event. Of course, if the ground actually cracks deeply from the surface as it dries out and shrinks, that lets in a lot more rainwater to depth so the situation is aggravated.

If they don't close back up, then could be poor foundation prep - lack of compaction or poor soil under the slabs, so you might be getting progressive settlement as the ground under the slabs gets wet in wet periods.

Generally speaking, when an addition like this is done, it is also a good idea to not structurally tie the house together - or to tie them together very strongly (including in the slabs) so they cannot pull apart or move differentially. Generally, best in a residence (for cost reasons) to keep them structurally separate (including the roofs), and then bridge the connection with waterproof siding and roofing elements that allow movements without tearing anything up - like the sliding floor plates between railway passenger cars or the rolling/sliding ramps between a pier or land and a floating dock.

You don't say how much this is bothering you, or how much fixing it would be worth to you (or how much the house is worth, for that matter). A Civil Engineering firm (not an Angies List category) or Architect/Engineering firm (Architect category) with both Structural (an AL category) and Geotechnical (soils and foundations specialty, not an AL category) capabilities on staff would be the experts to evaluate your situation - but generally this sort of movement, while it can be mitigated with reinforcing in the walls, costs a LOT to "solve" - commonly tens of thousands. An initial assessment by them would likely run in the $1000-2000 range, and likely another thousand to two for soils investigations if substandard soils is suspected. That would identify the problems (might involve some inspection holes in drywall to check how the framing was done) and a conceptual approach to fixing it.

Actual design of a repair and the work itself would then be at least several thousands more typically - but after the engineering assessment you would then be in a position to know if it is feasible or potentially economic to repair it, and would have at least a ballpark idea of what it might cost to compare to the value of the house, and to compare to what impact this issue is likely to have on resale value down the road.

However, I would not get my hopes up too high - because this sort of situation, with a typical slab-on-grade foundation (as opposed to perimeter wall foundations which can readily be jacked up onto piers/pin piles/micropiles or screw anchor foundation systems) is commonly more expensive to fix than it is worth in terms of what it does for the value of the house, so commonly instead of fixing it the homeowner just settles for periodic patching of cracks and spot repainting.


If in expansive soils, in some areas a drip watering system is installed to maintain a constant damp condition in the soils - preventing it from drying out, so basically keeping it in the "swollen" condition, which also (with some preliminary surface grading and compaction usually) prevents the cracking which lets rainwater and snowmelt water in, which also reduces the amount of movement but rarely totally stop it entirely. This is pretty common along the Wyoming/Colorado Front Range and into parts of western Kansas and Oklahoma, not so common in most other areas due to tradition and in some areas the ground gets too soft for support if kept wet.


On the sagging ceiling but bowing up of the second story hall floor - the floor bow I would guess, offhand, is probably related to bowing slab (assuming the bow exists on first floor too) whereas the ceiling sag could be due to rotting supports from roof leakage, undersized oir improperly fastened floor joists or trusses - so might be two different causes. Or might be Bubba and cousin used a lot of 2x4 or 2x6 framing where 2x6 or 2x8 were needed (or spaced out the framing more than proper), causing a lot of house movement and distortion when the slabs move around, or just due to normal sag under load. Sort of like the 2x2 framed houses in Hawaii and on various Pacific islands and some areas in the deep South - you can see some "crazy house" situations with dramatic leaning and tilting and warping when the ground or foundations start moving there (usually due to soft volcanic clay or river silt and clay, or termite damage, in those locations).

A more exotic cause that can happen is the roof trusses or rafters pushing the tops of the walls outwards as the roof tries to "flatten out" under its load, due to inadequate or rotting attic floor joists or truss lower chords (or just generally improperly framed or connected roof supports) - so the upstairs walls on the two sides where the roof is primarily supported lean out at the top, which depending on how framed can cause the floor joists to rotate upwards, resulting in bowing up of the floor in the center.

Again - the Structural Engineer is the person to assess the cause of this situation - just bear in mind during any investigations and repair how much the repair is actually worth to you - in terms of aesthetics, not having to continually patch up drywall, resale value, and relative to the value of the house in its entirety before and after any repair, because a lot of people sink more money into a problem hosue like this than it is worth. It is worth it to some people to stay in the house indefinitely, but sinking money into a problem that may or may not be totally "solveable" should be a conscious decision, not something you incrementally get deeper and deeper into.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD



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