We've all heard the creaks and groans a house makes, and it's always referred to as "settling." Sometimes the sounds can be disconcerting and confusing. You might've heard that settling is bad or have fears about your home's foundation. What is settling, exactly, and how long does it take a new house to settle? We've done some research and have compiled the best information for you!
On average, a house could take anywhere from one to three years to completely settle, with the majority finishing any settling within the last year. Many factors can influence how quickly a new home settles, which is why there is such a variance in the timeframe.
Now that you know how long it takes for a new home to settle let's discuss what can affect the process in more detail. We'll talk about what settling is and why it happens, as well as answer any additional questions you might have.
What is House Settling?
House settling is the process in which a home sinks into the ground. This is a gradual process over time and might not be noticeable to the homeowner if it's a subtle, non-major shift. Though settling can be a non-issue, it can cause foundation damage if it happens quickly or settles far too much.
What Affects the House Settling Process?
Factors such as the weather and soil affect how much or how quickly a new house will settle. Extremely moist soil around foundations can cause a home to settle more than it should. A dryer environment is ideal for a home to settle in without becoming an issue for the foundation. Additionally, the grading of the property has a lot to do with the settling of the home. Grading is the slope of the area around your home. Ideally, grading should slope ground away from the home. This allows proper drainage.
Why do houses settle?
New houses settle for a few different reasons, mainly due to improperly backfilled soil. If too much soil gets removed during the construction of a new house, the chances of settling rise exponentially because the home's foundation has been significantly disturbed. When the soil is backfilled, it needs to be heavily compacted to ensure the foundation's integrity. If at all possible, it's best left undisturbed.
Settling can also occur if your home is surrounded by a lot of trees with substantial root systems. The roots create pockets of unstable soil, causing the house to sink and settle, thus compromising the foundation. This is why the land is often cleared, backfilled, and compacted before attempting new construction.
Wet soil leads to degradation and erosion of the land area. This is why homes in flood zones are difficult to insure and expensive to keep up with. If your home's location tends to hold water and stay moist, this can lead to excessive settling and sinking.
How much settling in a new house is normal?
Generally, a new home will sink or settle a few inches, and this is normal. It's even normal to see a few hair cracks in the walls or at the juncture of the ceiling and the wall. These small hairline cracks can be repaired with spackle and typically do not represent a more significant issue with the home's foundation. If it settles unevenly or continues to sink more than the first few years, you could have a more major problem.
Is it normal to hear your house settling?
Though you'll hear the sounds your home makes, thumps or creaks or groans, referred to as settling, those sounds are generally due to temperature changes. Your home is made of wood and metal, which expand and contract with warming and cooling temperatures. That being said, you will likely hear some floors and joints creak and crackle as the house sinks and settles. Overall, a house is made of materials that are going to create some sounds. This doesn't need to be a cause for concern.
When should I worry about my house settling?
Some signs should ring the alarm bells for a foundation problem.
Cracks larger than 1/16th of an inch
It's pretty normal in the first few years of settling to see a few hairline cracks. If these cracks get longer than 6 inches in length or wider than 1/16th of an inch, it could be a problem. Additionally, if these cracks occur more than 2-3 years after the home has been built, it might be a red flag, and your foundation might be shifting.
Cracks or disturbances in flooring
If you notice any gaps between floorboards or cracks in tile floors, it might indicate a shift in the foundation. It could also indicate a plumbing issue if the floorboards are warped or buckling, so don't assume it's a foundation problem right away. Whatever the issue might be, it's best to get things checked out before the issue gets beyond control.
Looking for some advice on how to resolve a cracked floor tile issue that isn't due to foundational issues? Check out this post: How to Repair Cracked Ceramic Tile
Excessive and obvious foundational shift
When viewing your home from the outside, your home should be parallel with the ground. If you have an excessive settling problem, one side of your house might look higher than the other. This is cause for concern. Best to contact a structural engineer.
Counter and Cabinets separating from the wall
Be concerned if you notice the seal break between your kitchen cabinets and countertops. If there's a noticeable gap and shift, that means your foundation is uneven. Contact some professional help as soon as possible.
Difficulty Opening and Closing Doors and Windows
Doors might swell or contract during more humid times, and that shouldn't be cause for alarm as long as you can still open them. If it seems as though the door no longer fits in the frame or will not open at all, this can be caused by a shifting, sinking foundation. The same goes for a window. If you're not able to open an ordinarily easy-to-use window, or if you notice any cracks, there might be a problem. This should ring the alarm bells.
Does insurance cover house settling?
Whether or not insurance will cover a house settling depends on what caused it. Generally, if your house has settled more due to age, this isn't covered by homeowner's insurance. However, homeowner's insurance does cover foundational issues, so if your problems are from flooding, earthquakes, or any other natural disasters, then that is generally covered or can be covered under your policy.
Does a house ever stop settling?
A house will likely never stop completely settling. Most settling does occur within the first few years after the build, however, as the new house finds a place on the foundation and in the soil. You might notice a few inches over the years. Shifting will always occur due to the materials of which a home is built—almost all of them expand and contract, so some movement is to be expected. A lot of the amount of settling that will occur after the first few years is due to the type of climate in which you live.
Can Anything Be Done to Keep a House from Settling?
The good news is if caught in time, a home that is settling too far or the foundation is sinking can be nipped in the bud. The most common way of resolving the issue is to have load-bearing piers installed to support the foundation. These are fitted under the house in a basement or crawl space and can prevent the home from sinking any further.
The earlier these issues can be caught, the better. Basic piers under your home might cost a few thousand dollars, but if hydraulic piers are needed, you might find yourself paying upwards of $10,000.
New homes will take a few years to settle, and even after the initial few years, some settling can occur but shouldn't be noticeable. Keep a careful eye on any cracks or shifting floors, as well as the ease with which you open and close windows and doors. At the first sign of trouble, don't panic, but do reach out to a structural engineer for assistance. Staying vigilant can prevent many issues down the road.
Looking for inspiration outside your home? Check out this post: 13 Types of Fences for Your Backyard