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What does it mean for a house to settle and what's considered normal?

“Always pick your yard based on your Summer lifetstyle.”


October 25, 2018 - Karl Yeh

So you've just bought a new house but started to see some physical issues crop up. Whether it's drywall cracking, windows sticking or doors harder to close. Wondering if there's something wrong with your house or is this just part of buying a new home? In this episode, we discuss what is house settling and what's considered normal. We answer how long does settling last for and what's considered normal versus actual foundation issues. Finally, we explore what happens if you have foundation issues after your home warranty expires.

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Hi, everyone, Karl Yeh here with another Homebuyer's School video, a channel where you get the latest strategies, tactics, and tips from home-buying experts.                 

So, today I'm joined by Kurt Gibson, Director of Field Operations with Brookfield Residential, and the topic we're going to cover today is: house settling and foundation issues.

So, Kurt,

What exactly is house settling, and what is considered normal house settling?

Kurt Gibson:                

Well, house settling is a process you go through. I mean, obviously, there's a lot of wood that's built, put into a home.

Wood comes from the forest, it takes time to dry out. It goes through what we call a kiln-dried process, and [00:01:00] obviously that brings the moisture content out of it or, in some cases, adds into it, it depends where it is, and settlement can occur.

That also can occur in the foundation situation.

There's a lot of water, moisture in a foundation concrete especially when it's poured, and it takes a long time for that water content to come out. As that water is coming out there will be shrinkage, and it's very normal for houses to settle going through and basically finding where it is and sitting in its place.

Karl Yeh:                      

So, when a new homeowner comes into a home, when you say 'shrinkage' what does that [00:01:30] mean?

Kurt Gibson:                

Shrinkage means ... Like a lot of times what you're going to see is wood, again, has a lot of moisture in it. I mean, you bring it from the forest, and you bring it in, and you put it through its process.

It basically goes through almost an oven, and it brings it down. Kiln-dried materials is typically around the 13 to 19 percent range for lumber, and the idea is to bring it down so it brings the best conditions to work into it.

Kurt Gibson:                

But again, it depends on the environment. Calgary is a very dry climate. [00:02:00] Vancouver's a very moist climate, so relative humidity can be much different. And from that, what happens is the wood shrinks.

When you're screwing in drywall into wood, basically what happens is it's a metal screw or metal nail, and then what happens is the wood starts to shrink, and then all of a sudden it starts to move, and you can see some slight cracks or popping in nails and screws.

Can you see your house actually move if it is settling?

Karl Yeh:                       Will you see your house actually maybe shift, or will you see it-

Kurt Gibson:                

You can't physically see it, typically. The movement takes [00:02:30] time. It's a year process, typically.

Kurt Gibson:                

In Calgary in particular, because we should have four distinct seasons, you want it to go through all four seasons, so it really adapts to all the different seasons from the different humidity levels. Obviously, the winter is going to be much different.

Typically, dry in Calgary, where June can be very moist, and it really has to adapt to those surroundings. You want it to go through that, and you will see cracks.

Therefore, a lot of builders, reputable builders, will come out at the end of the one year or even two years and [00:03:00] do a lot of repairs on the drywall cracks. It is actually quite common for builders to do that.

Karl Yeh:                       So, besides some of the cracks on the walls,

What are the things would you consider normal house settling?

Kurt Gibson:                

Often times you can see doors and windows they start to stick. You can see baseboard coming away from the walls on stairs sometimes. You can see them coming away from the wall. They need to be adapt. It's just movement you can see cracking in the baseboard and casing it's not just drywall.

[00:03:30] There's a lot of different things.

Kurt Gibson:                

It's all normal. I mean, typically through the Alberta New Home Warranty, warranty programs, 16th of an inch is pretty acceptable measurement.

Then usually, especially with drywall cracks, anything that's more than about 12 inches long, typically, is what they consider out of normal.

Karl Yeh:                      

And if you want to know more about the Alberta New Home Warranty check out our video above.

Karl Yeh:                      

Now, so how long does a house normally settle for? 

Kurt Gibson:                

It does. [00:04:00] I mean, typically a house can settle ... I mean, it can be moving.

It really is a living organism. I mean, it's no different than anything else. We're part of a planet, and there's always moving and everything going on, but the most majority of settling happens in the first year.

And, again, it's that whole cycle of going through four seasons, and being able to put it one place.

You got to remember all of the materials are being brought in from, sometimes, all over the world, but certainly all over North America, and they are brought in to one location, and now they're being fixed in one spot, and now those are now coming together [00:04:30] and basically being one unit, or one big building.

Karl Yeh:                       So,

How would we know the difference between, say, normal house settling and actual foundation issues?

Kurt Gibson:                

Well, foundation issues, typically, if you have a ... I mean, I will say this one thing that's a very common misconception is concrete, typically, people get nervous when they see cracking.

Any kind of concrete they see, and they get nervous, and typically it's exactly the opposite.

Concrete typically will crack. If you don't have cracking it's very unusual.

So, it's very common. It's [00:05:00] really about the magnitude of the cracking, again, that 16th of an inch or an eighth of an inch width, and for a long period or long spans can be the concern.

Real major foundation cracks you'll typically see walls with major cracks in them at the corners of doorways or windows and stuff. You would see that.

 Again, I know people will worry about that, but most reputable builders take the time to make sure their foundation is built on solid ground.

There's things like what we call a soil bearing tests, [00:05:30] which makes sure that it's all built properly on proper ground, and it's all checked beforehand. Any reputable builder would be taking that step to do that, and it's not as much of a worry as people think it is.

Kurt Gibson:                

Plus, the Alberta New Home Warranty, again, they have ... Or through the mandatory warranty through one, two, five and 10 year program.

There's a 10 year structural program, or warranty to that, and the bottom line is that you're covered with that on any concerns that may come about too.

Karl Yeh:                      

Is there any point when you should actually worry?

Kurt Gibson:                

[00:06:00] I guess, I've never seen it. I've been in the business 30 years. I would never say that I've ever been in a house feeling like it was ever going to fall down, so no.

I would say it's pretty unlikely. I mean, obviously, every personality is different, and some people are going to be more nervous, especially with not having the knowledge or experience.

It's our job, as a builder, to try and curb those concerns, but no. I mean, if you saw physical movement, and you could actually physically see it, it would probably be a concern. But I've never ever seen it, or heard of it.

Karl Yeh:                       Okay.

What if there are foundation issues after your home warranty expires?

Karl Yeh:                      

So, let's ... You were talking about the [00:06:30] Alberta New Home Warranty and after 10 years.

So, let's say you've had the house for 15 years, and you start seeing the same kind of foundation issues. Is it still covered? Like is it covered by any type of insurance or home warranty that you-

Kurt Gibson:                

Typically, after the 10 years the mandatory warranty does not cover it anymore, but I certainly know builders that, if they're still around, would be wanting to make sure that they're taking care of that.

Again, I would say it's so rare.

Typically, [00:07:00] if you're going to see any movement it's going to be in the first year or two. Something coming up after 10 years it's very rare.

Like, I mean, you're probably talking ... I've only heard about a couple of times in all the time it's happened, so it's very, very rare.

And, again, there's always solutions to it, whether it's mud jacking, which means you're pouring basically fresh concrete in and trying to raise the house up.

There's always solutions that can be found out to make this thing work. People can worry, but there are solutions. I mean, they can be expensive, but I would also say, for the most part, you're [00:07:30] generally covered one way or another by somebody.

Karl Yeh:                       And the final thing I want to talk about is noises.

What are some normal noises when the house is settling?

Kurt Gibson:                

Well, again, when you have wood connecting with metal, or concrete kind of connect with wood you'll often hear pops or things like that, especially people moving in their house you can hear trusses.

A truss is ... There's an enormous amount of wood material in that, and they'll hear pops coming from the roof, or in their ceiling, and that's very common for it to happen. [00:08:00] You'll hear shifts. You might step somewhere and hear a little creak here and there.

Very common for those kind of things to occur, again, it's just the house going through its movement to try and figure out where it needs to be.

Karl Yeh:                       Great. Do you have anything else to add in terms of house settling?

Kurt Gibson:                

I think the big thing is that I think people worry about it a lot, but it really is a natural part of it. I mean, it's no different than a human being when we go through changes, and a house goes through changes and will always go through changes, and for people to understand that it's very important. I think that [00:08:30] often times we feel like we're building house it's like a diamond. It's not perfect. It's so many people involved in it, and there's so many things that can occur. So, it's important for people to know that, that does happen.

Karl Yeh:                       Perfect. So, the question of the day for you is:

When you bought your new home did you have any house settling issues?

Let us know in the comments section below.

Karl Yeh:                       Thank you very much, and we'll catch you next time.


Your turn:

Let us know if you have additional home buying questions that we can answer by submitting them in the comments section below. 

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About Kurt Gibson:

Before starting his work career, Kurt Gibson, received Diploma’s from SAIT in Architectural Technology and Building Development Technology. Several years ago Kurt completed the Business Essentials “Mini MBA” from U of C Haskayne School of Business. Kurt has over 30+ years of experience in the Home Building Industry in Calgary and has work for several Builders over that time in all capacities from Sales, Design, Estimating, Construction and Customer Care. He prides himself in having strong leadership skills with coaching backgrounds in both sports and the business world.


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