No matter how professional the foundation of a house is, it still has the tendency to settle after some years. It is rare but not impossible to also see new houses settling or experiencing some movement of foundation.
The pattern of house settling is one in which a house foundation or floor sinks or slopes the center. Surely nobody wants a house such as this as it can be a serious inconvenience and even a pressing danger for homeowners. Selling such a house could also prove to be problematic as people seeking to buy property will hardly, if ever, pick up such a property because of the dangers involved in living in the house as is, or the extra costs involved in leveling the house.
When a decision is finally made to fix the problem by engaging in the house leveling process, it has to be decided whether the homeowner should undertake the house leveling himself or give the job out to a professional contractor.
First off, can house leveling even be performed by a regular homeowner who is an amateur in building and construction? Obviously, house leveling is not garden pruning or lightbulb fixing but yes, it is possible for a homeowner to level his house himself. It’s also obvious that this type of endeavor should not be attempted without requisite experience because unfortunately, there is no room (pun intended) for trial and error.
The actual work of house leveling may be challenging but there are still bigger issues like knowing the details of home construction, understanding how weight is distributed in a house and having the right equipment on the ground and on standby in the eventuality of a mishap. An inadequate supply of any of the above can result in being trapped for a long stretch under a collapsed building or even death.
Based on your level of experience and your knowledge of the dangers involved, you can make an informed decision on who should perform the house leveling of your home and which will be more beneficial for both you and your house. (Note that in most states, a homeowner without certain licenses for special construction jobs can still perform them on his house as long as it is only used as a personal property and not rented out).
So how exactly is the process of house leveling carried out?
The process starts with assessing the structure of the building and as such a Structural Engineer should be consulted whether the leveling is being done by the homeowner or the contractor. Usually, contractors for house leveling (who specialize in foundations, underground areas, basements and crawlspaces) have trainings in Structural Engineering and so this moves the process along quickly. Assessing the structure is important because simply going to straight to work could complicate the problem at hand.
The slope of the house has to be accurately measured so that the exact distance the house is to be jacked up by is known from the onset. The distance of the slope can be determined by laser level, water level or by simply using a taut string.
Using concrete or wooden blocks, a temporary post, located on firm and stable ground is erected under the house flooring at the lowest point. To improve the stability of the blocks, they are alternated horizontally and vertically on each other.
At this point, one of the most essential tools of the whole exercise comes in: the jack. By jack, we are not referring to ordinary hydraulic jacks; they are simply unfit for the job. Even the toughest automotive jack in any auto shop or garage will simply be crushed under the weight of a regular-sized home and will be unable to lift the house. The jack used is a special house leveling jack: most are screw jacks but a few are also hydraulic jacks.
The most commonly used is a 20-ton special house leveling jack although some contractors use a 40-ton jack because of the extra power and the fact that the 40-ton jack costs only a fraction more than the 20-ton jack. These jacks are usually purchased instead of rented because the job takes quite a number of days, with the rent usually sky-high and it makes more economic sense to purchase the jack than to rent it. Also, depending on the arrangement you have with your contractor, multiple jacks are advisable for it makes the process easier.
The jack is inserted between the temporary post and the floor and the lifting begins. The area underneath is checked for weak areas or soft spots to ensure that the jack does not shift during lifting. As the floor goes up, smaller blocks are added to give the center of the house better support at its changing levels of elevation.
When the lowest point reaches the level of the next lowest point, the jack is removed and allowed to rest on the erected temporary post. At this point, problems caused by the heaving of the house are checked (for example crumbling plaster and drywall or sheetrock cracks), to be addressed before moving on to the next lowest point.
At the next lowest point, the process is repeated: a temporary post is erected, the jack inserted and the floor of the house raised to the next highest point again. This is done multiple times especially if the floor did not take on a straight slope or took on multiple slopes.
Some time is usually given to the house to settle after each small lift before moving on.
At the end of the process, when the floor of the house is completely level and is in no danger of toppling from the temporary posts, permanent posts are then put in. The supports previously used in the house can still be reused if they are examined and show no form of decay or any other deterioration. The center of the house can then be reinforced to prevent future sloping by cutting of the top of the center supports and then inserting a beam on them.