Bowing or Buckling Basement Walls

By the time you’ve begun to notice bowing or buckling in your basement walls, there’s a good chance that this situation has been present for a long time.  Bowing walls occur most often due to the force of hydrostatic pressure.  Hydrostatic pressure occurs when water presses against the basement walls, causing the weight against the walls to exceed their capacity.  Walls can also bow and fail when expansive clays or frost cause expansion of the soils to fatigue and damage the wall.

Cracking, bowing, and buckling foundations are indicators of a serious problem for a homeowner.  However, while these problems should always be taken seriously and repaired as soon as possible, replacement of the foundation is not the only option available.  In fact, it’s usually not the best one.  Here is a list of approaches you can take to address a bowing or buckling basement wall:

Rebuilding the Foundation Wall

“The condition will not stabilize. It’s a question of how much time remains."
- Chief Appraiser, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Walls with severe structural damage will show additional horizontal cracks, shearing, and bowing as time progresses, and in some cases, the only way to repair the problem is to completely remove and rebuild the foundation wall.

This process requires quite a bit of work, with the process beginning in your yard.  Before the foundation is excavated, the yard around your foundation must be removed.  This includes all landscaping such as gardens, steps, walkways, foliage, and everything else located along the foundation.  Then the foundation will be excavated, with the removed soil being laid in mounds around the house.  Temporary supports will be put in place as the foundation walls are removed and replaced.  When the job is completed, the landscaping and dirt can be returned.  A year later, this soil will settle and must be regraded.

Again, this is sometimes the only thing that can be done for a failing foundation.  However, this solution is very expensive, invasive, and disruptive when installed.  Additionally, the process merely replaces the foundation that failed.  If you haven’t taken any measures to address the problem that damaged the foundation in the first place, it’s likely that this foundation will fail, just as the previous one did.

Steel Beam Foundation Reinforcement

To install steel beam foundation support, the floor along the foundation walls must be jackhammered where the beams will be placed.  The beams are then installed and bolted to the wooden floor joist above.  The pressure bearing against the wall is transferred to the wood floor joist, which can lead to damage and buckling in the floor above.

Because the pressure against the wall itself is not addressed, there is still great pressure against the walls.  This continued pressure can widen the cracks, and over time, even cause the steel beams to bend.

This installation has many other shortcomings.  Because the steel beams are straight, rigid supports, they will only touch the foundation wall where it’s bowed outwards the worst- the rest of the wall will not be supported.  These beams are also large and awkward, and their installation causes the homeowner to lose several inches of living space while forcing them to remove drywall panels for the installation.  Finally, the installation merely braces the walls, whereas other foundation repair methods can provide a way for homeowners to actually straighten and repair the wall as well.

Carbon Fiber Fabric

Carbon fiber fabric installs in tough strips on the foundation walls in order to reinforce the weakened areas.  To install these, the areas where installation will occur are treated and applied with epoxy glue.  Carbon fiber fabric strips are installed on the treated areas and the installation is complete.  The installation is fast and relatively inexpensive.

This installation is better than some options, however it is also without its weaknesses.  Because these strips are not installed along the entire length of the wall, the bottom portion of the wall can still crack and shift and the top portion of the wall can still be pushed inwards, causing leaning foundation walls.  The installation relies on epoxy glue to be successful, and the carbon filter fabric cannot be used to fix walls with severe cracking or displacement.  Finally, this method of foundation repair also cannot restore the wall to its original position as foundation anchors can.

Foundation Helical Anchors

Foundation wall anchors are slightly more effective solutions for bowing foundation walls.  Helical anchors consist of a long rod with a corkscrew end that attaches to a wall plate inside of the foundation wall. To install these, large holes are created in the wall (or in the case of block walls, blocks are removed) where the anchors will be installed.  A helical anchor is drilled through this hole into the soil.  The hole is refilled with concrete, and the wall plates are installed.

The weaknesses to these systems are important to remember.  The large holes in the block weaken the structure, and when they’re filled in, it’s very difficult to make them watertight, which can lead to flooding later.  The soil that these anchors are bracing against is disturbed by the corkscrew’s drilling into it.  Heavy equipment must be used during the installation, and the process tends to be very expensive.  It’s certainly better than steel beam reinforcement, but this is still not the best option.

Foundation Anchors

Wall anchors are designed with three main parts: an exterior earth anchor, an interior wall plate, and a connecting steel rod that.  Together, they work to counteract the pressure being exerted against the wall. 

When foundation anchors are installed, a small area of lawn is removed, and the space underneath is excavated.  The earth anchor is placed inside the hole, and small is drilled through the foundation wall from the inside.  A steel rod is driven through this hole and is pushed out to the earth anchor in the yard.  On the outside, an anchor is fixed on the rod, with a wall plate installed against the inside foundation wall.  This anchor is tightened against the wall, and the tightening process is repeated over time.  Once the installation is finished, the hole is filled in, and the removed portion of lawn is restored.

Over time, periodic retightening of this anchor can potentially pull the wall back to its original position- a possibility that merely providing a brace cannot present.  Foundation anchors are a cost-effective and fast installation, usually installing in a single day.  Installation is possible year-round, and the job is completed with minimal disruption of the yard and with no need to replace the foundation.

However, Foundation Anchors are useful only in application against bowing, bending walls.  If foundation settlement is your issue, then you may wish to consider foundation piering instead. Click to read about foundation piers.