What Causes Missouri Foundations To Fail?

foundation failures causes in MissouriFoundation settlement issues Missouri is typically caused by building on expansive clay, improperly compacted fill soils, or improper foundation maintenance.  Foundation failure may occur due to a variety of causes.

Soil composition, moisture levels, and settlement are contributing factors to foundation failures in Missouri. Fill soil that is washed away or that swells due to plumbing leaks or other sources of excess moisture can cause shifting, instability, and cracking in your foundation. Drought, freezing and extreme temperature changes are also concerns.

In most cases, water typically is the culprit of foundation problems.

Observing soil moisture changes around your foundation is possible, but what about under it?   Like a sponge sucking up liquid, water can move horizontally and vertically through the soils under your foundation in a similar manner. As clay-like soils draw water to themselves, they grow in volume (swell or heave) causing your foundation to move. Drying soils next to or under your foundation reverses the process. The moist soils will lose volume (shrink) as soil moisture moves out from under your foundation, causing the foundation to settle.

Shrinking and swelling soil motions can lead to damaging your foundation and structure. We know that soils vary from location to location. For example, Jefferson City may have more rock-based soils while Warrenton would hold more clay-based soils.  In Southern Missouri around Springfield and Branson  is certainly more rocky and the soil reacts differently than in the rich black soils and clay in Central Missouri like Columbia or Fulton.

Sometimes fill soil that wasn't compacted correctly when a structure was built will cause issues many years later.  Improper maintenance of the structure will also make for issues when gutters and landscaping aren't maintained.

You should review the list below and possible actions to control or minimize the various problems. Annually inspect the area within 5 feet of all sides of your foundation after a rain to determine if proper drainage is maintained away from your structure. Monitor existing cracks for progressive or seasonal movements.

Some Causes of Foundation Settlement In Missouri

Poor Drainage 

Localized source of water from rainwater flowing or ponding next to the foundation may lead to localized heave of the foundation. Slope ground away from all sides of the foundation for a distance of at least 5 feet.  Create drainage swales to divert water away from the foundation.  Keep the dirt line several inches below the brick line and use clay soil fill to create positive slope away from the foundation. Do not use SANDY SOILS for fill next to foundation, use CLAYS. Compact the fill to shed water, not absorb it.


Non-uniform runoff from roof may result in localized heave. Maintain soil sloping away from all sides of the foundation for a distance of at least 5 feet. Use gutters with downspouts that discharge at least 3 feet from the foundation.  Use splash blocks to avoid erosion or use flexible discharge tubes.

gutter failures cause foundation failures MOGutter Problems

Gutters that aren't large enough to hold the water during heavy rains, downspouts too small, or plugged up can cause excess water to get next to your foundation (and sometimes into your basement).  Many foundation problems (settled corner of a house) could have been prevented with a $10 downspout.  I can't tell you how many times we have seen downspouts plugged or off and the water running straight down the corner of the foundation.  This is very avoidable - check your gutters.

Sprinklers & Flower Beds

Localized source of water not on all sides of foundation, may result in non-uniform foundation movements. Do not flood or pond irrigation water.  Slope ground surface away from the foundation.  Do not trap water near the foundation with edging and use mulch to slow evaporation.  Sprinkler valves frequently leak and joints may leak with time, resulting in localized water sources which may cause non-uniform foundation movements. Locate at least 5 feet from foundation and inspect valves frequently.

Avoid over-watering. Water just enough to keep plants and grass alive and growing, not thriving and lush through saturating the ground.

A/C Unit Condensation 

Concentrated source of water which can result in foundation settlement or heaving. Direct the discharge line to drip on a concrete pad or splash block which has been properly sloped away from the foundation.

Hot and Dry Climate 

Loss of soil moisture from under foundation edges may cause foundation settlement. Uniformly water landscape planting and area next to all sides of the foundation.  Install automatic sprinkler systems.  Add sidewalks adjacent to the foundation.


Tree roots grow under foundations and dry out soils causing non-uniform foundation settlements. Plant the tree a distance greater than their mature height from the foundation. If existing trees are closer, install an approximately 4-foot deep tree root/vertical moisture barrier system near the foundation and possibly prune trees (to limit moisture stress) if barrier system is under the drip line of the tree. Water tree roots away from the foundation.

Landscape Planting 

Drying from roots, transpiration and soil suction may cause foundation movements. Plant bushes and shrubs away from the foundation.  Uniformly water plants and do not flood or pond water next to the foundation.

Landscape/Retaining Walls 

Non-uniform drying on all sides of foundation may result in the foundation moving. Apply more landscape water on retaining wall than other sides of the foundation. Use mulch to slow evaporation.

Plumbing Line Leaks  

Leaks in sewer or water lines provides localized source of water that may lead to localized foundation movements. Monitor water bills.  Get leak detection plumber to isolate and repair leaks, and verify repairs with pressure tests.

While the soils vary from town to town, it is important to maintain your structure no matter where you live in Missouri. Avoiding costly foundation repairs when possible is the best solution.