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Settling 101

by Elise Riley on Apr 7, 2017

Part of the attraction of buying a new home is the newness: new carpet, new paint, new appliances and, ideally, none of those cracks or creaks that an older home might have.

But no matter the home, builder or neighborhood, all homes will settle in some fashion. Why’s that? Soils sometimes shift. Foundations, as a result, can move too. The result can be cracks in floors and walls — some just cosmetic, others indicative of something more serious.

But builders have a technique to remedy most issues related to home-settling. Post-tension slabs, which are offered by most builders in the Valley, help homes adjust to the inevitable shifts in the ground beneath them.

Understanding post-tension slabs

Fulton Homes has used post-tension slabs in all its homes since 2000.

“We’re 100 percent post-tension,” said Dennis Webb, Fulton Homes’ vice president of operations. “It’s just a better foundation than non-post-tension, and it really makes the framing more stable. It’s a better overall result in the long run for the home.”

Post-tension slabs feature steel rods that are laid out in a grid pattern. The foundation is then poured, surrounding the rods so they’re encased in the foundation. Then, specialists tighten the rods (kind of like tuning an instrument) to create a firm, uniform foundation.

The result is that the framing and drywall — obviously major components of the home — are unified. If settling happens and the foundation shifts ever so slightly, the home shifts in unity.

“It moves together,” Webb said. “It’s a much smaller movement than if half the house moved one way and half the house moved another way.”

The nature of soils

Soils throughout the Valley vary in composition. Some areas have soil that is prone to subtle movement and adjustment. Post-tension slabs solved foundation-related issues related to expansive soil. And now, they’ve become the standard across the Valley.

“In all circumstances we use post-tension slabs,” said Matt Cody, president of Cachet Homes. “We use them exclusively throughout the Valley. The soil conditions in Arizona, particularly in the West Valley or Southeast Valley, demands the use of post-tension. Because the slab is pulled tight together you have hairline cracks rather than significant cracks.”

The benefit of home warranties

There are a number of adjustments a home makes as it “lives” through its first winter and first summer. That’s why homebuilders offer warranties and have dedicated customer service teams to make adjustments and repairs in the months after construction is complete.

“Any time you put a house through seasons, you’re having expanding and contraction,” Cody said. “Thanks to post-tension slabs, you see reduced issues related to settling.”

During your final walk-through, find out about your builder’s warranty program. Some issues are covered for a year, others are covered for a longer period of time. 

The bottom line

Settling is a normal process for all homes, whether or not they have post-tension foundations. And while post-tension slabs can mitigate many of the structural issues that result from settling, it’s possible that your new home could show some cosmetic effects of settling.

However, it can be hard to know what is structural versus what might be cosmetic and not a more serious concern. If you begin to notice large cracks, particularly something that looks more like a gap as opposed to a hairline, call your builder’s customer service department. 

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