Catching this deterioration early is the fastest – and most cost-effective way – to keep your sidewalks and driveway in good condition. After all, once the slabs have begun to sink, tilt, or jut up at certain spots, repairing them then can be time-consuming and expensive.
So how can you spot the issue before it’s already plain, obvious, and in the way? Let’s explore all the early warning signs, as well as what’s causing your driveway and your sidewalk to become uneven. With this insight, you can reach out to the professionals just in time and get your home’s exterior back into working order.
Causes of Uneven Driveways and Sidewalks
Sidewalks and driveways become uneven for a multitude of different reasons. Some of the above-mentioned problem signs can point you in the right direction, but it often takes a professional’s evaluation to pin down the exact root cause.
That’s because many of these causes work in tandem with each other, or one can easily be mistaken for another. Once you figure out the reason your sidewalk or driveway is becoming unlevel, you can look for a custom-tuned solution.
All concrete slabs rely on strong, level, and stable foundations. That’s because although concrete is very robust, it cannot hold its weight unless it’s been reinforced. Most concrete used in sidewalks and driveways has no reinforcement and lies directly upon the soil. If the soil begins to shift, wash away, expand or contract, or otherwise change, this can be bad for your sidewalk or driveway.
The most obvious problem will be expansive soils. During dryer times of the year, the soil surrounding the concrete will shrink, while in the wetter months, it will expand. The continuous expansion and shrinking that the soil goes through causes movement and this will shift the concrete sitting on top up and down or side-to-side. This can force your concrete to sit unevenly or be unable to slot back into place if it gets angled badly. Even worse, this lack of support will also lead to cracks that only get worse over time.
Poorly Compacted Soil
As a home is built, the soil is excavated and then replaced as needed. Sometimes, more is brought in, depending on where the home is getting built and if the ground needs evening out. Once the right structural supports are in place, the soil is returned and compacted to work as a stable foundation. At this point, any concrete elements of your home’s foundation, as well as the surrounding sidewalk and driveway, are poured out.
If the soil was poorly compacted, then it will be unable to serve as a good foundation for your sidewalk or driveway. Voids may open up beneath the concrete, or the entire ground may begin to sink. If it does this at an angle, it can leave your concrete slabs uneven, sunken, or jutting up at strange angles.
The weather has a major influence when it comes to the outside of a home and its surrounding structures. Day in and day out, the driveway and sidewalk are exposed to the outside elements which can prove brutal. Especially in areas where there are drastic changes in seasons – such as Indianapolis, IN – there’s a higher likelihood of uneven concrete.
The rainy season brings with it soil washout. Depending on the amount of rain in the area and the downspouts around the home, the soil around and beneath the concrete can get washed away. As water beats down on the concrete and the earth, it can drag particles and grains off, leaving voids behind. Just like with poorly compacted soil, that will leave your concrete to tilt, sink, or settle unevenly.
Vegetation will have a huge impact on the surrounding concrete. Trees or large bushes can have exceptionally large roots, which grow with force up and against your driveway and sidewalk. Roots are even known to go through pipes and cables, exhibiting pressure on anything they come across.
Depending on the strength of the root, and factors like drought and soil conditions, a tree root may be able to push up your concrete slabs, making them uneven. The outside pressure can even make the slabs shift or crack, settling at odd angles. For a sidewalk, this becomes a massive tripping hazard, and for a driveway, it can make it impossible to park or safely drive your car in and out.
Driveways and sidewalks are meant for parking and walking, sometimes even bike riding or skateboarding. The more use they get, the more they wear out, especially when it involves a lot of weight.
The average person and car aren’t enough to truly have an impact. However, if you store heavy garbage containers, overpacked trucks, or moving pods in your driveway, you could end up with a problem. That’s especially true if your driveway is dealing with soil issues already. When forced to hold their own weight and this extra burden, concrete slabs will tilt at best and crack at worse.
This is even more likely with sidewalks. Since they’re only designed to hold the weight of people and smaller vehicles, like bikes, a heavy truck can easily tilt or crack a sidewalk.
Problem Signs of Uneven Driveway or Sidewalk
You don’t have to wait until your driveway or sidewalk is visibly uneven before you take action. There are plenty of subtle warning signs that will allow you to see the issue brewing. Some of these are more obvious and indicate the problem is well underway. Meanwhile, others are subtle and can tip you off while the damage is still minor and very reversible.
Uneven driveways or sidewalks often manifest cracks long before they tilt or start to buckle. That’s because the very factors that cause them to become uneven are putting strain on the concrete itself. Although slabs are designed to take an intense amount of pressure, cracks form if slabs are pushed in a way that forces them to hold their own weight. Likewise, if any pockets open up beneath the slabs, the strain will cause fissures to develop.
Not all cracks are worth panicking over. Some are thin and do not grow. These are considered hairline cracks. These are safe to ignore. Others are deep or wide, run along the inside or outside of the slab, stretch diagonally, or continuously grow. Cracks like these are more serious and should be addressed. Depending on how big they are, they can be repaired and the underlying cause resolved. If you let them go without professional intervention for too long, the slab may need to be replaced. Concrete cracked through is usually unstable and may have pieces falling off.
Potholes or Pitting
In some instances, cracks are just a cosmetic problem. Though that doesn’t apply to potholes in the sidewalk or driveway. Sidewalk potholes are a dangerous problem, causing people to trip whether they’re walking or riding a bike. Smaller potholes also grow the longer they go undetected or untreated, leaving the concrete around them to crack and crumble.
Any sign of a hole forming on a driveway or sidewalk is a warning sign; you should call a professional as soon as you can. This kind of damage means the concrete is deteriorating at a rapid pace. It won’t be long before the slab begins to tilt and become uneven – either because the forces that lead to the potholes continue or because the potholes make the slab unstable and leave it to bulk and crack.
In some instances, concrete slabs will begin sinking into the ground before they officially become uneven. A sidewalk will start turning into stairs as one slab descends below the others. This can pose a serious tripping hazard, especially if they’re left to sink further.
This is usually the result of soil problems and will need professional intervention to lift. If nothing is done, the slab can develop a wide array of cracks and deteriorate as they sink unevenly.
When puddles form in a driveway or on a sidewalk, it may be unlevel even if you can’t tell. That’s because concrete is poured or slabs are laid to help direct water off and away from them. If they begin to sink, tilt up, or form potholes in the center, the water will settle in the middle instead. The puddles are going to grow deeper with time. That can leave staining or eventual damage on the concrete itself.
Though puddles might not seem like a big problem to deal with, they are one of your first warnings that the sidewalk or driveway is about to become uneven. Additionally, sitting water presents a safety problem, as it may cause slipping.
Solution for Uneven Driveways or Sidewalks
Once a concrete lifting expert has assessed your property, they can recommend a solution. In general, there are three main approaches.
While that makes it sound easy, keep in mind that applying the wrong fix to your unique problem can make the damage worse. That’s why the experts at Indiana Foundation Services will thoroughly evaluate all the options with you – problem signs well considered – to make sure your fix is long-lasting.
Mudjacking is considered a rather invasive way to fix an uneven concrete problem such as in driveways or sidewalks. This process involves making holes in the concrete, all the way toward the base, and filling the space below with a slurry compound. The idea is to use the slurry injected at the base of the concrete as a way to lift it back into position. It should also fortify it against additional sinking by filling any voids.
Mudjacking isn’t always a long-term solution and may be ineffective if your uneven sidewalk or driveway was caused by soil problems. If weight, soil washout, or poorly compacted soil made the concrete sink originally, adding more concrete will potentially make that issue come back in a few years.
One of the least invasive ways to fix uneven driveways and sidewalks is PolyRenewalTM. Much like mudjacking, holes are drilled into the concrete and polyurethane is injected to lift the concrete back into place. Unlike mudjacking, however, the holes are much smaller in diameter, making them easier to fill in for a clean finish.
PolyRenewalTM is composed of polyurethane foam, which is much stronger than the slurry used with mudjacking. While most expensive, it’s still a cheaper alternative to replacing the concrete, sets up in less time, and lasts longer.
Polyurethane is durable, eco-friendly, and lightweight, making it very unlikely to buckle under the same pressures that caused your driveway or sidewalk to sink under the pressure. Unlike a full replacement of the driveway or sidewalk, which may fall victim to the same vulnerabilities as before, polyurethane will strengthen the concrete from below, holding it up for many years.
Uneven Driveway or Sidewalk
Whether you’re looking to save funds or like to dabble in the DIY approach to homeownership, it’s normal to look at uneven sidewalks or driveways and think, “Hey, I bet I could fix this.” Unfortunately, this is a poor choice, especially because the risks are so high for your budget and your safety.
The Dangers of a DIY Fix
DIY works great for general maintenance for your concrete slabs, but it should never come into play when they’re cracked or uneven. That’s because applying a solution incorrectly may lead to the driveway or sidewalk cracking further or tilting even worse. For example, a popular DIY fix is to arrange wooden planks underneath the tilting edge to bring it up flush with the other slabs. However, this is likely to fall apart, rot, or cause other voids to form in the soil underneath the concrete. This can happen in days, weeks, or months, but the end result is the same: the problem escalates in short order.
Fixing mistakes like this can end up costing you more in the long run. Even if you call a professional, they will have to remove the DIY materials first, which can be more expensive and time-consuming. Likewise, the damage may be more severe by this point, since the driveway or sidewalk was deprived of an efficient solution for additional weeks or months. In some cases, what might’ve been fixed with PolyRenewalTM may now require a full replacement, which is very costly.
The Value of Professional Help
Hiring the right professionals to complete the work might sound like a costly enterprise, but it is one worth paying. Experts such as those at Indiana Foundation Service will have the knowledge and the right tools to complete the job in a shorter amount of time and with more precision. The homeowner is paying not only for the repairs but for a professional’s knowledge and quality guarantee. If updates are ever needed because of a mistake or an unexpected factor, this is covered by the professionals, not your own wallet.
Likewise, professionals have more access to industry-standard equipment or products. Solutions like PolyRenewalTM cannot be purchased over the counter, and mudjacking requires the use of heavy equipment that cannot be easily rented (even if you know how to safely use it). By hiring an expert, you can ensure your sidewalk or driveway gets the best solution at a better price, not just that you have access or experience to pull off. This can help the repair last for decades, not a few years.
Pouring chemicals and foam into your soil may not sound appealing. Even if it does a great job, some homeowners are concerned about how PolyRenewalTM will affect their landscaping and even their own health. If that doesn’t bother you, you may still be concerned about how long foam can survive weather conditions, the weight of concrete, and daily use. The good news is, Indiana Foundation Services prides itself on this concrete lifting solution for very good reason.
Polyurethane, which is the substance used in PolyRenewalTM, is a non-toxic foam used in many construction projects throughout the industry. It’s a modern and cutting-edge solution, but that doesn’t mean it’s not well tested or certified as safe. Its proven durability and environmentally friendly nature are what make it such a popular solution in both construction and concrete repair. Moldable and strong, it’s proven invaluable to many different types of work.
It’s been deemed a safe substance to use within the soil because the chemicals that make up polyurethane are inert. In other words, they do not affect the endocrine or hormone systems of humans and animals. Should the substance make it into the water supply, such as when it’s used in the ground, it has no adverse effects on those drinking the water or touching the substance itself. It won’t react to the soil, harm the soil, or harm anything else it comes into contact with. Of course, it’s not safe to eat or get in your eyes, though, which is why professionals are always the ones tasked with handling it for any concrete repair.
A major bonus to using polyurethane is its long-lasting nature. Polyurethane is easy to mold and can withstand enormous amounts of weight, such as those needed in a driveway. Concrete slabs reinforced with polyurethane from the bottom up will not continue slipping further down or cracking even if a truck is parked on top for countless hours.
Calling the right professionals to use polyurethane means a homeowner will only ever have to pay for the repairs once. Since the substance can last for many years, there’s no need to worry about spending more funds to fix or update the foam in the coming years. With a lifespan of 20 years or more and a quality guarantee, you can have confidence in this being a long-term solution.
If your concrete is already stained and cracked, and now it’s tilting as well, it’s natural to think, “Okay, let’s just scrap it and start again.” In some cases, this is the best choice, especially if it’s severely cracked or portions of the sidewalk or driveway are falling away from the whole. However, you’ll be surprised to find that, with the right products, even concrete in very bad shape can be restored to good working order. If it’s possible to simply repair your concrete, that’s why our team will always recommend:
That’s because of two main reasons: costs and time. If your sidewalk is damaged and tilting, it may seem like beginning anew will be the cleanest, most effective way forward. However, the process of replacing a sidewalk or driveway involves breaking up the existing concrete, removing it with the use of heavy equipment, and then disposing of it. In some cases, this even requires excavation, which is time-consuming and expensive. All that happens long before the new concrete is even poured and set.
The cost of a full replacement will depend on how many slabs need to be replaced, how large your sidewalk or driveway is, and what underlying problems need to be corrected to ensure the new replacement doesn’t suffer the same fate as the old one. No matter how you slice it, though, replacement will always take two to three times the amount of time and money that either mudjacking or PolyRenewal will. Sometimes it’s necessary, but this is why our team usually recommends repair whenever it’s an option.
In contrast, repairs focus on solving the root problem, lifting your concrete back into place, fortifying it against future tilting or support issues, and repairing aesthetic damage. All this happens without needing to remove the sidewalk or driveway slabs, and oftentimes, all it requires is a few drilled holes. With the use of PolyRenewal in particular, a professional can give new life to your uneven driveways or sidewalks in a matter of hours. The set-up time itself will take between one and three hours, allowing you to fully use the surface again in short order. This saves time and, therefore, labor costs.
Of course, polyurethane foam is a little more costly than mudjacking, as it’s a more advanced product and requires a bit of specialized knowledge to properly use. However, it’s still far less expensive than needing to start over brand new with your driveway or sidewalk. Since it’s long-lasting, you also won’t need to invest in further repairs a few years down the future. Our team can then cap this off with crack repairs and other cosmetic fixes to ensure the final product looks fresh and new.
Get in Touch with a Local Expert About Your Uneven Driveways and Sidewalks
Uneven sidewalks and driveways can pose a tripping hazard, lower your home’s value, and serve as a terrible eyesore. Luckily, the damage can be repaired and the concrete slabs leveled out again with the right tools and service. Indiana Foundation Services is happy to assist homeowners in Indianapolis, IN, and the surrounding areas. Get in contact to receive a free inspection and a no-obligation quote today!