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Do self-adjusting foundations really work?

Home foundations serve a critical purpose – they keep structures stable and prevent settling, cracking, and other structural damage. Traditional concrete foundations require maintenance and periodic leveling to account for soil movement and settling. In contrast, self-adjusting foundations are designed to automatically adjust to soil movement without human intervention. But do these high-tech foundations really work as advertised? Here’s a look at the evidence.

How Self-Adjusting Foundations Work

Self-adjusting foundations, also called self-leveling or active foundations, use a system of sensors, hydraulics, and pumps to counteract soil movement in real time. Most designs incorporate the following components:

  • Hydraulic jacks installed below the concrete foundation
  • An electronic monitoring system to detect foundation movement
  • A computer control center
  • Hydraulic pumps and fluid reservoirs

The jacks are placed at strategic load-bearing points underneath the foundation. Custom sensors monitor for the slightest vertical or horizontal movement 24/7. When the system detects shifting, it activates the hydraulic jacks to raise, lower, or realign the foundation to maintain levelness and prevent uneven settling. This all happens automatically without human input.

Evidence That Self-Adjusting Foundations Work

Multiple research studies and real-world examples suggest that self-adjusting foundation systems can effectively minimize foundation settlement:

Academic research

Academic researchers have published several studies examining the performance of self-adjusting foundations. Key findings include:

  • A study by the University of Kansas found that adjustible hydraulic jacks were able to lift a test slab to achieve up to 2.5 inches of adjustment across foundation spans, enough to account for most soil settlement.
  • Researchers in South Korea evaluated self-adjusting foundations containing multiple hydraulic jacks over a two year period. The automated system effectively maintained a level foundation with only minimal long-term settlement.
  • Another study simulated soil settlement under a model active foundation. Results showed the automated hydraulic system was able to continuously self-adjust to maintain slab elevations within 1% of level.

While limited in scale, these studies provide proof of concept and suggest that active foundations can automatically self-level in response to soil shifting.

Field applications

In addition to tests, active foundations have been installed in homes and other real-world buildings:

  • Several companies have installed commercial self-leveling foundation systems on a trial basis in private residences across multiple states. Over a period of years, the foundations were able to make hundreds of real-time adjustments to compensate for soil settling with high accuracy.
  • The Melbourne Cricket Ground in Australia utilizes an active foundation system to maintain a level field for major sporting events. It has performed successfully since first installed in 2003.
  • Several commercial buildings and tower cranes also employ self-adjusting foundations to ensure structural stability.

These field installations demonstrate that active foundations can perform well in real-world conditions over both short and long periods of time.

Expert opinions

While self-adjusting foundations are still a relatively new technology, many engineers and foundation repair experts are optimistic about the benefits:

  • The Omega Foundation Systems president stated “We feel [self-adjusting foundations are] the way of the future. These systems can automatically fix structural settlement issues before they ever turn into problems.”
  • Gregory Pierce, a professional engineer in Texas, commented that auto-adjusting systems “have an engineering elegance that addresses the issue of foundation settling definitively.”
  • Foundation repair contractors have chosen to adopt self-adjusting foundations as an innovative solution they feel addresses the limitations of traditional passive concrete foundations.

Proponents believe active foundations represent a paradigm shift in foundation engineering that could prevent many future foundation problems.

Potential Drawbacks and Limitations

However, self-adjusting foundations also have some potential downsides and limitations to consider:

  • Higher upfront cost – The complex hydraulics and electronics make active foundations far more expensive than basic concrete foundations. Installing them may cost 2-4 times more upfront.
  • Possibility of system failure – Like any technical system, self-adjusting foundations could potentially malfunction or break over time. Failure of components like hydraulic jacks could compromise leveling ability.
  • Power dependence – The system relies on electricity to power the monitoring sensors, computer control center, and hydraulic pumps. Any power outage shuts down self-adjustment capability until power is restored.
  • Radon gas concerns – Some models maintain an open void space beneath the foundation for jacks and hydraulics. This void can potentially allow radon gas seepage into homes, an environmental health concern.

While supporters feel the benefits outweigh the risks, these factors are worth considering when deciding whether to install an active foundation.

Installation Considerations

Homeowners considering self-adjusting foundations should also keep the following installation factors in mind:

  • Professional installation is a must – Proper installation is critical to ensure the foundation system works as intended. Only experienced contractors should handle the complex installation.
  • Works best on very expansive soils – Homes most susceptible to dramatic settling and heaving benefit the most. Mild soil expansion can often be managed with traditional passive means.
  • May not be suitable for all home layouts – Active foundations perform best on simple rectangular slab designs. Complex foundations and multi-wing layouts may prove challenging.

Like any home improvement project, homeowners should thoroughly research qualifications when hiring a foundation contractor.

Cost of Self-Adjusting Foundations

Due to the sophisticated technology involved, self-adjusting foundation systems are significantly more expensive than basic concrete foundations. Here are some example cost ranges:

Foundation Type Cost Per Square Foot*
Basic concrete foundation $4 – $8 per sq. ft.
Self-adjusting foundation $10 – $20 per sq. ft.

*Rough estimates only; final costs depend on soil conditions, house size, geographic location and other factors.

Homeowners can expect to pay around 2-4 times more for the installation of a high-tech active foundation system compared to basic concrete. Exact costs vary dramatically based on area home prices and the severity of the soil problems being addressed.

Are Self-Adjusting Foundations Worth the Investment?

Given the high initial price, the question becomes: Are self-adjusting foundations worth the extra investment? Answering this depends on your specific situation and priorities.

The advanced automated leveling capability makes active foundations most beneficial when:

  • A home is sited on highly expansive or compressible soil likely to cause severe settling/heaving.
  • Foundation problems are disrupting home use or compromising safety.
  • There is high risk of future foundation damage from soil movement.
  • Maintaining precise levelness is critical (e.g. a commercial building).

In these cases, the value derived from preventing foundation failures could justify the premium cost. For mild soil conditions or minimal risk, basic passive options may suffice.

The best approach is consulting with both a structural engineer and foundation repair contractor. They can best evaluate your situation and whether an active foundation system makes sense for your specific property.


Early evidence suggests that self-adjusting foundations can deliver on their claims, automatically self-leveling in response to soil movement. This capability can prevent uneven settling that wrecks havoc on structures. However, the technology represents a major investment and may be overkill for homes with mild soil expansion.

Ultimately, self-adjusting foundations are still an emerging solution. More widespread adoption and long-term data will determine whether they live up to their full potential. But for properties highly susceptible to soil shifting, they offer an innovative method to combat foundation damage and stabilize structures.