Foundation Warning Signs
It's no secret that foundations repairs can be expensive. In fact, if you Google "most expensive home repairs" foundation issues are usually in the top ten. Part of the problem comes from home owners ignoring this important part of their home. Foundation issues don't run into the thousands of dollars overnight. If you regularly inspect your home for the following warning signs, and contact a foundation professional when you suspect issues, it can save you a lot of money.
Following are some signs of possible foundation problems and things you can do
Fine, small cracks in the exterior walls or on the steps are usually nothing to worry about. It is generally considered that any crack over 1/8 of an inch should be given a serious look. Cracks that are large and have a zig-zag pattern or are running horizontally may be a sign that there is some movement in the foundation and should be further evaluated by a qualified foundation repair contractor. All exterior cracks should be sealed as part of regular house maintenance. Water intrusion into cracks can cause further damage especially in the winter when freeze / thaw processes can be particularly damaging.
Interior Sheetrock Cracks
Drywall cracks are common, that is just a fact. Common places for interior drywall cracks are above doors on the walls and at the end of hallways on the ceiling. If you live in a home with large vaulted ceilings cracks are common at the transition areas where flat ceilings transition to the vaulted ceiling or at load bearing areas of the walls. These cracks are generally straight and even and can at times have some peeling drywall tape around them because they run along drywall joints. Cracks that should be of concern are generally diagonal and are larger at one end than the other across the sheetrock and sometimes through or across drywall joints. Many times, they will be at the upper corner of a door and the door will not be closing properly. Suspicious drywall cracks should be monitored and if they grow, so to speak, consult a qualified contractor.
Doors Out of Square and Uneven Floors
Very few homes are perfectly plumb, and it is common for new homes to settle for a few years after construction requiring doors to need adjusted and repaired. Seasonal adjustments are also frequently needed. Sometimes doors will be difficult to open and close in the winter and go back to working fine in the summer. Doors that change or become out of adjustment for no apparent reason and may even continue to get worse should be carefully evaluated, especially if they are accompanied by cracking drywall or squeaking floors around the door.
Door or Window Frame Separation from exterior siding
Unusual movement of the exterior window or door frames should be monitored. If caulking appears to be tearing or peeling away from door or window frames, or if the trim joints appear to be widening further evaluation is warranted.
Damp or wet basement
If your basement has damp or wet areas at the base of the foundation walls in the basement or if you feel you need to run a dehumidifier this can be a sign of needed maintenance. While it is true that some basements and crawlspaces are just damp, generally this can be associated with improper drainage around the home. Soil and gutters should divert water away from the foundation. If there are areas around the home that are sloped toward the home or if gutters discharge next to the foundation this can cause water to run into basements or crawlspaces or under slabs and create foundation problems.
Floors that start to squeak or become out of level should be further evaluated, especially if accompanied by any of the other warning signs such as drywall cracking or doors that need adjustments. Many times, ceramic tile floors can provide early warning signs of foundation movement especially if cracks do not follow the grout lines but run across the tile. It would be recommended that further evaluation be made by a qualified contractor.
Moving outside, check to see if your foundation is straight by sighting down the length of your foundation wall from each corner. The walls should be basically straight, both up and down and from side to side. Check for leaning walls with a level. If you notice the bottom of the framed walls are not evenly hanging over the foundation this may be sign the foundation wall moving.
A bulge or curve in either a block a stone foundation wall could signal that the foundation has shifted, or that the soil around your foundation may be expanding and contracting, putting pressure on walls. As mentioned, check soil drainage.
When can foundation cracks be a sign your foundation is settling?
As mentioned, cracks under 1/8 inch in poured concrete foundations are normal. They happen while the concrete cures within the first year after construction or over time as the home moves and settles and generally do not change over time and are considered mostly harmless. However, when cracks appear years after your home is built, or grow longer or wider over time, it can mean something is moving or the foundation is settling more than is normal.
Foundation wall cracks that are wider at the top than at the bottom can indicate that part of the foundation is falling away from the rest. If you notice this problem, it’s best not to fill the cracks with anything until you determine if the foundation needs to be stabilized. Filling the cracks may prevent a contractor from being able to lift the foundation back into place.
Another thing to keep in mind is some foundations that are moving or sinking have one large crack, while others have many small cracks. If you see many small cracks, just imagine how large the gap would be if all those small gaps were put together. Further evaluation is recommended.
There is an old saying about concrete, “it gets hard and it cracks”. So, if your foundation has some cracks don’t panic. If the cracks are around 1/8 to 1/4-inch seal the exterior with an approved patch and monitor them. If your foundation walls show signs of bowing or have some major cracking call a qualified foundation repair contractor. Get several opinions don’t settle on one opinion. Paying a qualified home inspector for an opinion can be beneficial.
My goal is to have a series of articles that deal with items that may be found on the home inspection report. There will also be articles on choosing a home inspector and a realtor. This information will be based on my experience in the construction industry as well as information I research. I welcome your comments. If you have a question or would like to see an article on a particular subject please ask.
L. A. Selleck Inspections and Consulting
22052 W. 66th St. Ste. 162
Shawnee, KS 66226
913-730-6402 and 785-640-5704
Serving The Entire Kansas City Area And Surrounding Towns And Communities Including, Lawrence, Topeka, Overland Park, Shawnee, Lenexa, Olathe, Tonganoxie, Leavenworth, Atchison, Holton, Manhattan, Gardner, Louisburg, Paola, and many others