Foundations are always at the top of homebuyers’ concerns when it comes to their new house. Everyone wants confirmation that the foundation is in good shape and there are not any concerns. Many times we can tell our clients confidently their foundation is in great shape and they have nothing to worry about.
Other times, the news is not so good.
While foundations are only one of many critical components we evaluate during a home inspection, it does play a major role in the structural integrity of the house. So let’s talk about foundations…
Some foundation inspections are fairly straightforward, like new construction foundations where the walls are all visible. However, this is not usually the case. Most foundation walls are partially or completely covered in places. We do our best to sleuth out possible concerns based on the evidence available to us at the time of inspection.
Normal/Typical Foundation Cracks
One thing we regularly explain to clients is the difference between normal/typical cracks, and cracks that are concerning and should be further evaluated. Minor concrete cracks are typical. They come with the aging and drying of concrete. Also, cracks come from the normal settling process that occurs with a house – even new ones. Small cracks in foundation walls and floors should be monitored for further movement, but should not cause alarm.
Major Foundation Cracks
Major cracks are a much different concern. We consider a major crack anything that has an opening wider than 3/16th of an inch or is offset a 1/8th of an inch or more. Horizontal cracks in block or brick foundations are often major concerns. They are a sign of a bowed foundation wall which may be structurally compromised. We list these issues and cracks as major concerns in our reports. They need further evaluation and repair by a qualified foundation professional.
Knowing who to call in these circumstances can be a challenge. The person best suited to evaluate the structural integrity of a foundation wall is a structural engineer. However, finding a structural engineer who does residential consults can be difficult.
Basement foundation contractors – those specializing in evaluating and repairing basements – are another option but should be consulted with this caveat in mind. Many companies specializing in basement foundations often try to sell a product. Getting an honest response on the condition of your foundation can sometimes be difficult without feeling pressured to buy their product or services.
There are different types of ‘repairs’ for various foundation concerns. If a wall has moved significantly, it likely needs to be braced with additional support. Vertical steel beams are an effective way of offering this support. It would be our recommended method for bracing a foundation wall. Steel plates with rods that connect through the wall into another steel plate in the yard are often not as effective.
Many clients ask if their basement needs to be waterproofed. Typically this question is the result of previous moisture concerns in a basement. There are very few instances where we would recommend waterproofing a basement. These systems are very expensive and focus on dealing with the water after it enters the home. Instead, we recommend investing money n the exterior of the home. This helps prevent the water from ever getting near the foundation. Money spent on grading, exterior drain tile, and downspout extensions is a much better and more effective investment to keep a basement dry.