Signs your home might have a foundation problem (pictures)

Your goal as a homeowner should be spotting foundation problems (see pictures below) early when house foundation repair doesn’t cost as much. That means you’ll need to know what to look for:

  • Doors or windows that stick, are hard to open and close, or are misaligned. Also, doors or windows that don’t open and close completely. Locking mechanisms also may not work because the functional parts aren’t lining up correctly.
  • Uneven floors. Look for floors that are sunken, sloped, or warped in some way. If you have a crawl space foundation, the floor may even feel spongy when you walk on it.
  • Floor cracks that run wall-to-wall. Cracks that are limited to just one or two tiles were probably caused when something heavy dropped or fell.
  • Ceiling or floors that have separated from the wall. This is true even if it’s just a small amount of separation.
  • Wall cracks (interior or exterior)with or without bowing. Drywall cracks might not be caused by a foundation problem. However, if you repair a drywall crack and it keeps coming back, you might have an issue with your foundation.
  • Torn wallpaper. A cracked wall behind the wallpaper might have caused this.
  • Wall rotation. This happens when the soil along the outside edge of the foundation wall is oversaturated with water while the soil along the inside edge of the foundation wall is dry. This causes the outer edge to sink into the waterlogged soil while the inside edge pulls up. As a result, the wall rotates.
  • Diagonal cracks that run from the corners of doors and windows up to the ceiling. If these are hairline cracks, it could just be normal settling. However, larger cracks indicate a possible foundation problem.
  • Moldings that have separated from the wall and/or ceiling. Separated moldings are an indication that things are not moving in sync.
  • Stair step cracks in brickwork. These are always a sign of a foundation problem.
  • Chimneys and porches that are separating from the rest of the house. Sometimes, this is merely a problem with the foundation under the chimney or porch. However, you’ll definitely want to make sure it’s not being caused by your foundation.

Is it safe to live in a house with foundation problems? When are foundation issues serious?

It might be safe to live in a house with foundation problems, and it might not. A foundation issue is serious when it directly affects your home’s structural integrity. Whether a foundation problem threatens a building’s structural integrity – or not – depends on whether the foundation issue is structural or non-structural. Here’s what this means about foundation cracks…

There are two types of foundation cracks: structural and non-structural.

Structural foundation cracks mean your home’s structural integrity is at risk, while non-structural foundation cracks are usually caused during the concrete curing process. While non-structural cracks can still cause damage – for example, vertical basement wall cracks that allow water and pests to enter – they do not threaten a building’s structural integrity.

Structural foundation cracks…

  • are usually over 1/10 inch wide
  • grow larger over time
  • are horizontal cracks with or without bowing
  • are diagonal cracks
  • are many vertical cracks next to each other
  • go across a ceiling and down a wall

Structural foundation cracks should be inspected by an experienced foundation repair contractor or structural engineer right away.

Non-structural foundation cracks…

  • are very thin hairline cracks usually less than 1/10 inch wide
  • are often vertical
  • are confined to one block on a block foundation wall
  • don’t grow larger over time

Just because a foundation crack doesn’t appear to be structural doesn’t mean it isn’t. Keep an eye on what seem to be non-structural cracks to make sure they’re not getting bigger. If you’re not sure, error on the side of caution and contact a foundation repair contractor or structural engineer for an inspection.

Causes of foundation problems

Foundation issues are caused by various things including,

  • Soil that wasn’t adequately compacted before construction began. If this isn’t done, the soil will slowly compact after the foundation has been placed on top of it. This could cause differential settlement.
  • Expansive soil. This is soil that swells when it absorbs water and then shrinks by that same amount when it dries out.
  • Weather changes. For example, you build a house on expansive soil during the dry season. When the wet season arrives, that soil starts to expand, and as it does, it pushes against the foundation.
  • Digging next to the foundation. If your neighbor decides to do some heavy excavation too close to your foundation, it could lead to trouble. Picture what happens when you dig a big hole next to a chair on the beach. Eventually, the chair will fall into the hole.
  • Earthquakes and floods. We probably don’t need to explain how earthquakes damage a foundation. However, most people don’t know that even slowly moving floodwater has the power to move a foundation.

Since water is the most common cause of foundation problems, good drainage around your home’s foundation is essential. You don’t want excess water in the soil around your home. Here are some things you can do to prevent water-saturated soil around your home’s foundation:

  • If your yard doesn’t slope away from your home’s foundation, regrade it. Regrading a yard ensures that water isn’t able to flow toward your foundation. Both foundation repair contractors and landscape architects can help you with this. However, you might be able to do it yourself.
  • Clean your gutters regularly. Clogged gutters can cause water to spill over the side of your home and down into the soil.
  • Ensure downspouts carry water away from the foundation. Install extensions, if necessary. Many downspouts are too short and dump water right next to the foundation. Extensions are inexpensive and channel rainwater away from the foundation.

How to prevent foundation problems

Since foundation problems can be costly to fix, it’s best to prevent them from happening in the first place. You can do this by ensuring good drainage around your home and learning to spot the signs of foundation problems. If you see anything suspicious, contact an experienced foundation repair contractor right away for an inspection and estimate. Most contractors will do the inspection for free.

If you’re in our service area in northern California, contact us for a free inspection and estimate.