Basement flooding is the number one issue that often comes to mind when most people think about foundation issues. That’s because both homeowners and homebuyers want to ensure that the home’s interior and their possessions aren’t ruined if water seeps indoors, causing a large out-of-pocket expense.
What people often fail to realize, however, is that the impact of a foundation crack or other issue could pose far worse problems than water entering the basement. The entire integrity of the foundation and its ability to support the home could be at stake. And major foundation repairs can end up costing tens of thousands of dollars.
The purpose of a foundation inspection is to determine whether the base of the home is structurally sound and able to support the rest of the home. Structural issues can lead to sagging roofs, slanted floors and cracks that leave the home vulnerable to pests in addition to water damage.
While nobody wants to hear that their foundation issue will cost thousands to properly repair, it’s something you don’t want to leave to chance. That’s why an annual maintenance inspection can also be beneficial for tracking any foundation or other concerns a homeowner may have.
And you definitely want to be made aware of this risk if you’re a potential homebuyer.
Common causes of foundation issues
A home’s foundation can be damaged by environmental factors such as earthquakes or extreme temperatures, as well as tree roots, so it’s especially important to monitor your foundation if any of these potential threats exist. Other contributing factors include:
- Soil type. Most lots contain fill dirt since they’re often built on unlevel ground and need to be properly graded. Low areas must be built up with fill dirt and, if the slope of the lot isn’t sufficient, retaining walls will be required to hold the fill dirt. Areas that contain fill dirt don’t get compacted as well as they should and can compress over time leading to settlement. When foundation soil experiences an extreme change in moisture content, this can result in damage to the foundation in the form of settlement. An excess amount of moisture is capable of saturating the soil of the foundation, which can lead to softening/weakening of the soil. When the soil is no longer capable of supporting the load, the result is often settlement of the foundation. Different soil types are affected by moisture in different ways, so it’s important to know what type of soil surrounds your home (eg, sand or clay).
- Drainage. Moisture can be a serious problem for homes in general, but it’s worse when it comes to the foundation. Poor drainage will allow water to pool around a house and, in turn, this saturated soil around the foundation expands and shifts. Pressure on the foundation walls then increases and results in cracks and leaks that allow water to penetrate the foundation. This can cause electrical hazards, mould growth and structural damage. It’s important to note than older homes tend to be built on flat areas where drainage is an issue.
- Age. Foundation strength relies a lot on the size and amount of support beams present in the home. Older foundations tend to have smaller and fewer beams, making them less stable than homes built today.
When your home inspector is examining your foundation, they’ll be looking for things like foundation cracks, uneven areas, and damaged walls and floors. If there’s a crawlspace under the house, they’ll carefully examine it to determine if it’s wet or musty. If there are wet or rotten areas, there may be a foundation drainage problem that needs to be corrected.
Small cracks in the concrete can be considered normal, but larger and visibly deep cracks are signs of a bigger problem, and your inspector may recommend that a structural engineer conduct a thorough foundation inspection.
When your home inspector is examining the exterior of your house, they’ll also be looking for drainage issues around the home. If there’s standing water right next to the foundation, there may be issues inside as well. Poor drainage can be caused by such things as improper grading, or gutters that are clogged or drain too close to the home. If there’s standing water outside of the home, they’ll be sure to take a closer look once inside to ensure that the foundation is dry.
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