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How to Identify Signs of Foundation Problems
There are few things more important than understanding the extent of foundation damage before you make your final offer on a home. Although home insurance is an absolute must for all homebuyers, it isn’t likely to cover the cost of foundation repairs.
Ideally, you’d be able to spot substructure concerns yourself before finalizing the purchase on your home. But issues with your home’s foundation aren’t always easy to spot. The best bet prior to closing on your home is to hire a professional home inspector, as they are well trained in spotting all types of potential issues with your home. A home inspector can help you understand where problems exist across the house, so you don’t have to play a guessing game.
However, even a complete walkthrough with a home inspector might not be enough to grasp the potential damage to a foundation. Because getting to the bottom of foundation trouble is so important, we’ve put together these tips to help you identify and fix foundation issues.
Table of Contents:
Initial Signs of Foundation Damage
Prior to having a professional home inspector or structural engineer out to the home, a savvy home buyer can spot potential foundation issues with an eye test. Take the following into consideration when determining if your home has foundation damage.
Do the doors raise doubts?
A door that is tough to open can be a sign of substructure problems. Make sure that all doors in the home can be closed and opened easily, and latch properly.
Look to the ceiling to assess a shaky floor
Many foundation dilemmas are unseen, hidden well below the floor. But if your keen eye spots cracks near the ceiling, over doorways, or near windows — this could be a telltale sign of something bad below the bedrock.
Is the floor in good repair?
A rug can hide foundation secrets, but if the floors are covered in ceramic tile, hardwood or vinyl, take a close look. If the flooring is uneven, popped up, or cracked, this could be a huge warning sign of trouble down below.
Make sure open (and closed) windows stay that way
Fear not — it’s not a poltergeist messing with you. Windows that have a mind of their own are a surefire sign of a shifty substructure.
Are there cracks in foundation wall of your basement?
Because many big problems get their start as small basement foundation cracks, it’s important to know how to spot real issues from the normal settling that any foundation will experience. Typically, vertical, hairline cracks in the foundation are not much of a concern. But large, horizontal cracks that travel along an entire slab can spell trouble. If you find water seeping in through a foundation crack, that’s another sign that bigger issues may be in play.
Is water seeping through the foundation wall?
If you find water seeping through the foundation slab or wall, it may be that the slope of the soil against the house is forcing rainwater to pool next to your home. You’ll likely note that water seeping through the foundation slab is greatest during and after rain events. Be sure to add soil to those low-lying areas to improve the grade so water flows away from the home.
Another source for leaking are water pipes themselves. If your main water line travels through the foundation, water leaks can occur when the pipe is stressed by foundation settling. And hot water slab leaks can occur in much the same way. Water seeping through the slab’s foundation — and even cracks in the cement pad that make up the basement floor — can produce fractures in pipes that lead to leaking.
Keep an eye on your cinder block foundation
You’ll typically find cinder block foundation problems in homes that have crawl spaces. Cinder block leaks occur when either the block itself or the mortar between them fails and allows water to seep through. Like any other foundation issue, structural engineers should have the final say in determining the best way to repair the damage.
More clues that your foundation has seen better days
Clues like cracks in floor tiles, sagging and dipping in floors or uneven floors on the upper levels are important signs that there could be foundation issues below. To determine the root of the problem, start by exploring the property. Be on the lookout for:
- Signs of a bad center support bearing
- Cracking at the pier and beam foundations
- A sagging chimney
- Stem wall deterioration
- Foundation heave
- Basement walls that lean into the space
- The concrete slab (pad) in the basement is buckling or bowing in in areas
- Doors and windows don’t open or close easily in the house
How to Fix Foundation Problems and When to Contact a Professional
Knowing how to fix foundation problems yourself can save you a lot of money. Knowing when to contact a professional can help diagnose current issues and prevent future foundation problems.
A good contractor will give you advice on how to fix home foundation problems if it's a small issue. Sometimes, thoroughly cleaning and caulking is all that's required to fix a foundation crack.
But simply understanding how to fix concrete foundation cracks may not be enough when other issues are of concern. Hydrostatic pressure, or water buildup on the outside of your foundation, can push water through well-sealed cracks.
Can you fix a foundation issue yourself, or should you call in a professional?
Your savings account is going to want you to consider fixing any foundation issues yourself. Foundation repairs are costly. Therefore, having a professional inspect your substructure prior to closing is recommended. But sometimes small cracks get overlooked or cast aside as no big deal when negotiating to buy your home. And then, as time passes, that small crack may become wider, and then your doors may not stay shut. Unless you are a structural engineer, it’s recommended that you call in a professional for help.
Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Foundation Issues?
For your home insurance to cover foundation issues, the event that caused the problem must be covered by your insurer. Events that most homeowners insurance can cover include:
- Lightning or fire
- Leaking roofs
- Falling objects such as rocks or trees
Some of the most common causes of foundation issues are most likely not going to be covered. These events that are common causes include:
- Natural settling, cracking, shrinking, bulging or expansion of the foundation
- Earthquakes or floods
- Pressure from tree roots
- Faulty construction
How Much Does Fixing Foundation Issues Cost?
Like most other home repairs, the cost of fixing a foundation depends on how big the problem is. It’s a good idea to always get several free estimates when considering work on your foundation. Even if the problem’s small, your contractor will be able to comment on the structural engineer’s findings and help guide you through the process.
Most foundation repairs average about $3,500 and aren’t covered by most homeowners insurance policies. Here are a few common issues and their related costs:
- Repairing cracks in the foundation: $400 to $3,000
- Underpinning or lifting a sinking foundation: $1,000 $3,000 per pier
- Major foundation reconstruction: $3,500 to $35,000
- Complete replacement of a foundation: up to $40,000
If you’re thinking about buying a house that’s been diagnosed with “structural movement,” it may be that tree roots or other forces have pushed a portion of the foundation off its footing. Ask your contractor how much underpinning a foundation costs — if extra steps need to be taken.
If foundation issues exist when bidding on a home, and they’re significant enough, you can have your realtor amend the offer on the home. Either subtract the amount of the repairs from your final offer, or request that cash be placed into an escrow account for the purpose of repairing the foundation. It’s sometimes helpful to get the seller copies of the structural engineer’s findings and the quotes you received from the contractors.
Find Coverage Options with Homeowners Insurance
Whether you’re considering the purchase of a new home or have lived in your current house for a while, foundation issues can be costly and frustrating. But you’re not in this alone.
This article is for informational purposes only and includes information widely available through different sources.