Your home is a large investment so you’ll want to make sure it stands the test of time. The foundation of a house is an essential component to its safety, stability and longevity. It keeps the house in place, ensures the house is level, keeps moisture out and even insulates.
But foundations can have problems, and those problems can vary in size and severity. So, if you’re worried that you may have a major foundation problem on your hands, take a deep breath and read on.
We’ll set you up to protect your investment with four simple steps to identifying the most common foundation problems. And we’ll explore what to do if you find them.
1. Know Your Foundation Type
The first step to identifying any foundation issue is to know what type of foundation you have. Homes have different types of foundations based on many different factors like:
- The age, size and style of the home
- The type of soil the home is built on, moisture and water drainage conditions
- The geographical location and climate
Let’s take a look at the different house foundation types so you know what you’re dealing with.
Basement foundations are built with full-sized concrete walls (made of concrete masonry units or poured concrete) that go down into the ground, and there is usually a poured concrete floor. You can have a full basement or a daylight basement.
A full basement is when all basement walls are fully underground with either no windows or small windows at the top of the wall.
A daylight basement is when some of the walls are fully underground while others are partially or fully exposed. Large windows and doors are usually built into the exposed walls to let in, you guessed it: daylight. ☀️ You’ll usually find a daylight basement when a house is built on a slope.
Basement foundations are usually found in colder climates where the ground freezes and thaws.
Crawl space foundation
Crawl space foundations are built with short concrete walls that rest on concrete footings. They are unheated, unfinished spaces that can have a small door at ground level where people can crawl into the space below the house. Vents in the short walls help prevent moisture from accumulating in the space. The walls can be built using mortared concrete blocks or poured concrete.
Homes built in warmer climates or earthquake-prone areas are more likely to have crawl space foundations.
Concrete slab foundation
Concrete slab foundations (or slab-on-grade foundations) are built by pouring one giant concrete slab on the ground for the house to rest on. All the plumbing is built into the concrete slab, which can make it harder to do any repairs since you have to cut into the concrete.
You’re more likely to find this foundation type in warmer climates where the ground doesn’t freeze and thaw, which could cause cracks in the slab.
Pier-and-beam foundations are built by driving piers (long pillars) deep into the ground, connecting them with beams above the ground and then building the house on top. These houses are built a few feet above the ground and the foundation piers are visible, making it look like the houses are on stilts.
This foundation type is usually found in regions where hurricanes and major flooding happen. A variation of this style may be used to help support very large homes.
Wood foundations are built with short wood walls resting on wooden footings. They’re like crawl spaces, but they’re made out of wood.
The wood used is usually treated with preservatives to prevent water damage and increase its durability and longevity.
This foundation type is usually found in areas that have drier soil or in some houses that were built after the 1960s.
2. Know Where To Look
Once you know what kind of foundation you’re looking at, it’s important to know where to look for foundation problems.
The most common areas that might show signs of foundation damage are:
- The foundation: Obvious, right? 🤣 Take a look at the foundation walls (both outside and inside if you can), footings or slab where applicable.
- Inside the home: Take a look at your floors and walls, countertops and cabinets where they meet the wall, window frames and door frames.
3. Look for Signs of Foundation Problems
Knowing where to look is one thing – knowing what to look for is another.
If your house has foundation problems, it can lead to many issues, like foundation settling, cracked walls, uneven floors and, in worst cases, major structural problems.
Most foundation damage is caused by foundation movement in the ground. But environmental factors like flooding or earthquakes or freezing and thawing can also cause damage.
Let’s look at some common signs of foundation issues:
- Sloping floors
- Sticking or uneven doors
- Bowing walls
- Foundation settlement
- Moisture, water damage or mold
- Signs of rodents or other pests, like termites or ants
Many of these foundation problems sound scary – and they can be – but they don’t always spell immediate disaster for people living in the home.
Minor foundation problems
Minor foundation problems aren’t something to panic over and generally don’t cost a ton to repair. But just because they’re small, it doesn’t mean you should overlook them. The side effects of a minor problem might cause more harm than the original problem and potentially lead to bigger problems. Like foundation cracks that let in 🐀🐀 or other rodents and pests. 🐜🐜
Some minor foundation problems are:
- Small cracks (up to 1/16 of an inch wide) in the foundation or the interior and exterior walls of the home
- Doors sticking, especially at the top or bottom
- Light moisture, small signs of water or a few mold spots
While things like light moisture, small signs of water and a few mold spots are generally considered minor problems, you don’t want to leave them untreated. They could become health concerns.
Major foundation problems
Major foundation problems may be easy to spot – or not – depending on what the foundation damage is. Most of the time, foundation problems require more immediate attention than minor problems and are much more expensive.
Some major foundation problems are:
- Large cracks (over 1/16 of an inch wide) in the foundation or interior and exterior walls of the home
- Large gaps between window and door frames
- Cabinets and countertops separating from the wall
- Bowing basement walls
- Sloping or squeaking floors
- Sinking walls or floors
- Major water damage or excessive mold
Keep an eye out for cracks! Different types of foundation cracks mean different things. Horizontal cracks are considered worse than vertical cracks because they could mean the perimeter of your foundation is under a lot of pressure. Diagonal cracks could be even worse because they can cause the sheetrock in your home’s interior walls to slowly rip apart. And you should also pay attention to foundation cracks that look like a staircase in brick foundations.
False foundation problems
Not everything that looks like a foundation problem is a foundation problem. For example, is there such a thing as “normal foundation cracks” or are they always signs of foundation problems?
Let’s take a look at some false foundation problems.
- Small and hairline cracks: Sometimes these are more of a cosmetic issue, especially if they happen in the grout of tile floors, wall seams, ceilings or above a garage.
- Doors sticking: This could be from high humidity – unless the humidity goes down and the problem persists.
- Cabinets and countertops: If you find they are separating from the wall, it may be that the hardware used to hang the cabinets or the seal used to attach the countertop to the wall is failing.
- Sloping or squeaking floors: This is common in older homes. It may be a reflection of how they were built or the age of the material.
- Nails popping out: If it looks like nails are popping out of the wall, that can mean a poor choice in materials.
With all of that said, just because you think it might be a false foundation problem, doesn’t mean you should ignore it. 🙅
4. Hire a Professional
If you think you have a foundation problem, or if they’re discovered during a home inspection, it’s okay. Most problems can be easily fixed, and professional help is available if you have any questions.
Whether you’re a homeowner or home buyer, the first thing you should do is call a local structural engineer to come to inspect the foundation. You will most likely pay a few hundred dollars for their services, but it might give you extra peace of mind before deciding if you need to call a foundation repair contractor or negotiate repairs with the seller.
If the structural engineer finds that the foundation needs repairs, call around to qualified foundation repair contractors or ask the engineer if they recommend anyone.
The contractor will perform an inspection and come up with a repair plan. Generally, these inspections are free, but you should ask before they pay a visit.
You may also need to hire a general contractor to fix any interior or exterior issues that a foundation repair contractor doesn’t specialize in (like wall cracks, floor issues or cabinet repair).
If you do have a foundation problem, in most situations, your safety is probably not at risk, and your house is not in immediate danger of collapsing.
Most people live in houses with small foundation problems without realizing it because it can take years for the damage to become obvious or cause substantial structural damage.
As we mentioned before, the side effects of foundation problems might be more of a safety or health concern (think: mold growing in the walls because of excess moisture and pest or rodent infestations).
Pro tip: Don’t let problems turn into safety hazards. Address problems sooner rather than later.
Foundation repair costs
Once the contractor’s evaluation is complete, they’ll submit an estimate. This repair estimate should be handed to you in writing. ✍️
Fixing foundation problems can cost anywhere from $500 for minor cracks to $10,000 or more for major repairs. Homeowners typically pay between $2,000 and $7,500 for repairs and upwards of $40,000 for a whole new foundation.
It all depends on the repair and how extensive the damage is.
No More Foundation Frustrations
Foundation problems aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be. See what we did there? 😉
But, it’s important to know when something is a minor, major or false problem so you can figure out how to get it repaired and relieve yourself of foundation frustrations.
It might be a good idea to perform a visual inspection of your home once or twice a year and after any major weather events. It’s much easier to spot signs of foundation problems when you’re regularly revisiting parts of the home.
Remember that foundation problems can be fixed in most cases. Repairs vary in cost but can lead to more major expenses, so the sooner you can identify the problem, the better.