Common defects in the foundation and structure of a home

As a home inspector, you’ve got a big role to play in determining significant defects and structural issues for a home buyer. With such, they rely heavily on your findings for protecting their investment from purchasing a home with major defects.

So, home inspectors have to identify these types of defects and further help the home buyers negotiate with the seller to correct the problem before closing on the home’s sale.

Common defects in foundation
Common defects in foundation

Issues with the foundation and structure of a home will require an extensive or complete remodelling job or repair. Even structural issues that look small can cause significant problems down the road. That’s why you must provide a detailed and thorough report to the client showing the property’s actual condition at the time of inspection. The client would use your report to negotiate with the seller and make up his / her mind for any future repairs or remodelling projects.

Here’s our take on how to determine significant defects in the foundation and structure of a home.

Let’s get started:

Inspecting for Major Defects in the foundation and structure of a home

As a home inspector, you should know the priority areas or major areas of concern and deal with them as “hot spots”. These include basements, foundations, roofs, plumbing, and electrical system. You can prioritize your findings before handing them over to the client. Some issues like mould, poor drainage, leaky plumbing, or outdated fixtures are major issues that must not be swiped under the carpet.

Bowed Walls

Having bowed walls is an indication of a significant structural problem with a home’s foundation. In most cases, the bowed wall is caused by the excessive lateral pressure from the soil surrounding and underneath the home. In case of a foundation failure, or when the foundation begins to settle, basement walls are under immense pressure, which can cause them to bow or crack.

So, try to check the horizontal or stair-step foundation and look for the wall cracks. The walls are sometimes leaning at the top or sliding in at the bottom. The next is to look for the signs of inward movement or bulging.

The severity of the situation depends on the extent of bowing. But even when the walls aren’t severely bowed, it could indicate considerable pressure on the sides of the foundation walls.

Bowed walls are common in homes without gutters and downspouts so that the rainwater couldn’t find a way away from the home and the foundation. Rainwater can contribute significantly to an oversaturation of the soil, causing expansion or swelling. After some time, when the surrounding soil dries, it shrinks. This cyclic expansion and contraction of soil put enormous pressure on the walls creating weak spots in the foundation and structure of a basement.

So, if you find any of the signs like walls leaning, sliding at the bottom, horizontal cracks, foundation cracks, signs of inward movement, budging or bucking of foundation walls, evidence of hydrostatic pressures, and the presence of expansive clay soil; you should report that too.

Gaps where walls and floors meet

A common foundation problem is to have gaps between the bottom of the wall and floor. So, walk around the walls on the inside part of the home and look for the gaps. But be sure to look at the walls next to the ceiling and blow the walls near the baseboard.

Such gaps mainly occur as a result of your house settling and are a serious safety risk. These gaps may also happen when the builders place support pillars too far apart. As the home needs even support across the foundation, such uneven support overloads the floor joints, making them bend or sag.

You can also detect such issues on the floor by walking around floor joists. If it started to make squeaking or cracking noise from the floorboards, the home needs quick intervention to avoid a catastrophe.

Drywall cracks around door frames

Finding cracks around door frames while looking at the walls is another thing of concern. Whether they are barely hairline cracks by door frames or thick drywall cracks around, these cracks can indicate a big problem in the home.

Drywall cracks are not just an aesthetic problem; they can be a symptom of a foundation problem due to uneven settling or improper load bearing. Such a settling puts more pressure on one side of your house than the other, resulting in drywall cracks. Soil and foundation movement is a “red flag” warning sign indicating one or more structural problems. In some other scenario, such cracks can also occur due to improper load-bearing. But this generally occurs in a house with more than one story.

Now, as a home inspector, you have to decide if these drywall cracks are just a cosmetic issue or a serious structural concern. Cracks that are irregular and are diagonal across the drywall are usually serious drywall cracks. They can be in the width of 1/8 to ¼ inches. In such cracks, the two sides are not flush; rather, they have a slight offset.

Non-serious or cosmetic drywall cracks are generally along drywall board joints breaking through the tap and mud in the shape of horizontal or vertical lines. Similarly, the cracks radiating from the corners of doors and windows can also be a complicated thing. In case your assessment shows some serious problems that go deeper than surface walls. You may have to inspect the exterior roof, walls, and foundations. The next line of action would be to check floor joists or studs to check for the degree of movement.

Cracked basement walls

Basement walls can have cracks in various shapes but the most common are horizontal, diagonal or vertical shape. Most of the times, they are caused by one of two reasons: settling or hydrostatic pressure. But these cracks can be tricky at a time. Some cracks are not a thing to bother, while some are serious and concerning. So, it is important that you inspect and separate serous issues from cosmetic issues.

Here’re some of the crack types you should know:

Basement wall cracks can lead to significant problems, mainly if they’re not found and addressed right away. When left undetected, they can grow into more significant issue. They can break through the existing floor framing which is crucial especially for basements in multi-story buildings.

Horizontal cracks are generally the most severe. Such cracks are found parallel to the ground and are caused by the lateral pressure from the surrounding soil. Diagonal cracks can occur as a result of the settling foundation. In that case, cracks run from the top of the basement diagonally to the floor. But diagonal cracking can also be observed from the corner of a door or window.

Vertical cracks, as the name suggest, run from top to bottom. But these types of cracks are usually caused by shrinkage of materials and tipping of walls. These cracks are usually not of major concern, but you should deal with them right away when combined with another type of cracks.

Uneven or bouncy floors

Uneven or bouncy floors is another significant issue home inspectors shouldn’t skip. A sloping, bouncy, or uneven floor is an indication of weak or over-spanned floor joists. They can also occur due to poor structural design, foundation settlement or crawl space moisture-related issues. Experts take it as one of the warning signs of foundation or framing problems.

Try to examine the floor that why a section of it is spongy or bouncy. Take note of the extent of movement and try to listen for creaking or popping sounds. You can relate spongy or bouncy floors with reasons like water damage to sub-floor, damage from rain and snow during construction, damage floor joist or floor truss, termite damage, or floor design issues.

In most common cases, the soil around the foundation shifts and settle with the changes in moisture content, causing movement of columns and beams. Such a thing generally happens with poorly compacted fill soil while laying the foundation.

If the spongy floor doesn’t give any warning sign of a structural issue, it is not a major concern. But it is combined with drywall cracking in the ceiling or cracked and damaged plaster; you should be concerned because this can result in sagging or failing floors.

Sticking windows or doors

Your doors or windows can clearly show signs of a problem with the foundation of a house. If you need extra force to open or close windows, there may be some issues with the foundation. The same goes true for doors and diagonal cracks at the corners of the windows or door openings. You can check and inspect the sections of the foundation or slab for uneven settlement or shifting from the original position. Other accompanying signs are uneven floors, drywall cracks or gaps between the walls and floors. When such happens, the wood framing supported above the foundation is more likely to bend or twist.

Leave a Comment