A building inspector checking out the foundation of a new building.

Foundation Inspection: Warning Signs, Cost, & Importance

By Jacob L.

Has your house experienced damage due to extreme weather lately? There is a good chance that your foundation may also be compromised. Even without big storms or flooding, your house’s foundation can deteriorate over time as the ground beneath it moves. Because foundations provide stability to your house, they are foundational to the long-term health of the entire structure. Keep reading to learn the warning signs of damage to your house’s foundation, why you should have your foundation inspected, and how much inspections cost.

Why Do Foundations Need to be Inspected?

Foundations, like almost every other part of your house, need to be inspected every now and then to make sure they are continuing to do their job properly. As houses settle after being built, it is quite common for the ground beneath their foundations to shift due to seismic activity or soft soil. Moreover, adverse weather and heavy precipitation can wear down your house’s foundation over time.

Because foundations are so important to the structural integrity of your home, homeowners should exercise extra caution by having the foundations of their houses inspected on a regular basis. While extreme situations may require immediate foundation inspections, homeowners should inspect their foundations at least every several years.

When to Consider a Foundation Inspection?

Reason Summary 
Buying or Selling When purchasing a new house or selling your current house, it is important to hire a professional to inspect the house’s foundation. Getting an inspection can help you learn of any issues before listing your home on the market and can often lead to a quicker sale. If you are buying a home, a foundation inspection is perhaps even more important to help you avoid buying a faulty structure.
Neighborhood Foundation Issues It is quite common for your house to suffer from foundation issues when many nearby neighbors also experience foundation troubles. At this point, it becomes very important to hire a professional inspector who can determine if your house is sitting on unstable soil or if its foundation is demonstrating early signs of damage.
Natural Disasters Natural disasters or adverse weather events such as earthquakes, floods, mudslides, or large storms can have large impacts on the foundation of your house. If your house is caught in one of these events or one of a similar nature, you should consult an inspector to see if any damage was done to your foundation.
Visible Damage While this may seem obvious, it is incredibly important that you seek professional advice if you notice visible damage to your house’s foundation. For example, if you see cracks in your walls and brickwork, uneven floors, damp crawl spaces, or windows and doors that no longer sit properly in their frames, there is a good chance that your house’s foundation has been damaged. The faster you fix these issues, the less you will have to spend on more extensive repairs.

Weather Damage or After Natural Disasters

Water Damage

During times of heavy precipitating and large storms, water can seep through the gaps and cracks in your foundation to create major problems. Even without a major weather event, your foundation can suffer from water damage if your lawn is poorly irrigated or downstream from a large body of water. When water enters the foundation of a house, it weakens the foundation and saturates the surrounding soil, causing the house to settle deeper into the ground. In turn, the entire home may grow unstable, threatening your safety and causing large repair costs.

Cold Weather Damage

During the cold months of the winter, your house’s foundation can suffer tremendously, especially if it has pre-existing cracks. The mechanism behind cold weather damaging foundations works like this: water in the soil freezes in the winter, causing the soil to expand and worsen the cracks in your foundation. A “frost heave” can eventually occur, where the water-saturated soil pushes up into the concrete of a house’s foundation. The aftermath of this process leaves the foundation damaged and prone to instability.

Severe Heat Damage

During the summer months, or in hot climates year round, rising temperatures and a lack of moisture cause the water to evaporate from your house’s foundation. An absence of at least some moisture in the concrete and surrounding soil of your foundation can create cracks, leaks, and instability as a whole. Extremely dry soil can also cause your foundation to settle further than intended, leading to even more foundation cracks and instability. Therefore, you should think about inspecting your foundation pretty often in warm climates.

Earthquake Damage

In regions with lots of seismic activity, house foundations should be inspected regularly. When the ground shakes during an earthquake, your foundation is also shaken and suffers extensive damage as a result. After earthquakes — even small ones — check for cracks in the cement of your foundation or the bricks of your chimney. Tiny cracks may not seem like a big deal at first, but they can leave foundations at risk of flooding and many other types of damage.

Tornado Damage

House foundations can suffer extreme damage in parts of the world that are prone to tornados. While heavy rains associated with tornados can obviously produce flooding damage, it is important to also note that uprooted trees due to heavy winds can significantly impact your foundation. When trees are uprooted, their roots — many of which grow beneath your house’s foundation — are ripped from the ground. In doing so, roots can push through your foundation or destabilize the soil beneath your foundation, causing substantial damage in the process.

Signs of Foundation Problems?

Type of Damage Summary
Exterior cracks Large zig-zagging cracks on the exterior of a house may be a sign that the foundation is compromised.
Interior cracks Large zig-zagging cracks that run the length of walls in the interior of a home may also suggest that there are problems with the foundation.
Uneven floors and door frames If a home has floors that are lopsided and doors that barely fit into their frames, it likely has a damaged foundation. Homes should not have gradients of floor that are more than one or two inches every 15 feet.
Rotten wood Piers and beams with rotting wood suggest that a house’s foundation is damaged. You may have to check your house’s crawlspace to find this rotting wood.
Walls pulling from house A house’s foundation has sustained a critical and dire level of damage if the house’s walls are pulling away from the house.
Nails protruding from drywall While this may not always be a consequence of foundation failure, nails poking out of the wall can often indicate that something is wrong with the house’s foundation.
Expansion joint separation Failing foundations cause expansion joint separation to the point where the joint falls and widespread cracking ensues, or the foundation collapses.

Exterior cracks

While you shouldn’t worry about small cracks on the exterior of your home, large zig-zagging cracks are a sign that its foundation is compromised. Additionally, cracks in brick or bricks poking out of the exterior foundation walls are both bad signs when it comes to the health of your house’s foundation.

Interior cracks

Cracks on the walls inside the house are another bad sign for the foundation. If cracks zig-zag and run the height of the wall, you should immediately seek advice from a professional. You should also look out for wallpaper that is pulling away from the wall and cracks at the junction of the ceiling and the wall.

Uneven floors and door frames

Although it is common for floors and door frames to warp, especially if the home is old, homeowners should take notice of extremely warped or slanted floors and doorframes. Homeowners should be particularly worried if the gradient of their floors is more than one or two inches every 15 feet — a sign that major damage has occurred to the home’s foundation.

Rotten wood

For homes with pier and beam foundations, rotting wood can be a sign of foundation damage. When the humidity and dampness inside a crawlspace become too severe, mold and rot can eat through the wood in your foundation until the house experiences structural problems. Rotten wood can also lead to infestations that further weaken the foundation. However, there are many professional pest control companies and DIY solutions to help you deal with infestations and pest problems.

Walls pulling away from the house

A house’s foundation has sustained a critical and dire level of damage if the house’s walls are pulling away from the house. At this point, homeowners should immediately seek the assistance of a building contractor because it may no longer be safe to remain inside the home. Indeed, the walls can collapse quite quickly as soon as they begin to pull away.

Nails protruding from drywall

While this may not always be a consequence of foundation failure, nails poking out of the wall can often indicate that something is wrong with the house’s foundation.

Expansion joint separation

Expansion joints are installed to compensate for movement caused by seismic activity, temperature changes, humidity, wind, and other factors. Failing foundations cause expansion joint separation to the point where the joint falls and widespread cracking ensues, or the foundation collapses.

Foundation Considerations When Buying or Selling a Home

For Buyers:

Potential home buyers need to know the condition of the foundation

While this may seem obvious, no one should purchase a house if they don’t know the condition of its foundation. If you are planning to spend thousands to millions of dollars in real estate, you need to make sure that it is structurally sound and well worth your hard-earned money. Otherwise, by not checking the foundation before buying, you risk losing out on a great deal of money and threatening your future health and safety.

Inspections show buyers where they will need to manage their water runoff

By having a home’s foundation inspected before you make a purchase, you will have a better idea as to whether or not you need to upgrade the property’s irrigation system. Indeed, no one wants to buy a house that is bound to be flooded, so you should have the foundation inspected to find out where to direct water runoff in your yard.

Keeps family members safe

This should go without saying: don’t buy a house that isn’t deemed safe by a professional. If you purchase a property without inspecting the house’s foundation, you could be putting your whole family’s safety at risk.

Prevents long-term health problems if mold is detected early

Once again, by inspecting the foundation of a house you intend to buy, you will learn whether mold is present. Mold can cause a variety of health problems if it is not removed immediately.

Prevents future significant damage if issues are caught early

Finally, catching a problem in the foundation of a house early can help you save thousands of dollars in repairs had the problem gotten worse.

For Sellers:

Favorable inspections may improve the overall value of the home

Although you can certainly sell a house with a faulty foundation, the house will drop significantly in value to account for this damage. Accordingly, you should have your house’s foundation inspected prior to listing it on the market to ensure that there are no fundamental problems with the foundation. By listing a house with a clean bill of health, you will be sure to earn a far higher return.

Foundation Inspection Costs

Generally, foundation inspections cost an average of $400 to $750. Sometimes large and complex properties will be more expensive, ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 per inspection. Check with a local contractor for a more accurate price tag that takes into account the specific details of your home and the services available in your area.

Who to Hire for Foundation Inspection?

When deciding who to hire to inspect the foundation of your house, there are several factors to consider:

  • First, you want to make sure that your inspector is unbiased. We all know how annoying it can be when a mechanic adds on unnecessary and costly repairs in order to boost their profits. Well, just like mechanics, you should look for a foundation inspector that is more worried about giving you an accurate assessment of your foundation than squeezing you for every last penny.
  • Second, your foundation inspector should be an expert in their field. Professionals will know exactly what to look for and will conduct their assessment efficiently and effectively.
  • Third, you should make sure to acquire secure repair documentation. It is common for some contracting companies to provide “blanket repair quotes,” which are designed to cover all possible repairs. However, these quotes often cover unnecessary repairs, and you can avoid paying extra fees by requesting specific repair documentation.

What Questions to Ask?

There are several questions that you should ask an inspector when they come to look at your house’s foundation. These questions will help you place more trust in the inspector and give you confidence in their prescriptions for your foundation.

How long have you been in business?

This is a very important question to ask any inspector. Although you don’t want an ancient inspector, it is nice to know that your inspector is experienced and has seen a fair share of foundations. But experience in the business is not necessarily the most important determinant of an inspector’s abilities.

Where are you headquartered?

Again, it is nice to know that your inspector is headquartered nearby. Having knowledge of local soil types, seismic activity, and waterways can help home inspectors make a better assessment of your house’s foundation.

Do you have a license and insurance?

This should go without saying — always confirm with your foundation inspector that they are licensed and insured. You will find yourself in all kinds of trouble if the inspector doesn’t possess a license and some form of insurance.

Do I need a permit for foundation repairs?

While some home inspectors may not be able to answer this question, it is nonetheless useful to inquire before you begin to seek out professional assistance with foundation repairs. A knowledgeable inspector should be able to tell you whether or not you need to apply for a permit before beginning repairs.

Do I need an engineer report to begin repairs?

Similarly, some home inspectors may not be able to answer this question. However, if the inspector tells you that you need a structural engineer to write a report, then you can begin seeking one out before beginning repairs.

How well do you know your crew?

This question only applies to inspectors that bring assistants or a crew with them to look at your house’s foundation. While you obviously don’t want to pry too much, it is common to ask the manager of a crew if he or she knows and trusts the crew, especially if the crew will be returning or working without supervision.

How long will the job take and when can you start?

If you are happy with what the inspector has to say, ask how long the job will take and ask when they can get to work.

What do inspectors look for in a foundation?

Most foundation inspectors follow a pretty standard process when they come to check out your house’s foundation. They generally begin by chatting with you to find out why you think there may be problems with your foundation. After hearing what you have to say, the inspector will then begin a visual inspection of the exterior of your home.

The inspector walks around the perimeter of your home, looking for cracks in the cement, bricks, or fascia boards. They will also look at pier and beam foundations by entering the crawlspace under your home and checking for dampness and moisture. They will examine the condition of piers, beams, and joists as well.

Next, the inspector moves to the inside of your home and looks for visible cracks on the floors, walls, and ceiling. They will also take measurements to see how level your foundation is. Once the home foundation inspection is complete, the inspector will speak with you and recommend what steps to take next in an inspection report.

How Often Should a Foundation be Inspected?

The answer to this question is dependent on relevant circumstances and on the type of foundation that you have under your house. Obviously, if your house has experienced a severe weather event and fear that the foundation was compromised, you should seek out a foundation inspector immediately.

If you are simply worried about normal wear and tear, then you don’t need to inspect your foundation too often. If your home rests on a concrete foundation that sits on rock, you will never need a home foundation inspection. On the other hand, if you live in a pier and beam home in a humid climate that has massive temperature swings, you should seek out annual inspections. Realistically, most homeowners shouldn’t need a professional inspection more than every year or every few years unless they notice signs of a damaged foundation.

How to Prevent Foundation Problems

Improve grading

As we have discussed, a sloped yard with poor irrigation can lead water to flow into your foundation. By improving the grading of your yard, you can prevent water damage and associated problems to your foundation.

Waterproof your foundation

If water does threaten to enter your foundation, waterproofing it can help prevent flooding and water damage. Specifically, you will be better off by waterproofing the exterior perimeter and interior walls of your basement or crawl space.

Install gutters and downspouts

On the topic of keeping water out of your foundation, gutters and downspouts will go a long way toward making sure water flowing off your roof doesn’t end up seeping into your foundation.

Don’t ignore cracks and leaks

If you see cracks or leaks on the exterior or interior of your home, do some investigating. Not all cracks and leaks mean that your foundation is damaged, but the bigger ones near the base of your home can be a bad sign. Get help before this serious damage gets worse.

Keep bushes away from the house

Trees and bushes grow toward water, so you want to keep them away from the foundation of your home as much as you can.

Final Thoughts

Even without major weather events, your house’s foundation can deteriorate over time as the ground beneath it moves. Because foundations act as stabilizers to your house, they are very important to the long-term health of the entire structure. Hopefully, this article has taught you all you need to know about the warning signs of damage to your house’s foundation, why you should have your foundation inspected, and how much inspections cost.

 

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