1. Doors and windows
We all know that houses settle over time, so a few adjustments are likely necessary to keep doors and windows operating smoothly. However, in homes with serious foundation shifting, you’ll notice that doors and windows will stick, drag, jam, not latch completely or not close at all. Or you may notice that doors swing closed even though you opened it completely. This may signal that the foundation has shifted.
As you tour the home, take a look at how square the door is to the jamb. If you see a small gap at one end and a large one at the other, there’s probably been some movement that has twisted the frame of the house.
2. Cracks, cracks and more cracks
Cracks of notable concern, on the first or second level of the home, will appear on walls over doorways, windows or where the walls and ceilings meet. You may notice bulging walls and diagonal cracks off doors or windows. If the interior has been repainted, inquire about when and where the work was done. Look in closets as repairs are generally overlooked there. Check for drywall repairs and ask why they were done.
Watch for cracks that appear in ceramic tile laid over concrete floors. Inconsistencies, replaced tiles or uneven heights may be cause for concern.
Outside, there shouldn’t be any exterior brick cracks along the mortar line or around the fireplace facade. The weight of the brick, fireplace and chimney will intensify cracks from a shifting foundation.
3. Foundation Cracks
Concrete has a high water content when poured, which means, when it cures, the water evaporates and it shrinks slightly. Cracks will usually appear in areas that haven’t shrunk evenly. It’s important to understand what to ignore and what to consider a serious home waterproofing concern.
Hairline cracks – When these appear in the mortar between concrete blocks or vertically down a poured wall, they’re usually insignificant and rarely require further remediation.
Larger vertical cracks – There are several methods available to fill and seal these to avoid future flooding. They do not generally indicate a serious foundation problem.
Stair-step cracks – These are a bigger concern if found along masonry joints between concrete blocks. A crack wider than 1/4 inch will need to be repaired. Hydrostatic pressure from excess moisture outside that wall section is the likely cause.
Horizontal cracks – If the home foundation has this most-serious type of cracking, you’ll want to look elsewhere for your dream home or make an amazing deal to cover the costs of a new foundation. The foundation is likely compromised from water-saturated soil or frost conditions that expanded and pushed in the wall.
4. Chips and flaking
This condition is generally found on the exterior walls of poured concrete foundations. Try to chip off a piece of concrete or poke a screwdriver into the wall. If you can, it may have been poorly mixed and disintegrating. Homes built in the early 1900s are often riddled with these concrete problems. This is a major issue and can only be remedied with a new foundation.
5. Bulging or leaning
Check the outside foundation walls by looking down the length from each corner. You should see straight walls in both directions. Leaning walls can be found by using a level. Any inconsistencies will be a sign that the foundation has shifted.
6. Other Structural Components
Even if everything else checks out, if you want to be sure you can have a perfectly dry finished basement after you move in, you’ll want to look at the support posts – making sure they stand straight and rest firmly on concrete piers.
Next, look for puddles, water stains, mold or wet framing. Wood posts and joists should be examined for any signs of rot.
If you notice any of these signs of foundation problems on a home you’re buying or are still unsure about the structure, consult with an expert. Home inspection costs are a small price to pay for the peace of mind and future cost savings you’ll gain.