Your home’s foundation supports the entire structure and keeps it stable. But foundation problems can develop slowly over time, and may not be obvious until more serious issues arise. Learn to spot these subtle signs of foundation damage so you can get repairs done before things get worse.
1. Doors and Windows Stick or Won’t Close
Doors and windows that stick, won’t close properly, or require extra force to open or close can indicate foundation settlement. As the foundation shifts or sinks, it pulls the rest of the structure out of alignment. This causes doors and windows to bind against their frames.
If the issue is isolated to one door or window, it may just need realignment. But if multiple doors or windows are affected throughout the home, a full inspection of the foundation is warranted. Settling foundations need to be stabilized before further damage occurs.
2. New Cracks in Walls and Ceilings
Look for any new cracks in your home’s interior walls or ceilings. Straight vertical cracks are generally not a major concern – all homes experience some settling. But diagonal, horizontal, or branching cracks suggest more serious foundation movement.
These types of cracks appear because the foundation is no longer providing equal, level support. Parts of the structure sink or shift, causing walls and ceilings to crack under stress. Don’t just patch these cracks – determine the root cause so further foundation damage can be prevented.
3. Floor Slopes or Uneven Spots
Floors inside the home should be perfectly level, with no slopes, sagging spots or areas that feel uneven underfoot. If you notice new slopes, sagging, or unevenness in your floors, improper foundation support may be to blame.
Without a level foundation keeping everything aligned, floors can begin to sink in areas. This creates an uneven surface and causes floors to creak loudly when walked on. Address this issue promptly before floors bend or break under the unequal load.
4. Gaps Between Floors and Baseboards
Baseboards not lying flat against the floor is another sign of potential foundation problems. As flooring sinks or becomes uneven, gaps open up between the floors and walls. This leaves baseboards visibly separated from the floor.
Baseboards may even appear loose, angled or detached from the wall in serious cases. Don’t ignore these gaps – have the foundation and framing assessed. Any sagging needs to be corrected to get floors back to level and close the gaps.
READ ALSO: Small Bathroom Remodel Ideas
5. Cracks or Bulges in Foundation Walls
Inspect the visible portions of your home’s foundation walls for any cracks, bulges or deterioration. Straight vertical cracks are generally just due to curing and shrinkage. But diagonal cracks or horizontal cracks, called shear cracks, indicate uneven foundation settling.
Bulges in foundation walls also suggest interior structural damage. Left unchecked, these areas can weaken and eventually crumble. If you spot any questionable cracks or bulges, get a professional inspection right away. These are signs repairs are needed to restore structural integrity.
6. Tilting Chimneys
Keep an eye out for chimneys or other exterior structures that appear tilted or off-center compared to the rest of the home. The foundation provides crucial support for these heavy structures. When the foundation shifts or sinks unevenly, chimneys can tilt out of alignment.
This tilting places more pressure on the weakened areas of the foundation. Get this evaluated immediately, as destabilized chimneys are at high risk of collapse, especially during storms. Prompt foundation repairs are needed to level and reinforce the structure.
7. Cracks in Driveways, Sidewalks and Steps
Check for any new cracks in driveways, sidewalks, entry steps, retaining walls or other exterior concrete around the home’s foundation. While some minor cracks from curing and shrinkage are normal, wide cracks, uneven surfaces and misalignments indicate foundation problems.
As the foundation sinks, the surrounding slabs, steps and structures are impacted. Evidence outside can appear long before interior signs show up. Addressing these exterior issues quickly prevents more costly damage inside the home down the road.
8. Leaning Trees or Fences
Trees, fences, lamp posts and other structures near the home should stand perfectly straight. If you notice nearby trees or fences starting to lean or tilt to one side, the foundation likely needs attention.
When part of the foundation sinks, it throws off the level ground around the perimeter. This causes trees and fences to lean towards the sunken area. Inspect the foundation and correct any deficiencies before surrounding objects tip over or collapse.
9. Low Spot or Standing Water Near Foundation
Check the ground around the house after heavy rains. If you notice a new low spot near the foundation where water stands longer than the rest of the yard, a foundation problem may exist.
This pooling indicates sinking and unevenness in the foundation. Water soaking into the compromised areas of the foundation can accelerate deterioration. Address these drainage issues to prevent water from infiltrating and further damaging the foundation.
10. Musty Odor or Damp Areas in Basement
A musty, damp smell or visible moisture in the basement can mean water is infiltrating through foundation cracks. As exterior water penetrates these cracks and seeps into the basement, moisture damage and mold growth occurs.
Don’t just cover up the musty smell or damp areas. This leaves the underlying foundation damage unchecked. Identify where water is entering and seal up the cracks and gaps. Repair any interior water damage and improve drainage near the foundation.
When to Call a Professional for an Inspection
If you notice any combination of the signs above, contact a foundation repair contractor for a prompt inspection. Waiting risks further deterioration of the underlying structure. A professional inspection determines:
- The extent of current damage
- The root cause of foundation issues
- The best repair method for your situation
Many homeowners never look at their home’s foundation once it’s constructed. But regular inspections at least once a year are recommended to catch problems early. Homeowners can also monitor for signs of foundation damage after events like earthquakes, flooding, droughts or extreme weather.
Addressing minor foundation damage promptly is much more affordable than waiting until extensive repairs are required. The average cost for minor foundation crack repairs is $500, compared to over $10,000 for major repairs involving hydraulic piers. Don’t put it off if your foundation needs help.
DIY vs Professional Foundation Repair
While simple crack fills can be DIYed, major foundation repairs are best left to the professionals. They have the specialized equipment and expertise to address underlying structural issues. When shopping around, look for these signs of a qualified foundation repair contractor:
- Several years of experience specifically with foundations
- Licenses/certifications required in your state
- Proof of insurance including liability and workers comp
- Membership in industry organizations
- Local references from past clients
- Detailed inspection reports and estimates
A reputable company will also provide a warranty on foundation repairs ranging from 5 years to the lifetime of the home. This guarantees the workmanship on such a vital structural component.
How Foundation Damage Occurs
Understanding what causes foundation damage helps you prevent issues or address them promptly. Some main causes include:
All foundations settle somewhat after construction as soil consolidates. If gradients and drainage aren’t right, uneven settling occurs. This needs to be corrected to level the foundation.
Clay Soil Expansion
Clay soils swell when wet and shrink when dry. This cyclic change in volume strains the foundation. Proper moisture control helps minimize this.
Water runoff near the foundation can wash away supporting soil. Good site drainage is key, along with backfilling erosion areas.
Invasive tree roots can lift up and crack foundation slabs. Pruning or removing problematic trees helps.
Inadequate foundation design, materials, or site preparation can cause problems despite high-quality construction.
Time and Wear
Foundations can deteriorate with time. Cracks allow water infiltration, accelerating issues.
Regular maintenance and prompt repairs keep the foundation protecting your investment. Monitor for warning signs and contact professionals at the first hint of issues. Avoid DIY repairs unless you have foundation engineering expertise. Get the peace of mind that comes from having a structurally sound, stable home.
A compromised foundation threatens your home’s structural integrity and value. Know the subtle signs of foundation damage so problems can be addressed before catastrophic failures occur. At the first hint of issues, turn to qualified foundation repair experts for an assessment. Investing in prompt repairs saves you money and worry in the long run.
Frequently Asked Questions About Foundation Repairs
How much do foundation repairs typically cost?
The average homeowner spends $2,300 to $5,700 for minor foundation crack repairs. Major repairs involving piers, leveling, or full foundation replacement range from $10,000 to $30,000 or more.
When is a full foundation replacement required?
If foundation damage is extremely severe, repairs may not be adequate. Full replacement is advised when over 50% of the foundation is compromised or if soils cannot be sufficiently stabilized.
What are signs of foundation damage after an earthquake?
After a seismic event, inspect for new cracks, misalignments, separations between the foundation and walls, leaning chimneys, sticking doors/windows and other signs of shifting.
What foundation repairs does a new home need?
New homes often settle unevenly in the first 5 years. Crack fills, joint sealants, tiebacks and mudjacking help stabilize and level the foundation. Proper drainage and site grading are also key.
How often should foundations be inspected?
Annual inspections help spot issues early. High-risk homes, like those with clay soils or surrounding trees, warrant biannual inspections. Inspect after events like floods, quakes or hurricanes too.
In another related article, Avoiding the 5 Biggest Mistakes of Bathroom Remodeling