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Home Improvement Tip

As a homeowner there are very few things more anxiety-provoking than seeing cracks in your foundation or wall. But are they always signs of serious foundation issues, or can you take a breath and watch and wait? Local engineers Andy Takla with Takla Engineering and Harrison Luttman with Giles Flythe Engineers, Inc. as well as West & Woodall agents Jeanette Hussey and Amy West offer their input on some of the most common signs of foundation issues and what to do if you see them.

Most Common Signs of Foundation Issues

While foundation issues can show up in a number of ways and in a variety of stages of seriousness, here’s a look at some of the most common ones seen in the Triangle.

Andy Takla

Sagging floors

One sign that there may be something going on is sagging or excessively vibratory floors. According to Andy, this includes floors that are sloping, sagging in, or that seem very shaky when they’re walked on. Harrison says that “the older a house gets, the more susceptible it is to floor framing damage. Floor slope, which is a common result of this, can tell us where to look in the crawlspace to pinpoint the origin of the issue.”

Harrison Luttman

Door Sticking

If your doors are starting to shift, Harrison points out that foundation issues are worth considering as a possible cause. On the other hand, he adds, “It’s oftentimes just that the doorframe is shifting a little bit with the seasons and is nothing to be terribly concerned with.”

Cracking at foundation wall or brick veneer

According to Andy and Harrison, foundation cracks are the most common point of concern for both homeowners and inspectors. Andy says that “cracking at your foundation wall or brick veneer is usually due to some degree of foundational movement caused by how wet or how dry the soil underneath the foundation footings gets. In our area, we have Triassic soils, which are highly expansive. It's basically very fine particles, and the finer they are, the more the volume is impacted with changes in moisture content. You could have a 10 to 15 percent change in volume, which is similar to what you see with a sponge. When the sponge gets wet, it's going to push up. When the sponge dries out, it's going to consolidate, shrink, and settle. More often than not, foundation issues are a result of those kinds of movements as opposed to a house just being built on bad soil.”

Harrison reminds us that “because we know we live in this type of an area, and we know that foundations tend to move around and houses like to shift, we do expect to see some level of cracking as houses age. We expect to see mortar degradation as moisture begins to get in there, and we expect to see some level of minor cracking.”

Green, yellow, and red light rankings

So, what constitutes minor cracking and when is it more serious? Harrison offers the visual of a green, yellow, and red light ranking system.

  • Green light = Less than about 1/8 inch = Not typically too concerning
  • Yellow light = 1/4 inch = A little more concerned
  • Red light = Anything above 1/4 inch = Engineers start looking more thoroughly to offer a repair solution

Cracks in sheetrock and drywall

Cracks in sheetrock and drywall are another reason for many a sleepless night for homeowners. Andy says that the cracks are often “related to either some minor settlement of the interior piers in the crawlspace or to the selection of the floor framing system.”

He explains that “there are two distinct systems that are going on under your house, assuming you have a crawlspace foundation. You have the foundation, which includes block walls and masonry piers. Then you have your floor system, which is your floor joists, then your girder. Usually when people have sloping floors, cracks in the sheet rock, sticking doors, all of those are usually a result of floor frame deflection. Most of the time, it's due to the geometry of the way the floor was laid out, meaning what directions are the floor joists spanning? How long are the floor joists? Where's the girder in relation to your walls? Usually, that is due to the layout, which would be original to construction, but sometimes it’s due to an inadequate floor system to begin with. Or it gets worse over time.”

Foundation Issue Prevention

Since excess moisture caused by improper or deferred maintenance is a common cause of foundation issues, the good news is that many problems can be prevented. Andy says this can be done by having a good gutter system and downspouts that discharge water at least six feet away from the foundation. Harrison adds that foundation and surface drains can also help move water away from the house.

What to Do If Foundation Issues are Suspected

When it comes to foundation issues, Andy offers the assurance that they tend to develop “very, very slowly over the years,” and in most cases, there will be plenty of time to address them before they get too serious.

If you do suspect that there are problems, Andy suggests buying a foundation crack monitor from Amazon to see how it fluctuates or simply take photos of the crack every three months to see how the crack is progressing. If a crack is consistently over an eighth of an inch or if you see multiple cracks in that range, Harrison advises that it’s probably time to have an engineer take a look at it.

Amy West

While neither Amy West nor Jeanette Hussey are engineers, they certainly work with plenty of homeowners or home buyers who are concerned about foundation issues. Based on her experience, Amy suggests that “if you start to see a crack that is getting wider and wider or pulling out or in, it’s time to hire a structural engineer to assist. Keeping an eye over the years on cracks is important to ensure it doesn’t turn into a bigger issue 10 years later.

Jeanette Hussey

Jeanette says that if foundation issues are a concern, hiring a structural engineer to look at the issue will give you an unbiased professional opinion of what needs to be done, if anything. “If it is a structural issue, they will give you a plan of action needed to correct it. Then you can call the companies that do this type of work, present the plan to them, and ask for a quote for correction. If it’s not structural or it’s something minor and you decide to sell, you at least have the engineer’s report to present to potential buyers that it has been investigated and it’s not an issue.”

How to Ask Us About a Potential Home Improvement

If you’re considering a home improvement project that you’d like us to weigh in on as far as whether it will add value to your home, we’d love to hear from you! While our agents can’t address specific examples, they’d be happy to offer general guidance. Simply email marketing@westandwoodall.com, and we’ll get to your topic as soon as we can.

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