House Foundations - How To Spot Potential Costly Issues
The foundation of a property is what the home rests on and foundation are built a number of different ways. A home's foundation keeps the property stable, so it's a critically important part of any house.
When it comes to your home, the type of foundation you have is very likely determined by where you're located in the US and your area's climate. However, there are four main types of home foundations:
- Crawl space
- Pier and beam
A slab foundation sounds just like it is - a big slab of flat concrete on which a property is built. A slab foundation doesn’t require a lot of prep on the part of the builder, and it's favored in warmer climates. In northern climates, slabs are not preferred because of colder weather. However, there are plenty of slab homes in the Quad Cities that do just fine.
A basement is a popular foundation style in many colder climate areas, areas that experience months of cold snow. Not only does a basement add additional square feet to a home, it also provides a safer place to escape from extreme and/or dangerous weather. Typically constructed of cinder blocks, basements are built to be waterproof.
- Crawl Space
Typically this is a small amount of space that's located a few feet under the soil. A crawl space is usually built with cinder blocks or bricks and the home is elevated a couple of feet off the ground. Crawl spaces are favored in areas that get a lot of rain. If you have a crawl space, ensure it's well ventilated and has proper protective barriers in place.
- Pier and Beam
Pier and beam foundations are favored by many builders -- because they are less expensive than other foundations -- and they’re especially favored in wet areas that are NOT prone to earthquakes or hurricane-force winds. This foundation uses wood posts or concrete piers that are set deep into the earth to hold the weight of the structure.
FOUNDATION ISSUES TO LOOK FOR IN A HOME
FOUNDATION CRACKS, WALL/FLOOR CRACKS AND OTHER TYPES OF FRACTURES
It’s normal for a house or property to ‘settle,’ which can cause minor small hairline fissures in any foundation.
If you see major horizontal or zip zag cracks within brick exteriors or concrete blocks, it’s more than just the natural sinking of the home. This could be a sign of costly trouble.
FOUNDATION SETTLING OR SINKING
Again, homes and properties will have a natural settling period, which means the foundation will sink, and minor cracking may occur. However, if a home is visibly sunk into the ground or one side is lower than the other there’s definitely a foundation issue that could require extensive repair.
Another sign of foundation settling or sinking, is sagging or uneven floors. If a house has major issues with uneven floors or floors that sag in certain spots, the foundation may have done more than just simple settling.
DAMP CRAWL SPACE
Heavy moisture in any area of a home is bad news, but moisture in a crawl space or under a home sometimes goes unnoticed due to the lack of daily use of those areas. If you notice that a crawl space is damp, that there’s a noticeable musty or moldy smell in a home, or you live in a climate that gets a lot of year-round rain, it’s very possible there is an issue under the house. Not only can excessive moisture hurt a foundation, it can also attract termites and cause wood beams to rot, all of which are not good for a property.
A home can settle or sink, and it can also move in an upward direction. Foundation upheaval, which mainly impacts slab foundations, can be caused by expanding and contracting soil, trapped moisture, and frost heaving. If you see a home that looks like it’s higher in certain places, it could have foundation upheaval.
ISSUES WITH DOORS OR WINDOWS
When a property is built, all the doors and windows work with ease, opening and closing with no issues. After a home has settled, they might not open as easily, but it’s usually not noticeable or not a problem. If you happen upon a house where doors or windows drag, doors get stuck in the jamb, both need to be opened with force or require force to be closed, the property could have some major foundation issues.
Another door and window issue that can indicate foundation issues is any visible gaps around window frames or exterior doors. Doors that no longer latch, double doors that no longer align, or any door or window frames that are crooked and impair the proper use of the item all indicate possible issues with the foundation.
COUNTERS AND CABINETS SEPARATING FROM THE WALL
Counters and cabinets are generally installed with care, especially when it comes to how level and secure they are to the walls. If you notice a home where the counters or cabinets are separating from the wall, it could be an indicator of foundation damage. It can be hard for homeowners to see walls shift (because it could look like everything is fine from the outside), but a counter or cabinet separating from the wall is a very visible signal of an immediate issue.
If you have any questions about the foundation of your home, or a home you’re looking to buy, find a trusted professional (ask your local real estate agent for a referral!) to help you navigate the waters of home foundations.