Helping Buyers Identify Possible Foundation Issues

When viewing properties, the foundation is the key issue to check to ensure that the home is well maintained and unlikely to fail due to structural problems.  If possible, the foundation should be viewed from both the interior and the exterior to assess any potential for necessary repairs.  Foundation repairs can be costly if left unaddressed.

Some homes have critical damage and the repairs could reach tens of thousands of dollars.  Often the exterior of the foundation has been covered by landscaping or other patching that is intended to hide previous repairs from view.  It’s important to keep an eye out for the signs of issues.

When checking the landscaping and foundation of a home, look for whether or not a home has a 10-degree drop away from the foundation in the landscaping to allow for appropriate water runoff and ensure that gutters and appropriate downspouts and drain extensions are directing water away from the foundation.  Water is not the friend of your foundation, and, repeated water damage can seep into the lower level causing degradation to the foundation and potential water-related issues in the basement level such as mold.

Signs of this might include foundation mineral efflorescence on exterior or interior of basement foundation brick, cracking or degradation of brick, and stains from previous water intrusion.  This is easiest to view on an unfinished basement.

If you purchase a home where the landscaping is flat, you may want to improve this by adding soil to create the 10-degree water drop away from foundation, ensure you always have clean gutters and appropriate downspouts and extensions draining water sufficiently far away from the home.  These fixes are cheap in comparison to the bill for foundation repair, so, it’s important to keep those maintained.

You want to avoid diverting your water runoff toward a neighbor’s home and ensure that the runoff is being directed to a garden away from the foundation or to the city clean water sewer.  Some people create water gardens to allow some plants to thrive if you have areas where water typically collects.

Check for potential cracks, either lateral, especially bulges or separations, or step-cracking in the foundation brick or any covering such as stucco or paint on the exterior foundation. On the inside of the home, any hairline cracks should be monitored, you want to make repairs to those if you could slide a credit card or something larger into the crack. If they get larger you should consult an engineer.

Any lateral issues, especially bulging, diagonal or step cracking issues should be examined by a foundation expert, like a structural engineer, to make sure there is no issue acting on the foundation that will degrade further over time.

Because land can move over time, if the foundation is not stable the entire home could see potential for destabilization.  Look for large cracks in the basement floor, garage foundation or floor – as they are typically exposed more than some basement foundations.  A telltale sign of potential issues could be that a former or current owner set up temporary supports in the basement.

Foundation engineering firms and structural engineers should be called in to assess the situation and determine the best fix to stop further progress of the issue and make permanent repairs.  Our brokerage has access to some excellent companies for this.

Waterproofing a foundation is another way to prevent water intrusion and avoid potential issues in future.  You can waterproof both interior and exterior of foundation.

Another issue to watch for, because it can also affect the exterior of the home as well is to keep large trees and bushes from touching the house, both near the foundation and the siding.  At the foundation level, roots can cause actual cracking if pressure on the foundation is not relieved.

Roots of trees and bushes grow toward water and can not only destabilize but also penetrate foundations.  You may need to remove or move trees or bushes to ensure your foundation is safe from this issue.  The best time to remove trees is in Winter when they are dormant.  A good arborist would be able to tell you if this is potentially necessary.

Make sure that sidewalks, landscaping and patios, that butt up against the foundation, are tilted or pitched away from the foundation so that 10-degree runoff is working to keep your foundation free of water intrusion.

Unfinished basements will reveal any potential issues, and, many water intrusion problems can often be solved just by ensuring you have clean gutters with appropriate downspouts and leader extensions to funnel water away correctly. Also, it is a good idea to cover the window box to a foundation with a plastic cover to keep rain and snow from accumulating there.

You can easily find any cracks or water intrusion or evidence of past water intrusion unless the basement is finished off.  If that is the case, look for rust colored water stains as evidence of previous or current moisture issues.  These rust-colored stains typically will show through painted walls or ceilings.

As you view the property, if you notice unusual structural offsetting, such as windows and doors that appear to be crooked, or floors that pitch down and are no longer level, that could also be a sign of structural issues, potentially brought on by failure of the foundation.  A structural engineer is your best bet to discover what the issue is, whether it’s typical settling or something else, and, how to correct it.

Keeping your eyes open when viewing homes will help you assess whether or not a home is a good investment, and, let you know if a seller is caring for the home or if it is being neglected.

Written by Claire Bastien for

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