There are many house features to consider when you are looking to buy a house, like, aesthetic qualities, location of the house, kitchen layout, how old the house is, and many more. Obviously, all these are natural considerations, but how would you look at your potential home, if your structural engineer points out a foundational problem.
That begs the question, are foundation problems a red flag? Well, there are a few ways to answer this. As you are most likely thinking, “any problem should be considered a red flag”. And I am with you on that. Although foundation problems are red flags, there is a chance it isn’t a major one.
Foundation problems range from very serious problems to minor problems, for example, it could be a sinking foundation or a foundation with a few cracks. That said, depending on the severity of the foundation problems, fixing it may require a complete foundation replacement or a rather inexpensive fix, that would not put you away from purchasing the house.
Additionally, it is important to note that, signs of foundation problems are most times not easily spotted, and more often than not, most foundation problems are only visible to licensed structural engineers.
What Are The Types Of Foundation Problems And Their Causes?
The most common problem is the foundation movement. A stable foundation is a stable house. However, when a foundation moves, other important parts of the structure lose its positioning. The house becomes unlevel and the load sharing capacity is no longer uniform. This can be as dangerous as leading to the house collapsing, as well as causing damage to plumbing and other utilities.
There are different foundation movements, with foundation settlement being the most common and the least problematic. The settlement is a common fit for old buildings, over time, the soil on which the foundation rests loses its ability to carry the weight of the building. And the building sinks as the soil sinks. If the sinking is uniform, there is unlikely to be any formation damage.
However, in the case of a differential settlement, where the foundation sinking is not uniform, the whole building starts leaning towards one side. Cracks start to form on the foundation walls, concrete slabs, and the exterior masonry. You can tell a crack that forms from a differential settlement by its appearance. These cracks typically appear in the form of a staircase, with the top wider than the bottom.
Foundation settlements occur as the soil carrying the building’s weight deforms. Therefore, soil analysis is often important before the construction stages of a building. If the soil beneath the building is compact, the settlement should be very minimal and uniform. For example, Loam doesn’t change its volume when exposed to moisture, unlike clay that does, it is good soil for foundation settlement.
Additionally, foundation problems can occur as a result of the surrounding soil imposing lateral forces on the foundation. This usually stems from poor drainage. When rainwater and pipe leaks find no drainage to flow through, they accumulate and most often saturate the soil. Cracks can form on the foundation walls as a result of the hydrostatic pressure from the water pool.
In the event that you notice any red flags pointing to a foundation problem or differential settlement as discussed above. Your best option is consulting a structural engineer to access and structurally evaluate the building. This way you can make a decision to proceed with buying the house or walking away from it.
What Types Of Repairs May Be Needed?
If you notice small cracks on your maybe potential home’s foundation walls, you’ll have to fix it, to prevent further damage from water penetration. Getting a structural engineering service is a good option. This service would involve the injection of materials to fill the cracks. Materials like, epoxy or polyurethane foam. The total fixing cost can be around $500 to $1000.
For larger cracks, there is a high chance that your structural engineer’s evaluation will read “structural problems”. In this case, the repairs are more substantial. It would most likely start with the identification of the crack’s origin. If the soil carrying the weight of the building is expansive, causing the foundation to sink, you’ll have to level the house.
There are different methods of leveling a building, most of these methods involve raising the sinking structure. These include:
- Mechanical jacking
With mechanical jacking needing the use of piers to support the foundation as soon as the building is raised.
If the foundation problem emanates from the soil saturation by moisture, redesigning the drainage and grading system of the building’s site is your best bet. There needs to be a way to drain rainwater away from the building and off the building’s surrounding soil.
If this is the case, it means you’ll need to combine the grading and drainage repairs with foundation repairs. And for this, you’ll need structural engineering services and that of a contractor. To help with obtaining the drawings showing the building’s present condition and that showing the proposed solutions. Here, you’ll require permits for the grading and foundation repair.
If you have a strong interest in buying a home, but suspects a few red flags, you can consult a structural engineering firm. This will help eliminate any red flags. With engineers that would assess and detect the root cause of the red flags. And propose the best solution to any problem, you can start planning to move to your new home.