What should you do if your home or the home you want to buy has cracks? Well, keep in mind that not all cracks are created equal. Some are caused by structural movement and others are just facade in nature.
You should contact a repeatable structural engineer to give you an expert opinion. Don't trust the observation of the physical inspector.
In general, hairline cracks—which are extremely common—are from shrinkage. One way to be sure, though, is to note the crack’s size and revisit the crack each season to determine whether it has gotten bigger.
Some other tips include knowing the types of cracks that exist—and the type of foundation on which your house is built. Homes in located in warmer, drier climates often have a foundation made up of a layer of concrete that is poured down directly on the soil. This is called “slab on grade.” Another type of home foundation is a perimeter concrete beam that supports the outer frame of the house, and the mid-section of the house is supported by piers in a crawl space. This is referred to as "pier and grade beam." There is also the foundation that uses piers that are drilled down about 20 feet, with the house resting atop them.
Soil expansion and contraction is the cause of most foundation issues, including in the Denver area. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that 25 percent of U.S. homes have been damaged by expanding soil.
Inside The Home
Drywall: Take a look at the walls inside the house. Cracks in drywall that are jagged and at a 45-degree angle could be a sign that the foundation is shifting.
Doors & Windows: Shut doors and windows, looking for any that stick—not because of paint or humidity—or where there are gaps. This could be another indication there has been foundation movement.
Floors: If your foundation is slab-on-grade, check the floor. A straight edge can help you gauge the seriousness of any cracks you might see. If it’s pretty level, it’s probably not serious. But if one side is higher or lower than the other, the crack could be an indicator that the foundation of your home has dropped.
Crawl Space: Take a look at your crawl space, if the home has one. If there is exposed dirt, check for moisture. If the dirt is moist, that could be a sign of water intrusion. Also, a musty smell could mean there is excessive moisture. But even if the dirt is dry, if there are cracks in the dirt, this could mean that it was once moist and has now dried—and this could mean that the ground has lots its ability to carry a heavy load.
Outside The Home
Below The Roof: It sounds counter-intuitive, but if you want to check for foundation damage, take a look up rather than down. In a two-story home, for instance, damage would be worse on the second floor if there were foundation issues. You want to be on the lookout for cracks above any doors or windows, separation of frieze board (the board below the overhand on homes), and stairstep cracks on brick.
Horizontal vs. Vertical Cracks
Watch for horizontal cracks; these can be especially bad because they can indicate too much water behind your foundation. This could mean too much water pressure because of poor drainage. Vertical cracks could mean there is a serious settling problem, and can mean that soil expansion is pushing up the foundation.
The bottom line is that if you notice cracks, keep an eye on them—and call in a professional if you notice changes from season to season.
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