How to spot foundation damage

By Allstate

Last updated: January 1

It’s no secret that weather can affect your gardens, lawns and other landscaping. But do you know that it can also affect the foundation of your home? When soil dries up in the summer and becomes water-logged in the spring and winter, it can cause the ground around a foundation to shift and may create cracks and other problems for your home.

Here’s what you can do to help spot early signs of damage and schedule appropriate repairs:

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How to judge cracks

Many homeowners only think about their foundation when they spot the tell-tale signs of a problem: cracks in the foundation itself. But while some cracks are normal, others may indicate a real problem, according to the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI).

Here are a few types of problematic cracks that ASHI says you should keep an eye out for:

  • Cracks that appears suddenly.
  • Cracks that are "stair-stepped" or horizontal in shape.
  • Cracks that are wider than one-quarter inch.
  • Cracks that don't go away (minor cracks often close up as seasons change).

Other signs of a problem

Even if your foundation doesn't have any visible cracks, you may be experiencing other problems in your home that could be signs of trouble, says the National Foundation Repair Association (NFRA).

People frequently overlook some household nuisances, says the NFRA, because they don't make the connection between such problems and a possible issue with their foundation. These issues may include:

  • Doors and windows that stick or won't shut properly.
  • Caulking around doors and windows that's stretched or cracked.
  • Flooring under baseboards and cabinets that shows gaps.
  • Floors that begin to bulge or slope, and floors or tiles that crack.

Of course, these issues could be attributed to other causes, including improper installation or other construction-related causes. But it might be wise to have a foundation repair specialist come out and let you know whether there's an underlying structural problem.

When searching for a foundation repair company, Angie's List says you should look for a company that has received certification from multiple sources and will have a licensed engineer review your inspection

Foundation maintenance tips

So what if you're in the clear, and your foundation passes inspection? Should you stop thinking about it? Well, not really. According to the NFRA, the most common cause of foundation problems is poor maintenance.

Here are a few ongoing tasks that can go a long way in helping to keep your foundation ship-shape, according to NFRA:

  • Grading the soil. Making sure the soil all around your foundation slopes away from the home (preventing water from pooling and draining into the underlying soil).
  • Diverting water. Ensuring gutters slope properly and that gutters and downspouts are regularly cleared of debris. Route water at least five feet from the foundation, and add downspout extensions if needed.
  • Landscaping wisely. When planting trees and shrubs near a foundation, make sure to choose varieties that aren't water hogs (excessively drying out the soil). Position large trees away from the foundation to avoid root problems.

Such maintenance may pay big dividends, because a faulty foundation can be an expensive problem to solve. Ongoing care may help minimize issues and repairs, and it may help extend the life of the place you choose to call home.