The list of potentially expensive home repairs is long and frightening. For most homeowners, house foundation issues top that list, and for good reason. The average cost of foundation repairs can be between $5,000 and $7,000 and can climb even higher if the problems damage other parts of your home. Knowing how to find foundation problems early is a crucial part of preventative home maintenance.
Identifying cracks in walls, floors and ceilings is important when assessing potential foundation damage. But just because you can’t see a crack doesn’t mean one isn’t there – or that it isn’t coming. Paranoid yet? Time to put your mind at ease. Here are nine ways to check your home for signs of foundation problems.
1. Test Doors and Windows
Sometimes, a stubborn window simply calls for a little WD-40. But if you’re noticing a few of your windows and doors getting tougher to close, it could be a sign of foundation problems. As an unstable foundation shifts, it can distort the shape of the frames, making the doors and windows unable to latch and eventually jam entirely.
2. Look for Sagging Floors or Ceilings
Warped floors and ceilings can also be warning signs of foundation issues. As a home’s foundation moves, it pulls apart or compacts walls and support beams. These shifts can cause the weight of the house to sit unevenly in certain spots, resulting in sagging floors and ceilings. A telltale sign of foundation issues is a slanted floor, so use a level to monitor your home’s slope from time to time. If you notice continual change in one direction, it may be time to call a professional.
3. Investigate Those Musty Smells in the Basement
That familiar, musty smell in basement corners and crawlspaces can actually spell trouble for your foundation. The odor itself is usually mildew and could be due to leaking basement walls. The problem could be plumbing related, but it can also be caused by outside moisture seeping in through cracks in your foundation. Blocked gutters are often a major culprit in basement-related foundation issues, so while you’re at it, give your gutters a once-over to be sure they’re properly protecting your home.
4. Inspect Sources of Mold
As with mildew in the basement, recurring mold in the corners of windows and walls means that moisture is accumulating in your home. Before breaking out the dehumidifier, check mold-prone areas to rule out any foundation-related cracks and gaps that could be letting in water.
5. Check for Gaps Between Exterior Windows and Walls
If you start to notice gaps between your façade and your front door and windows, it could mean that a shifting foundation is pulling them apart. These gaps can allow water and insects like termites into the walls of your home, causing even more structural damage in the long run.
6. Examine Any Bowed Walls
If you notice interior or exterior walls beginning to bow, it may be a sign that your home’s foundation is on the move. However, don’t mistake a paint blister for bowing. These can be a sign of heat or water damage to your paint and drywall, and while they can require urgent attention, they are usually not related to foundation issues.
7. Pay Attention to Your Chimney
Chimney movement is another telltale sign of foundation issues. If your chimney shifts too much, it can collapse entirely, posing a serious threat to your family and your property. If you notice your chimney looking a little off-kilter, call a professional immediately to get it repaired and stabilized.
8. Look for Nails Popping Out of Drywall
Nail pops are small, round cracks in your walls where nails have begun to pull away from the sheetrock. They’re an easy fix but if they occur frequently, it could be due to wall movement, a sign of larger foundation problems.
9. Diagnose Any Cracks in the Wall or Floor
Finally, the most telling signs of foundation problems are cracks in the walls and floors of your home. Not all cracks are due to serious foundation issues – small cracks near window and door frames are typically caused by normal seasonal expansion of the drywall and underlying wood. These are cosmetic hairline cracks and can be easily repaired with spackling paste.
But experts say you should call a professional if the crack is:
- More than one-eighth of an inch wide.
- Wide on one end and narrow on the other.
- Horizontal or at a 45-degree angle across the wall.
- Leaking water.
- A stair-step crack (pictured above) on interior or exterior walls.
If you begin to notice new cracks that appear deeper than your paint or drywall, or cracks in concrete flooring, have your home inspected right away to stave off any further costly damages.
When All Else Fails, Contact a Professional
When it comes to foundation issues, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Left unchecked, an unstable foundation only becomes more expensive and difficult to fix over time. If your home exhibits any of these signs of foundation problems, it may be best to call a professional to put your mind – and potentially your wallet – at ease.