Your Home’s Foundation: Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

Severe cracks in walls can signal settlement and foundation problems.

Severe cracks in walls can signal settlement and foundation problems.

Most houses are supported underneath by concrete or a stone, referred to as the foundation. It’s a simple truth that most people keep their sights on things that are at eye level. Whether you are inside or outside your house, your attention is often drawn to wall hangings, furniture, doors, windows, the siding. You may not think much about the foundation of your house, especially if it’s a slab foundation.

However, it is imperative to check the foundation of your home, as the expenses to repair it can become overwhelming if problems are left to worsen. It’s important to inspect your foundation regularly, so you can catch problems in the early stages, before they become expensive repairs.

Common Problems

There are typically three types of foundations: basements, crawl spaces and slab. Regardless of the type of foundation you have, several foundation problems are common:

  • Bulges and outward bumps are commonly caused by temperature changes and can lead to serious problems in the future, including abnormal settlement and potentially building collapse.
  • Cracking is commonly caused by soil settling and vibrations from nearby elements. Normally cracking is repairable and not seriously threatening to the structure and safety of the building. However, be sure to monitor cracks and call in a professional if you notice any warning signs.
  • Leaking occurs when water penetrates through cracks in a foundation and enters the inside of the house. Water can cause erosion and spawn a breeding ground for mold, which can ruin nearly anything, including cherished belongings like photos and keepsakes.

The Top 10 Signs of Foundation Trouble

  • Uneven and sloping floors in the house
  • Cracks in exterior or interior bricks
  • Displaced or cracked moldings around doors, windows, etc.
  • Wall rotation
  • Cracks or bowing in walls
  • Cracks in floors, floor tiles or the home’s foundation
  • Doors and windows that won’t open or close properly, doors that swing open or closed on their own
  • Separation of doors, windows or garage doors
  • Gaps or spaces between walls and the ceiling or floor
  • Walls that are separating from the house

Unfortunately these types of problems do not correct themselves, and procrastination may cost you as the problem persists and worsens.

Photo courtesy of Gustty via EveryStockPhoto

Photo courtesy of Gustty via EveryStockPhoto

Do keep in mind, however, that some amount of settlement is normal in any house. Some cracks in foundation walls are minor and do not require you to take action right away, only to monitor them. If you have an old house with evidence of minor settling, it’s probably nothing to worry about. If you suspect you have major settlement or foundation problems, you can contact your local National Property Inspections or Global Property Inspections home inspector as a first step. Your home inspector will be able to tell you whether the problem is serious and you need to call in a structural engineer.

Foundation Repair Costs

Basements are the most expensive and complicated type of foundation to construct, as the depth of a basement is commonly 8 feet. Basement repair costs generally range from $500 to $10,000, depending on the type and extent of damage.

A slab foundation is a concrete pad poured directly on top of 4 to 6 inches of gravel with a sheet of plastic between them designed to keep out moisture. A slab is the easiest and least expensive foundation for a building or house. The downside is that there is no easy access for foundation work that may be needed. In addition, sewer lines are embedded in the concrete slab. Expenses for repairs vary wildly and can range from $100 to $15,000.

Crawl spaces are similar to slabs; however, they raise the house off the ground and allow for easy access to plumbing and ductwork. The cost to build on a crawl space is comparable to that of a slab. Expenses for repairs can range from $1,500 to $15,000.

Make a foundation inspection a part of your annual spring home maintenance checklist. If you have a basement or crawl space, check the inside and outside for damage.

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Spring Home Maintenance Checklist

Spring House_shutterstock_63824962Welcome to spring, everyone! Now is the perfect time for our spring home maintenance checklist. Whether you’re a seasoned home owner or a first-time home owner, here are some of the things to check and prepare around the house as the weather warms up.

  • Check and change the furnace filter.
  • Check the electrical panel for any scorching or burn marks. Call an electrician if you find any.
  • Clean the clothes dryer exhaust, duct, damper and space under the dryer.
  • Check the basement or crawl space for dampness, leaks and evidence of termites.
  • Check to make sure the sump pump (if present) is operating correctly.
  • Check the attic for proper ventilation and insulation.
  • If you have multipane windows, check them for fog, which indicates a broken seal.
  • Inspect around the foundation for signs of termite infestation.
  • Inspect the roof for potential leaks.
  • Check for damaged, raised or missing flashing and shingles.
  • Check vents, louvers and chimney caps for bird’s nests and debris.
  • Check the underside of the roof in the attic and under the eaves for water stains.
  • Examine the exterior of the chimney for cracks and signs of damage.
  • Check for overhanging tree limbs, and trim if needed.
  • Inspect gutters for signs of sagging, damage or rust. Also, clear debris from gutters and downspouts.
  • Check windows for loose or missing putty/glazing, broken glass, and damaged screens.
  • Check the grading around the house — the ground should slope away from the house for proper drainage.
  • Move firewood stored close to the house. Firewood should be stored at least 18 inches off the ground at least 2 feet from the house.
  • Check outside hose faucets for freeze damage.
  • Clean leaves and other debris away from an outdoor air conditioning unit.
  • Remove vines growing on the house, siding, brick or mortar.
  • Check for soft mortar joints or missing mortar.
  • Check your siding:
    • Check brick veneer for cracks that are wider than 1/16 inch.
    • Check vinyl and aluminum siding for cracks and damage.
    • Check wood siding, window trim and frames for peeling paint and damaged wood.
  • Check wooden decks for deterioration and repair or seal when necessary.
  • Repair all cracked, broken or uneven driveways, patios and walks.
  • Check gas- and battery-powered lawn equipment and tools to be sure they are ready for spring and summer use.

Your local NPI or GPI home inspector can provide you with our seasonal home maintenance guide. Contact your inspector to receive a copy of this useful manual.

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What’s Your Grading Grade?

By Scott Ward, NPI Franchise Owner, Southern Johnson County, Kansas

Grading_shutterstock_135142733Spring is a great time to grade the grading of your house. Give yourself an “A” if the soil around your foundation is sloped away from the house at least 6 inches in the first 10 feet, with 3 to 4 inches in the first 5 feet on all sides.

Give yourself a “B” if you have any low spots at all around the foundation. These low spots many times are near inside foundation corners and near where utilities enter the house. Make sure to look under bushes and other landscaping, too.

Give yourself a “C” if the grading is at or near level around a significant portion of the foundation. If you have a yard that slopes toward the house and water pools at or near the foundation with wet, spongy ground in the vicinity of the foundation, give yourself a “D.” If you have moisture in your basement or crawl space, especially during rainstorms, and water stains on the interior side of the foundation walls, then you get an “F.”

Any time excess moisture is present around a foundation, the potential for foundation problems increases. The water itself creates what is called hydraulic pressure, which presses the foundation walls inward and can lead to cracks, settlement and shifting of the foundation. If left unchecked, this can ultimately cause structural failure and cost many thousands of dollars to repair. If you live in area with expansive soils, such as the Midwest, the effects tend to happen much faster. Ongoing moisture issues can also lead to mold, insect infestation and rot within the structure — all of which are expensive to repair.

In many cases, the proper grade can be achieved by simply adding soil around the foundation to slope the grade away from the house. Forty-pound bags of topsoil can be purchased at home improvement centers for about $1.50 for small projects, or you can have a truck load of topsoil delivered. Be advised that both soils are pulverized and will settle and compact a significant amount, so be sure to by extra. On large jobs or jobs that require extensive regrading, it may be best to hire professional. In the long run, this will be less expensive than repairing a foundation.

Remember to leave at least 2 to 3 inches of space between the soil and the top of the foundation or the bottom of the siding. This will prevent moisture from wicking into the siding and help limit insects from entering the structure. Adding downspout extensions and/or splash blocks is also a good idea to help move water away from the foundation. If you have a sump pump, make sure that it, too, is discharged well away from the foundation.

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Today’s Tip: Avoid Frozen Hose Hook-ups

Submitted by Scott Ward, NPI Franchise Owner, Southern Johnson County, Kansas

Picture C - Click to enlarge

Cracked hose bib

Hose faucet, hose bib or spigot — all are the same thing but called different names in different parts of the country. It’s where you hook up the garden hose to water the lawn or wash the car. If you live in warm climates it doesn’t matter if you leave the hose hooked up year-round. However, if you live in the Midwest or north, and by mistake you left the hose connected in the winter, there is a good chance that the faucet has been freeze damaged. I have done a number of inspections in the Kansas City area lately where the faucet has frozen and been damaged, causing leakage inside the house.

These outdoor faucets are designed so that the valve is recessed inside the wall and only the handle and connection pipe are exposed on the exterior. The valve is located 6 to 12 inches back on the interior of the building where potential freeze issues are minimal. The faucet is supposed to drain when turned off but cannot do this with a hose attached. When the water in the faucet freezes, it is likely to burst the pipe inside the house wall. When it thaws, water will usually not leak into the house until the valve is turned on. A significant amount of water can leak in a short period of time. Many times the faucet internals are in a basement area and may not be noticed leaking right away. If the basement is finished, the damage can get expensive very quickly.

If you have left your hose attached during freezing weather, carefully check that no water is leaking in the faucet area when the faucet is turned on. Check both outside and inside areas. If the valve part of the faucet is visible, then many times the damage will look like a rip in the metal pipe — but be advised that ice can damage the seals, too, and such damage cannot be seen. When this happens, the faucet usually drips from the connection pipe or the handle. The only option is to replace damaged faucets. Also make sure that the faucet is tipped toward the exterior slightly so that it will drain properly. All garden hoses, watering timers, extra valves, etc., should be removed prior to freezing weather.

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Spring Home Maintenance Checklist

cžSpring is upon us, and it’s time to do some home maintenance. Here’s a handy checklist of items you should take care of indoors and out.

Outdoors

  • Clean the gutters and check for any leaky or loose areas.
  • Check the siding for missing or peeling paint and repair. Also check siding for any damage that may have occurred over the winter.
  • Trim shrubs and trees away from the house to preserve the siding and roof.
  • Rake up any leaves from last fall. Pull up weeds and dead plants from last season.
  • Check your roof for any missing shingles that may have been lost during winter. Have a qualified roofer check the flashing around plumbing vents, skylights and chimneys and repair if necessary.
  • Have your chimney and flue inspected and the flue cleaned by a chimney professional.
  • Remove any firewood stored near your home so that it is at least 18 inches off the ground and at least 2 feet from the house.
  • Check your outdoor faucets for freeze damage.
  • Have the air conditioning unit cleaned, inspected and tuned up for the hot days ahead.
  • Check your gas- and battery-powered lawn equipment to ensure that it’s ready for spring and summer use. Tune up the lawn mower and have the blades sharpened.
  • Examine the house’s foundation for any cracks and caulk or call a foundation specialist for more permanent repairs.
  • Pressure-wash your home to remove dirt, mold and stains from the siding, deck and patio.
  • Repair cracked sidewalks and driveways.
  • Inspect your deck and reseal if necessary. Also check for and fix any loose railings and decay.
  • Check and clean the dryer vent.

Indoors

  • Check windows and doors for air and water leaks and fill or repair.
  • Check your cracks and gaps where insects or mice can get into your home, and fill these areas.
  • Check faucets and plumbing for leaks and repair or replace any leaky pipes or faucets.
  • Check tiles and grout for cracks and reseal any areas where cracking occurs.
  • Clean the windows and screens inside and out.
  • If you don’t have central air conditioning, then spring is the time to reinstall window AC units.
  • Vacuum your refrigerator coils so the fridge operates at top efficiency.
  • Replace batteries in smoke detectors.
  • Drain the water heater. Click here for instructions.

Sources: HGTV.com, BobVila.com, Kiplinger.com, http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/2013/03/14/15-spring-home-maintenance-tips

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