For this anxiously-awaited 3rd installment of my home inspection item tips, I’m going to talk about foundation issues. Typically, most homes have either a crawl space, basement, or some combination of the two. My policy is to crawl through every square inch of crawl space, and observe all relevant aspects of the foundation. Ask any prospective inspector you may be considering hiring if they do so. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen no evidence of problems throughout a basement or crawl, until I get to the least accessible, tightest spot in the crawl then lo and behold, wood destroying insect damage, or some sort of crack in the foundation!
The basement/crawl space is where the foundation and structure of the house reveals the most information. To start with, I make note of the type of foundation, whether poured concrete, more common in modern construction, or concrete block, brick masonry, or even field stone and mortar, as I’ve observed in homes 100+ years old. Regardless of the type of foundation structure, what needs to be determined is whether the structure is in good condition or if there are problems. Each different material can reveal clues as to whether there has been any shifting, buckling, or other indicators of failure. Step cracks, horizontal and vertical cracks, leaning or bulging walls all are examples of possible problems. And for each of these potential problems, it is the job of the inspector to determine the level of seriousness.
With regard to cracks, I use three rules of thumb: 1) Size of the crack 2) The existence of offset and 3) Does the crack appear to be active. For size, I use 1/4″ as my guide as to whether the crack is a material defect. Offset simply refers to whether there is any movement between areas on either side of the crack – see pictures in this post for an illustration. And whether the crack is active can usually be determined from if there is jaggedness, and freshly-appearing damage on either side of the crack.
Keep in mind, these examples are by no means an exhaustive list of potential foundation problems! This installment is primarily focused on foundation wall issues in general, cracks in particular. There are many other areas in the basement and crawl space (with attendant clues to be seen inside and outside the home) that can provide additional or supporting information. I hope you’ve enjoyed this latest installment, and I’ll have more tips forthcoming soon!