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1. Cracked, crumbling or compromised foundations When doing routine property inspections, start with the foundation itself. Built to last, this underlying support should never show any noticeable signs of structural damage, including: Hairline fractures or cracks (vertical, horizontal or zigzagging); sloping, sagging or buckling of foundation floors or walls; ruptures or gaps; crumbling or flaking (of the concrete); moisture (including pooling water, mold and stains). These inspections should be conducted both inside the home (within the basement) and along all exterior surfaces of the foundation.

2. Water damage and soil shifting. Improper water drainage is one of the leading causes of foundation failure. When soil surrounding the home rapidly expands (during wet spells) and contracts (during dry ones), this can lead to unnatural soil shifting — a process that places tremendous pressure on the underlying foundation. In addition to being a major cause of foundation damage, improper water drainage is also a telltale sign that foundation failure has already taken place.

3. Sagging floors and warped ceilings Issues that originate in the foundation can sometimes appear in some of the upper levels of the home — often in the form of sagging floors or warped ceilings. Also be on the lookout for exposed gaps where interior walls are supposed to meet with each floor and ceiling. With a level tool, verify whether the slope is consistent on each floor and ceiling. For a “low-tech” solution, use a tennis ball to see if minute gradients exist. When placed in random locations on every floor, the tennis ball should never move.

4. Cracked, crumbling or buckling walls All properties settle with time — it’s only natural. In fact, building materials are designed to “give” a little bit. But excessive settling is another common sign of foundation failure, with the most obvious symptoms manifesting as cracks, buckling and crumbling in the upper walls of the home. Homeowners should routinely inspect all interior and exterior walls for: Cracks, fissures, warps and shifts. Crumbling and decay — especially with cement or brick façades. Water damage (moisture, mold and stains).

When conducting these inspections, don’t overlook corners, pillars, joints, molding and chimneys — all of which should be straight and flush.

5. Improperly fitting doors and windows. All of the windows and doors throughout the home should fit snugly in place — neither too tight nor too loose. Even when foundation damage isn’t to blame, homeowners should fix these problems right away. Improperly fitting doors and windows often lead to uncontrolled heat loss and unusually high utility bills. When conducting these inspections, don’t forget to include garage doors, HVAC vents and attic windows. By scanning for these signs on a regular basis, it’s possible to catch problems early and keep foundation repairs to a minimum while extending the lifetime of a property.

Foundation failure is a significant (and costly) problem in its own right. But left unaddressed, even relatively minor foundation damage can lead to much bigger (and more expensive) repairs down the road.


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