Homeowners tend to have different reactions when they first discover a crack on a foundation wall. Some will freak out and lose sleep, wondering if the house is about to fall apart. Others will ignore the crack, assuming that it is nothing serious or that there is no immediate threat to the home’s structural integrity. Some homeowners assume the problem can be solved with basic DIY repairs, like filling the foundation crack with sealant or patching mortar.
The truth is that foundation problems never go away or get better when ignored. A foundation crack caused by a structural problem will always get worse. The longer you take to acknowledge and fix it, the more complicated and costly the repair will be. This is why it’s important for homeowners to check their foundations regularly for cracks – in the same way you’d inspect exterior siding, windows, plumbing connections and other items..
So how can you tell if a foundation crack is a simple concrete fissure, which you can patch yourself or something more serious that needs to be fixed by a pro?
Here are some tips that can help you decide whether or not a foundation crack should be inspected by a specialist -a foundation repair contractor.
- Shrinkage cracks are tiny and don’t indicate structural problems.
Concrete, depending on the way it was mixed and poured, tends to shrink as it cures. This sometimes causes small “hairline” shrinkage cracks that don’t have any impact on structural integrity. A shrinkage crack can extend in any direction, and will be too minute to admit even a fingernail.
- Horizontal cracks are usually more serious than vertical cracks.
Anything larger than a shrinkage crack deserves a closer look. Note the direction of the crack. Generally, a horizontal crack in a poured-concrete wall or stair-step cracks in a block wall should cause concern. These cracks are caused by the pressure exerted on the walls by the surrounding soil -either as the soil expands (typical of clay-type soils) or simply becomes oversaturated with water. If this pressure problem is not addressed in a timely manner, the basement walls might begin to bow or lean inwards, and can eventually crumble. If you detect this type of crack on your basement walls, call a foundation repair specialist to schedule a foundation inspection.. Modern technologies like wall anchors, wall braces and carbon fiber reinforcement straps can stabilize and sometimes even restore walls that have cracked and shifted to their original position, for a fraction of the cost of rebuilding and replacing the foundation.
Vertical cracks, on the other hand, may or may not pose a concern. It all depends on size (see #3, below).
- Size really matters.
Cracks that are large, or v-shaped pose a bigger concern, especially if you notice them getting wider as time goes by. In an article published by Consumer Reports Magazine, James Katen, a home inspector from Gaston, Oregon suggests the use of a No.2 pencil or a ruler when inspecting foundation cracks.
“If the pencil can go into the crack up to the yellow paint on the pencil, that’s a pretty wide crack and might be a sign of a major problem,” – says Katen. If using a ruler, consider that any crack wider than 3/16 inch as a potential sign of structural issues.
It is a also a good idea to monitor smaller cracks regularly. David Thrasher, a foundation repair expert from Omaha, Nebraska recommends measuring and marking the width and length, and drawing “alignment lines” to be able to see if the edges are shifting unevenly. Date the markings on the wall, to record the rate of change.
- Foundation damage also makes its way upstairs.
When a foundation crack is also accompanied by foundation settlement, there are telltale signs to look for in upstairs areas. The openings for windows and doors can rack or skew, causing windows and doors to bind. Also, you may notice cracks in the wallboard, especially at top corners of window and door openings.
Foundation repair contractors have the knowledge and resources you need
Benjamin Franklin once wrote that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. That is true for most things in life, and when it comes to home foundations, even more so. Foundation problems always get worse overtime, and the longer you wait to fix them, the more expensive and complicated is the repair. If you find a foundation crack and don’t know how to proceed, simply call a foundation repair contractor. Unlike general contractors or remodeling contractors, foundation repair contractors have special training in this sector of home repair. They also have access to engineered solutions -like helical piers, wall anchors, and cellular concrete-for making permanent repairs quickly and affordably. Considering what is in stake – the structural integrity of your home – it’s important to make the right call.