If a home inspection report comes back with a recommendation to do further investigation regarding the foundation, this is a potentially significant issue that buyers or homeowners should take seriously. The foundation is the support structure for the whole house. If something is wrong with it, that can adversely impact the entire house. So foundation problems can be one of the most critical, and they necessitate expert diagnosis and appropriate action as soon as possible.
Sometimes there will be obvious structural cracks along a concrete foundation that indicate that it could be breaking apart. Other homes are set on piers made of concrete blocks or wood, and those may be out of alignment or structurally degraded. A damaged foundation may cause the roof-line to become uneven, or it might make the footings holding up the house sink.
Interior symptoms include tilted floors. If you place a golf ball on a smooth floor and it suddenly rolls to the other side of the room, for instance, that may indicate that the floors aren’t level because of an unlevel foundation. You may find that doors stick and are hard to open, or that they fall open by themselves. Wide spider-web shaped cracks above window or door frames may indicate foundation problems, as could large cracks running diagonally across the walls.
There are many reasons why a home inspector might be led to believe that the foundation needs to be more closely examined. The inspector will conduct a visual examination, and if there are any red flags that might point to foundation trouble the inspection report will suggest consulting a foundation expert.
What to Do Next
Normally this means that you will need to hire a qualified foundation repair company or a certified structural engineer. They will perform tests to evaluate the condition of the foundation, and based on the results they will either give your building a clean bill of health or they will recommend a suitable remedy.
In many jurisdictions foundation companies are required to be licensed by a regulatory board, so before you hire a company be sure to check your local laws. If foundation contractors have to have a special license or other credentials, make sure that those are up-to-date and in good standing. Similarly, engineers have to have specific credentials, and they should put their signature and engineering stamp on any reports they publish and issue to you.
You may find out the signs and symptoms are only cosmetic, and that they are caused by something other than a poor foundation. But if the foundation is in need of repair, they may be because it is shifting against the ground. As the foundation moves it will pull the house with it, and this can cause all sorts of structural degradation.
There may be a drainage problem pushing the foundation that can be addressed by redirecting rainwater – or if the original foundation was placed on an unsteady, unstable terrain, this could mean that curing the problem is virtually impossible.
If the foundation is breaking apart or crumbling, it may be necessary to repair and strengthen it and then once it is stable, repair any subsequent damage to the rest of home such as cracked walls or twisted beams of lumber. Oftentimes a foundation repair company will jack the house up off of its foundation, perform the repairs, and then ease the house back down on its new, stable footing.
Depending upon the extent of the problem, the repairs could range from relatively simple to very complicated and expensive. In extreme cases foundation problems can be considered catastrophic. After an earthquake or a flood, for example, some homes have to be rebuilt or condemned because of unsafe foundations. So consult with your inspector, follow his or her recommendations, and hire the best experts you can to examine the potential problem and then offer you repair solutions.