As foundations age and a house settles, some crack propagation can be expected. Over time, water ingress may occur with subsequent damage to not only the concrete foundation itself but also to the interior structural and finish components. Foundation failures are always expensive to repair and the sooner identified, the better. Fortunately, most cracks will never require attention. Nonetheless cracks are certainly not insignificant. Use this checklist as a quick reference to determine if your house foundations have any of these ‘red flag
Winter is the ideal season to perform a home foundation inspection. This is especially important if the house is located in an area where the soil shrinks in the hot summer weather. In addition, winter soil has not yet expanded due to spring rains.
While homeowners can call in a professional foundation repair contractor perform this task, many prefer a DIY home foundation inspection checklist. This requires paper, pencil and a laser level.
- Property lines are clearly marked or easily determined from existing survey markers. Property lines shall have strings delineating property line locations.
- Lot line survey letter onsite at time of inspection if required by the Planning Department (usually required
- if within 30ft to a property line). Survey letter shall be wet stamped/signed by the licensed surveyor.
- Setbacks from ascending and/or descending slopes are in compliance with the Building Code and County Ordinance (agency at state level)
Footing depths & dimensions conform to plan and minimum code requirements. Footing depths shall extend 12” below the site´s frost depth.
6” stem wall thickness is standard if stem wall height is less than 4’-6” or per project engineering. Certain shear walls and/or retaining walls may require 8” minimum stem wall; check plan details for complete requirements. 7/8” and larger hold-down anchors require a minimum 8” stem wall.
Steel grade, size, laps, ties And clearances
Rebar grade/strength per plans/engineering (Seismic Design Category D0 and greater shall be grade
60 minimum for example in California).
3” minimum clearance to earth, 1-1/2” min. to forms, ¾” min. to air (depending on rebar size)
All reinforcement is secured against displacement when walked on or disturbed during the placement of concrete.
Reinforcement is clean of loose scale, rust, ice, mud, oil or other deleterious coatings.
For the foundation elevation, the top of exterior footing must be a min. of 12” plus 2% above the street gutter as a standard but check local building codes. Likewise, 6” min. drainage fall for 10’ away from building foundation to an approved drainage way.
Trenches are clean, free of debris & soil is properly conditioned.
Hold-downs bolts/straps are in place per plan (i.e., diameter of bolts, embedment depth, edge distances conform to plan and manufacture’s recommendations). Refer to applicable manufacturers catalog for current
installation info and sizing of required anchor bolts.
Min. ½” diameter foundation anchor bolts (or larger if required per plan) with a minimum embedment of 7”;
spaced at no more than 6’ oc for up to 2 stories and 4’ oc for over 2 stories (check local building code regulations for these cases). Spaced no more than 3 ½”, nor more than 12” from sill ends. These bolts may be “wet-set” at the time of concrete placement unless the shear schedule indicates a 36” or closer spacing.
Sketch The Footprint
The first step is to create a drawing of the house, either on paper or with a computer program. The drawing should include all windows and doors.
Inspect The Windows And Doors
A wall becomes weaker at the locations where openings, such as windows and doors, are created. These weak points are often where foundation problems begin. The three most common signs of trouble in a foundation are listed below.
• Gaps. These spaces will form between the wall and window frames, door frames and the floor.
• Cracks. These extend out in the drywall from the corners of windows and doors.
• Separation. This is when a window or door itself separates from its framing or the finish on the exterior of the home.
In addition, homeowners can check for alignment issues by opening and closing all windows and doors to ensure they are working properly. Door latches and locks should also be examined. Anything of note should be added to the sketch.
Look At The Floor
Walking through a house will alert the homeowner to any sagging, bowing, bouncing or cracks in the floor. An uneven floor may indicate a gap or separation from the wall. The laser level is helpful to determine if there is a slope. The initial reading should be taken on the main floor of the house with the level pointed at the walls. The differences between the laser line and floor should be noted on each side of every room and written down on the sketch.
Check For Cracks In Ceilings And Walls
Drywall cracks inside of a home usually indicate foundation settlement. These cracks tend to be more visible in the upstairs rooms. The following types of cracks are signs of trouble.
• Corner cracks. These are seen extending out from windows and doors.
• Seam cracks. This type of crack will follow the seam in drywall.
• Tape cracks. These form when the tape is pulled, buckled or ripped.
• Nail popping. When the nails pop free from the drywall, this is the sign of a serious problem.
All cracks that are found should be noted in the house sketch along with a description regarding the width, direction and severity.
Check The Basement Walls And Interior Foundation
This step of the inspection requires looking at the walls in the basement and crawl space. Generally, walls constructed with concrete blocks will show horizontal or zigzag pattern cracks that form along the mortar lines. Both patterns indicate there is settlement. Basement walls made of poured concrete will show vertical cracks.
Look At The Exterior
In the final stage, the exterior of the home should be checked for sinking, shifting or other changes, especially around patio areas and chimneys. In many cases, a chimney will stand on its own foundation and is at a higher risk for settlement and separation from a house. Brick homes show cracking along the mortar lines with wider cracks indicating the walls are rotating in an outward direction.
If any of the above problems are found during the inspection, they will not go away on their own. They should be evaluated and repaired immediately by a professional foundation repair service. While a DIY home foundation inspection checklist is a good way to keep tabs on the condition of a home, it is only the first step to stabilization and avoiding a decline in value.