Whether historic or new construction, recently renovated or in need of rehab — the key to a great house is a good foundation.
Foundations rarely draw homeowners’ or homebuyers’ attention. A healthy foundation does its job quietly, supporting your home and freeing you to focus on other upgrades and aesthetic details. But a bad foundation affects your whole house like a disease, making it a dangerous problem to overlook.
Are you a happy homeowner who has never given a thought to your foundation? Or a first-time buyer with no clue what to look for? Although foundation issues can be as unique as the homes they affect, there are a few tried and true ways to tell if your home is built on a solid foundation.
The state of the yard may not be a sign of current issues with the foundation, but it is an important step when inspecting or maintaining a house.
The main concern for any yard is drainage. From roofs to foundations, water is one of the biggest sources of damage to your home. When examining a yard, make sure that:
- The ground slopes away from the foundation. This way water runs off instead of pooling next to the house.
- The foundation is not visible. Soil can erode or become too packed. Build up the soil or mulch so it covers the foundation and — you guessed it — slopes away from the house.
- It has good drainage. Drainage involves more than just slope, it requires functioning gutters, spouts, etc. Make sure the house has adequate gutters and that downspouts are situated so water is directed away from the foundation. Trim branches or install guards so that tree detritus does not block gutters.
A yard with drainage issues does not mean the foundation has issues. Yet. It’s only a matter of time before drainage issues become foundation issues. Whether buying or maintaining a home, keep a DIY home inspection checklist so nothing slips through the cracks.
Many issues visible on the main or upper levels are actually indications of foundation issues. It can be easy to write them off as shoddy workmanship or the house “settling” and ignore their connection to a deeper issue.
Items of concern include:
- Sloping or uneven floors
- Gaps above doors when shut
- Windows that do not sit square
Any the above items can indicate issues — such as a shift — in the foundation. Many homeowners direct their renovation budget to the upper floors. Don’t let a flawless main floor deceive you: Look further.
Whether you’re a buyer or homeowner, don’t forget the obvious: Check the foundation itself. Whether that means squeezing into a crawl space or walking through the basement, don’t neglect the area in question.
- Standing water
- Water stains
Some cracks are truly superficial. If you’re unsure whether your cracks are cosmetic or structural, you should consider bringing in an expert.
Leaks, standing water and water stains can also go either way. Improper slope or a leaky drainpipe may result in one-time water issues. If a leak is due to a minor issue, it should stop entering your lower level as soon as the issue is resolved and should not recur.
Homebuyers: Beware a basement with a fresh coat of paint. Sadly, you have to be skeptical of a basement with recent cosmetic changes like repaired drywall, ceilings or new paint. The homeowner may be trying to hide a large structural issue long enough for a sale to go through.
Check With a Pro
Whether you’re buying, building or repairing a home, be sure to let a pro do the inspection when it comes to the foundation. After all, everything else rests on it.
Even the strongest and most knowledgeable DIYer would be well advised to let a professional handle building or repairing a foundation. Do your research so you can be sure you’re getting a dry, efficient, sustainable foundation system.
Buyers should always get an inspection. No matter how confident you are in your own assessment and no matter how much you trust the seller, always get an inspection. Better to spend a few hundred dollars up front than to waste thousands upon thousands on an unsound home.
Want to learn more about foundations? Keep an eye out for local home expos. These events typically feature presentations by area experts who are more than happy to answer your questions and address your concerns.