Foundation issues, not all they are cracked up to be!

by Gilbert Migirditsian, professional engineer, home inspector, and founder of GM Inspection

In every real estate transaction, one of the biggest worry most people have is regarding foundations. Most will quickly hit the panic button and in many cases move ahead with major repairs. But what has caused the issues observed? Have you found the source of the problem? This question is often overlooked.

When examining foundation issues, many elements need to be considered such as site conditions, prior movement noted on the building foundation and any secondary issues as well as the type, location, and extent of any cracks or movement. When these elements are all considered combined with the experience of the inspector, it becomes possible to determine the urgency with which intervention, if any, is required. Certain issues, especially remediation, may require the intervention of an experienced civil engineer. But, first and foremost, what symptoms are alarming and indicate underlying major structural issues?

Obviously, cracks and movement on the foundation wall itself are symptoms that are looked for in the course of a building inspection. However, these initial problems are not necessarily indicative of a major problem. The laws of physics are always good indicators where movement in location will mean load is transferred onto an adjacent structure. In cases like this, step cracking on masonry walls indicate underlying issues. This situation is not be taken lightly as tie-backs or bonding courses may be broken bringing upon the risk of catastrophic failure.

But what causes damage to foundations in the first place? Humidity is one major cause of foundation issues where concrete, an essentially porous material, will not behave well with continued and prolonged contact with humidity. For this reason, I almost always recommend examining surface drainage around a foundation wall before any further action is taken. The actions taken must be at the source of a problem, otherwise we are simply managing a foundation issue instead of resolving it.

The one thing to remember is that these issues often represent important costs. It is essential to have a comprehensive building inspection carried out prior to moving ahead with a real estate transaction and care be taken in the recommendations made regarding foundation walls. This way, an educated decision can made and the fair market value of the property determined prior to the transaction being concluded.

See you next month when I’ll be back with another article! In the meantime, visit us on Facebook.