Bulges in Basement Walls

When backfilled soil causes strain, bulges in basement walls can result.

Perhaps the most catastrophic failures that we’ve witnessed in our inspection careers have been fully-inward-bulged (collapsed) basement foundation walls. Each failed wall (made entirely of hollow core concrete block) literally exploded into the basement followed by a river of mud or earthen landslide. If anyone had been sitting or standing near the wall at the time of failure, we doubt they would have survived. Fortunately, we’ve never heard of a serious injury or lost life, but we have witnessed the emotional grief/anguish that ensues once the homeowner finds out that their insurance policy will not cover the cost of cleanup or repair. Obviously, these costs can easily exceed tens of thousands of dollars.

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cracks in foundation walls

Cracks in Foundation Walls

When foundations settle, cracks in foundation walls can result. Most foundation walls in Alabama are constructed of concrete masonry or solid concrete. Some walls are not reinforced and others are sometimes lightly reinforced. Seldom do walls contain horizontal reinforcement in the form of rebar in concrete or joint steel in masonry. All concrete materials shrink in volume soon after construction due to loss of water upon drying/curing. As the concrete materials shrink, there is a corresponding dimension change that takes place. The foundation wall is typically bonded to the buried concrete footing so the shrinkage is well restrained along the bottom. At the top, the fairly light wood frame superstructure doesn’t provide much restraint. As such, vertical cracks will often form near the centers of long walls which are widest at the top and which narrow to hairline size at the base. These are called shrinkage cracks and they are usually structurally unimportant. (Note: another form of vertical cracking is caused by sweeping, inward bowing of basement walls which can be a problem/concern).

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cracks in concrete slabs

Cracks in Concrete Slabs

When fresh concrete settles, cracks in concrete slabs can result. Concrete is a mixture of sand, cement, gravel and water. The cement and water chemically react to cause the mixture to harden over time. During the hardening, there is a loss of water, so 1/4 of the original constituents disappears. This causes a loss of volume.

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cracks in brick veneer

Cracks in Brick Veneer

When foundations settle, cracks in brick veneer can result. If you're told that these cracks represent foundation failure, it's not necessarily the truth.

Brick veneer is a very brittle material that cannot take much stress without cracking. Brick veneer is simply a protective exterior siding (weather barrier) and does not provide any structural benefit to the home. Underpinning the foundation because of cracks in brick veneer can be a waste of money.

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home inspections

Why Get A Home Inspection?

Real Estate is usually the largest investment you will ever make, yet many people do so without knowing the condition of the property they are purchasing.prelisting-inpection

That’s why a professional property inspection is such a valuable investment.  An analysis of the property, conducted by a specially trained and completely objective inspector can identify safety issues, non-functioning systems or damaged building components.

Having this information before you purchase, sell, repair or remodel, can return many dividends, both financially and emotionally.

roof-top-to-foundation-home-inspectionWhether you are buying, selling, building or staying in the property you own, a property inspection just makes good sense!  Understanding the condition of the systems and components of a building are critical when it comes to purchase, repair and maintenance decisions.

A professional property inspection is an impartial, third party, visual, non-destructive evaluation of the systems and physical structure of a home, from the roof to the foundation. home inspectionsHaving a home inspection is similar to getting a physical checkup.  If a problem or symptom is discovered, the inspector may recommend further evaluation.  A home inspection is not a warranty or insurance policy, but a method to assist you in understanding the condition of a home.

The first step in enhancing the comfort level of your Real Estate transaction is to schedule your inspection as early as possible.

Foundation Movements, Part 2

When clay soils expansion occurs, foundation movements can result. It has been my experience that whenever an older home (say 15 to 20 years or more) that is constructed on highly plastic clay suddenly experiences cracking in brick or sheetrock, after many years of crack-free service, and there’s no other obvious answer to the problem, it’s probably related to drying shrinkage of underlying expansive clay subsoils. These subsoils probably remained wet each year, throughout the life of the home. Or, at least, the moisture change that did occur each year in the underlying massive clay soil was not sufficient to cause enough building distortion to, in turn, cause building material cracking. If the home suddenly develops cracks, however, there’s probably been some major change in the drainage conditions or landscape surrounding the home.

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Foundation Movements, Part 1

Foundation movements can result when clay soils shrinkage occurs.  A home-buyer transferring into the Huntsville metropolitan area once asked me, “What is the most common residential foundation problem that you see in your home inspection business?” I answered, “Differential foundation settlements (movements) due to expansive clay soils.” “Not so much expansion,” I explained, “but the opposite actually-or what we commonly call ‘shrinkage.’”

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