Foundation Crack Guide: Determining if a Crack is Structural

June 8, 2021

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How can you tell if a crack is structural? This is vital for homeowners to determine, as structural cracks can mean severe secondary damage inside and outside the home; the longer you ignore these cracks, the more extensive and costly they get!

Always schedule a foundation inspection for cracks in a zigzag pattern or vertical cracks that are wider at the top or bottom. Cracks large enough to insert a fingernail or coin also need immediate patching and other repairs!

Secondary damage resulting from structural foundation cracks can also alert a homeowner to needed repairs such as house leveling and underpinning. However, many homeowners overlook these telltale signs of foundation issues simply because they don’t associate them with a weak or damaged foundation.

structural engineer doing foundation inspection in Oklahoma City

To ensure you’re keeping your home in good repair and that it’s always safe for occupation, check out some simple tips for how to tell if a crack is structural or otherwise needs repairs. You can then discuss your concerns with a foundation repair contractor near you.

How Do I Know If Cracks Are Structural?

Since minor hairline cracks along concrete surfaces are normal and don’t necessarily need repairs, you might note a few tips on determining if cracks are structural and need patching or underpinning.

  • Cracks in a zigzag pattern or what resemble stair steps are typically structural. These cracks usually form between concrete blocks or exterior brick. As a weak foundation allows a structure to settle, this pulls on the mortar between those blocks, resulting in cracks.
  • Vertical cracks that are wide at the top or bottom usually indicate foundation damage. Those gaps indicate pulling and sinking, which will typically just get worse over time.
  • Cracks more than 1/8” wide usually indicate structural problems. If you can insert a coin or fingernail in the crack, this typically means it’s time to call a foundation repair contractor!

A homeowner might also note other damage along foundation concrete in addition to cracks, such as spalling or flaking. Rust stains can also indicate damaged rebar, which is used to keep fresh concrete in place as it cures; when that rebar is weak, it can’t support concrete as it should, often resulting in severe cracking.

Other Signs of Structural Foundation Damage

structural foundation crack

Cracks along foundation concrete are not the only signs of potential structural damage. Knowing what else to look for around your property can ensure you schedule needed repairs before that damage gets more extensive and costly to address.

  • Wall and ceiling cracks are common signs of foundation damage. A settling home pulls on walls and other surfaces, resulting in cracks or drywall panels pulling away from the home’s framing.
  • A settling home might also mean buckled floors, or floor tiles pulling out of position. In some cases, you might also notice carpets with threadbare or worn spots.
  • Foundation structural damage also pulls window and door frames out of alignment; in turn, doors and windows might stick, and you might struggle to lock them securely. Interior doors, including cabinet doors, might also swing open on their own!
  • When door and window frames sink and settle with the home, this can result in gaps and cracks around the frames.
  • A damaged foundation might also pull walls away from each other, so you then notice gaps in room corners! Baseboards and crown molding might also pull away from the walls.
  • Structural cracks are typically large enough to let moisture into the home. If you notice a damp, dank, musty basement or utility room in your home, this can indicate structural damage and the need for foundation repair.

How Do I Know If a Crack In My Wall Is Serious?

While cracks along walls are a common sign of foundation damage, a weak foundation is not the only reason you might see cracks developing! Poor-quality drywall installation can eventually result in nails popping from the framing and gaps forming between wall sections, as those panels pull away from the studs behind them.

Plaster walls might also crack over time simply due to the weight of the material. Plumbing leaks behind walls can also damage framing, drywall, and plaster, leading to eventual cracks and gaps. Carpenter ants and termites chewing on framing can also weaken the structure, allowing walls to sag and eventually crack.

To determine the cause of wall cracks in your home, schedule an inspection as soon as you notice cracks, popped nails, discoloration, and other damage. A plumber can find water leaks behind walls while a foundation inspector can determine if the home’s foundation is weak and needs repairs including underpinning. If you’ve eliminated these potential causes of wall cracks, you can then simply patch them or replace drywall panels as needed.

Various Types of Foundation Cracks

All foundation cracks should warrant an inspection by a foundation repair contractor, so you can rule out structural damage and schedule needed repairs before that damage gets more extensive. In most cases, zigzag or staircase cracks are often considered the worst, as these indicate structural settling.

Cracks wider than 1/4” are also quite serious, as these let in moisture and become an entry point for rodents, insects, and other pests. That moisture can mean mold growth behind walls and underneath the flooring, and mold spreads very quickly inside a home.mold growing from structural foundation crack

Pests are also unhealthy and bothersome and can mean costly damage. Rodents might chew through electrical wiring and insulation, while carpenter ants and termites make quick work of eating away at a home’s framing, drywall, and other materials.

Foundation cracks that show an obvious unevenness or leaning of the home also need immediate attention. Those cracks might be spread deep in the concrete, out of your immediate sight, allowing the home to settle and then sink. The longer you ignore these issues, the more damage your home will suffer, and the costlier your eventual repairs.

Are vertical or horizontal cracks worse?

Horizontal concrete cracks are often the result of natural settling during the curing process; some, however, might be the result of surface damage. Whatever the cause, these cracks should be patched as quickly as possible.

Vertical cracks are usually more serious than horizontal, as they might indicate settling and resultant pulling on brick, siding, and other exterior materials. The larger those cracks, and especially if they run in a zigzag pattern between bricks or concrete blocks, the more urgent it is that you schedule needed repairs!

Hairline foundation cracks

hairline crack in foundation

Every concrete crack should be examined by a foundation repair contractor, to at least rule out structural damage. Hairline cracks are no exception, but note if the concrete was poured within the last year. If so, it often takes that long for the material to cure completely; as it does, it might shrink slightly, resulting in hairline cracks.

How Do You Fix Foundation Cracks?

The good news for homeowners is that foundation cracks are typically repairable, even if the home has started to settle and sink. A foundation repair contractor can note the best repair option for your property but consider some common foundation crack repair methods he or she might suggest.

  • Epoxy injections help fill in smaller cracks. These materials usually expand and then harden, blocking moisture and keeping that crack from spreading. These injections might cost $100 or more per visit but need reapplication every 5 to 10 years.
  • Carbon fiber straps help correct cracked and bowing basement walls. These straps prevent the walls from expanding further, to avoid added cracks and eventual crumbling. Most straps are $500 to $700 each, so your total cost will depend on how many straps are needed to keep your basement in good condition.
  • Helical piers “screw” into the ground around damaged foundations; these are used for lighter structures such as porches or sunrooms. These piers attach to the foundation sides and help close up those gaps, keeping the foundation in place. Helical piers might cost around $300 each.
  • Steel piers are similar to helical piers but are used for heavier structures; steel piers or pins help support an entire home, not just its porch! Like helical piers, the pins are attached to the foundation, keeping it strong and stable. Steel pins might cost $700 to $1000 each.
  • Shims help correct damaged pier and beam foundations. These shims are pounded into gaps between the piers and beams, propping up the foundation and closing up cracks. Re-shimming a home might cost anywhere from $2500 to $3500 or more in total.
  • House leveling uses specialty slurries injected underneath damaged, sunken foundation sections. Hydraulic equipment lifts that foundation section back to a level position, and the slurry hardens and dries, giving the foundation support. House leveling might cost $300 to $1000, but note that steel pins might also be needed for added foundation support.

ways to repair a structural foundation crack

Selling a Home with a Cracked Foundation

Homeowners can typically sell a home needing any type of repair, including one with a cracked foundation! Some home buyers even look for “fixer-uppers'' that they can buy for a reduced cost, repair on their own, and then even resell for a profit.

The only concern you might have when selling a home with a cracked foundation is ensuring you’re honest with potential buyers about damage and any repairs done to the home. In most cases, a home inspection will spot that damage but it’s vital that you don’t try to deceive buyers by covering over cracks with cosmetic materials such as paint, as this might mean legal entanglements down the road.

In some cases, a bank might not provide a mortgage on a home with a cracked foundation, unless the buyer is willing to put up other collateral for that house. If you can’t find a cash buyer for the home, you might consider investing in repairs so that you can sell your home for the price you expect.

If you have a home with a cracked foundation and are concerned about selling it, discuss your options with a real estate agent. He or she can note the best way of addressing those concerns and needed repairs while also ensuring you get as much money as possible from that sale.

Should You Buy a Home With Structural Issues?

service for foundation repair starting in Oklahoma City

Whether or not you should buy a home with any issues is a personal decision; to ensure you make the best choice for you and your family, talk to a foundation repair contractor and ensure you know all repair costs and related issues, including the risk of mold growth. You’ll want to note if the interior and exterior walls are at risk of cracks or if the home’s framing might suffer future wood rot.

Once you’ve determined all costs and risks related to those foundation repair issues, you can then decide if the home is the right fit for your family. The seller might be willing to lower their asking price to compensate for those repairs, or you might find that the home offers other attractive features that make needed foundation leak repair and other fixes worth your time and effort!

Foundation Issues in Older Homes

Concrete can break down over the years and especially when exposed to extreme weather conditions, chemicals such as snow salt and lawn care materials, or lots of moisture in the soil around it. However, not all older homes will have foundation issues by default! High-quality concrete, installed by an experienced contractor, can last for 100 years or more if not even indefinitely.

It’s also good to consider how a homeowner maintained their house and property over the years. If a homeowner allowed moisture to collect around the concrete or ignored cracks and allowed them to spread, the foundation might become damaged severely after a few decades.

On the other hand, if a homeowner ensured there was no excessive moisture collecting around a home’s foundation, invested in needed waterproofing, and filled in minor cracks as soon as they appeared, that foundation might be in excellent condition no matter its age. You might even find that a well-maintained foundation is more stable than a new foundation that’s been neglected!

waterproofing foundation to prevent structural cracks

Rather than assuming that an older home will have foundation issues, have a foundation repair contractor or property inspect go over that foundation carefully, noting any potential issues. He or she can alert you to needed repairs or note if the foundation appears to be in good condition.

Better Foundation Repair OKC is happy to provide this quick foundation crack guide to our readers and we hope it helped answer the question, how can you tell if a crack is structural? If you’re near Oklahoma City and need foundation repair, rely on our expert OKC foundation repair contractors! We offer expert services at affordable prices, to protect your property and keep it in good condition for years to come. To find out more, give us a call today.

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