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Photograph of - cracked  masonry block foundation wall, probably from earth pressur at original construction - notice the wavy mortar. Drop a plumb line to measure total inwards bulging of this block foundation wall. The Foundation Damage & Repair Bible
Foundation Cracks, Leans, Bulges, Settlement: Inspecting Foundations for Structural Defects - Detection, Diagnosis, Cause, Repair

  • FOUNDATION DAMAGE & REPAIR GUIDE - home - CONTENTS: Guide to foundation inspection, troubleshooting & repair. Visual inspection of foundations, Types of foundation damage, Extent of foundation damage. Concrete foundation cracks, damage, Masonry block foundation cracks, damage, Stone foundation bulges & movement. Photographs of foundation crack patterns
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs on how to evaluate, diagnose, & repair foundation cracks, leans, bulges, movement, damage
  • REFERENCES
InspectAPedia tolerates no conflicts of interest. We have no relationship with advertisers, products, or services discussed at this website.

This article series describes in detail how to recognize, diagnose & repair various types of foundation failure or damage, such as foundation cracks, masonry foundation crack patterns, and moving, leaning, bulging, or bowing building foundation walls.

Types of foundation cracks, crack patterns, differences in the meaning of cracks in different foundation materials, site conditions, building history, and other evidence of building movement and damage are described to assist in recognizing foundation defects and to help the inspector separate cosmetic or low-risk conditions from those likely to be important and potentially costly to repair.



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Methods & Procedures for Evaluating Residential Structural Foundation Cracks, Movement, & Condition

Photograph of a bulged, cracked, leaning stone foundation wall.

This article series explaining how to recognize, diagnose and repair foundation cracks & damage is for building owners, professional or licensed home inspectors, foundation repair companies, foundation engineers, architects, and other building professionals concerned with residential property masonry foundation failure detection, diagnosis, and repair.

Watch out: To be used properly, this information must be combined with specific on-site observations at the particular building in order to form a reliable opinion about the condition of that building's foundation. Anyone having concern regarding the structural stability, safety, or damage of a building, foundation or other components, should consult a qualified expert.

At this website we explain how it is sometimes possible to be confident about the cause of foundation damage which in turn helps assess the risk presented to the building. Photographs of types of foundation cracks and other foundation damage: we have a large library of photographs which are constantly adding this website.

The photo above shows a cracked, bulged, leaning stone foundation wall at the edge of an embankment - a condition we discuss further at this website.

Strategy for Building Foundation or Floor or Slab Crack, Damage, or Movement Assessment

To understand the cause, effect, and remedy for all types of building foundation or masonry wall damage or movement we have categorized foundation damage into these broad categories:

  1. FOUNDATION DAMAGE & REPAIR GUIDE: home page for foundation damage assessment & repair procedures.
  2. FOUNDATION CRACK DICTIONARY, what is the severity of foundation damage, what is its effect on the stability of the structure, and how urgently are foundation repairs needed?
  3. FOUNDATION FAILURES by MOVEMENT TYPE: is the movement active or not, how is the foundation moving: bulging, leaning, settling, etc. ?
  4. FOUNDATION FAILURES by TYPE & MATERIAL: how does damage show up in different types of foundation material & what are the implications for collapse risk or repair need?
  5. FOUNDATION REPAIR METHODS discusses alternative ways to fix a damaged foundation or floor slab crack or movement

The photo at page top shows a bowed masonry block foundation wall with horizontal cracking that occurred due to earth loading at the time of construction, probably by vehicles driving too close to the foundation wall shortly after it was constructed.

Foundation Inspection Objectives

Home inspectors, building code compliance inspectors, and general building contractors are often able to recognize possible foundation or other building problems which may be costly or dangerous, thus requiring the intervention of an expert foundation repair company or foundation design engineer. These early visitors to a building site, most often the home inspector, see a very large number of in-service field conditions leading to building failures.

Foundation inspectors can, without performing any engineering calculations or analysis, learn to recognize signs of important foundation or other structural problems developing well before forensic engineers and foundation experts are asked to design a repair and almost always well before the actual occurrence of a catastrophic building failure.

This breadth of field inspection experience and education, combined with an informed and careful building inspection, provide a valuable first line of defense for building owners and occupants who may be facing previously unrecognized costly or dangerous foundation damage.

Development of Foundation Damage Assessment Criteria: When is a Foundation Expert Needed?

Our series of articles on the topic begins at FOUNDATION CRACKS & DAMAGE GUIDE - for which I'd welcome any questions, critique, suggestions, or content contributions. There you might find some material of use in your classes.

In the 1980's ASHI was desperate for an education chairman  - so desperate that I [DJF] was given the job even though I was a neophyte; I used that position to organize conferences around the U.S. on topics that I wanted to know more about - of which this foundation damage assessment & repair  topic was at the top of the list. Both for professionals like PE's and RA,s as well as general and less rigorous bread-truck-drivers who became home inspectors, learning to recognize trouble at the foundation and figuring out criteria for deciding when the owner/buyer needed to call in an expert, and figuring out who, really, WAS an expert, was difficult and had not been stated clearly by anyone.

At a conference I organized for ASHI I asked Ed Seaquist, PE and Dave Wickersheimer, PE, RA, to teach some seminars on recognizing foundation damage and diagnosing it. Seaquist had written a useful but incomplete book on the topic; Wickersheimer was a true in-depth expert analyst. At the conference Ed told us that he thought that it was the contractor/building-inspector population who were first in line to decide if a foundation needed action or expert assessment or not. His reasoning was that we see thousands more conditions than he did. He and Dave were only called when there was already a catastrophe.

Wickersheimer told a heart-stopping story about looking at a tall structural brick school building's bulged wall, calling off a basketball game on the court below, and learning that right at the time of the scheduled game the building collapsed into the court.

Anyhow we spent a lot of time trying to figure out "how bad is 'bad'" - e.g. how much lean, bend, bow, or how big a crack forms a call to action. We learned that to some PEs & RAs, since the foundation is "not supposed to crack" then ANY crack was something they called a "failure" - but that was not helpful, the experts agreed.

The answer ultimately has to be made on-site and in the context of a number of observations: type of construction, foundation materials, presence/absence of reinforcement, location of cracks, size, shape, type, pattern, lateral dislocation, history of movement, diagnosis of the cause of the movement or cracking, leaning, etc., and its extent. But a few rules of thumb emerged, such as the 1-inch lean or bulge rule for concrete block residential foundation walls.

A topic that's missing from my exposition, and a bit beyond building inspection and diagnosis, is the recurrent and terrible problem of buildings that collapse when some idiot undermines or damages the foundation while working next-door - it happens about once a year in the U.S. alone. The news just had a similar story of a NY building that collapsed onto its neighbor during demolition, killing several people.

Starting with Seaquist, expanding with Wickersheimer, and having had the material reviewed by about 20 experts the topic was improved but remains forever incomplete. All of these criteria are reflected in the article series I cite. I continue to welcome any questions, suggestions, etc. Together we are smarter than any individual.

Really? Beginning in the 1980's or even before, a couple of PE's in NY , fellows who were apparently more interested in inspections than in performing actual engineering work, decided they wanted all of the home inspection business in the state. They took a public position that only a licensed PE could make any statement whatsoever about the condition of a foundation.

This was absurd as thousands of contractors, owners, and general hoi-polloi look at building foundations all the time and have to decide if there is a problem that needs an expert .. or not. It was also absurd given that a vocal member of this movement held a license in aerospace engineering - having nothing to do with structures and foundations.

By this reasoning, rather than make an actual inspection of property condition, a building inspector would have to simply refer a building owner or buyer to a roofer, electrician, plumber, framer, heating contractor, A/C contractor or other specialist for every system in the building. Happily saner (and more principled) voices prevailed, and the position of the obstructionists was held to be improper and untenable by the state department of engineering and its licensing board. [1]

Building Codes & Standards on Foundation Damage Assessment?

Reader Question: is there a building code that describes "foundation damage assessment"?

I was reading your article on foundation damage. Is there a building code in PA or the USA that sets forth these criteria? I see you base it on surveys of inspectors, but is there a criteria in a code somewhere that mandates whether repair is required or what monitoring is required? - D.M. 8/5/2014

Reply:

D.M.,

One might infer a fundamental error in the form of your question: the presumption that indications of or measurements of building foundation failures have been or can be codified into building performance codes, structural codes, or standards.

I have had an abiding interest in the assessment of residential building foundations for decades, have met with engineering experts, forensic architects and educators as well as several thousand home inspectors to discuss this topic at conferences and individually.

The original question was how might a building inspector recognize signs of foundation trouble and how should that be reported, including its seriousness.

I organized a national conference on the topic. One of the speakers was an expert and author, Ed Seaquist (Diagnosing House Foundation Problems). The predictable arguments included

  1. How much building foundation damage or movement constitutes a serious risk?

    Technically some foundation engineers call any crack a failure since the foundation was not supposed to crack. But some cracks are of no import while others may indicate an imminent life-threatening disaster. The more salient question is how to sort these out.
  2. How should evidence of building structural damage, including foundation damage, be reported?
  3. The boundaries between visual inspection of building components and systems and the practice of structural engineering or forensic engineering

    Other construction inspectors and all of the trades have to encounter and report on site conditions but must take care that they don't practice engineering without a license. Similarly, even within the field of engineering, engineers should practice within their specialty. For example electrical engineers should not claim structural expertise any more than civil engineers claim expertise in circuit design.

Ultimately, suggested by Seaquist, and Wickersheimer, we concluded that in-field inspectors see thousands more buildings in more conditions than engineers and architects who are called to the scene when the signs of trouble are severe, and that that larger body of inspections was the most valuable resource in writing guidelines for foundation inspections.

Building codes, excepting the Residential Maintenance Code that has not been widely used, address the "front end" of a building's existence: its safe and proper construction. Reflected in those codes are anticipated usage, loads, and environmental exposures of the building, ultimately expressed as construction standards and codes.

Research on building failures informs those code and standard writers.

But building code and standard writers have pretty much avoided the very difficult companion topic of attempts to codify damage by type, severity, causation, and repair requirements.

Why?

Because steps to codify damage by type, severity, causation, and repair requirements for a building demand very careful, experienced, expert and thoughtful on-site investigation of many factors that vary considerably from case to case.

So we instead find these discussions in forensic engineering courses, forensic architecture courses, and at a less quantitative level in home inspection classes in damage recognition and reporting.

These factors are cataloged and listed in the foundation damage article series found here.

I have not found building codes or standards attempting to codify or quantify such damage beyond some very simple comments in the Residential Maintenance Code on repair requirements for cracked concrete floor slabs - those are included in our information at InspectApedia.com

Instead we have drawn on the experience and opinion of architects, engineers, and home inspectors and their field experience to describe both foundation damage analysis procedures for field use by non-engineers/architects - the first people on the scene in 90% of cases - and by the more expert people as well.

The building inspection generalist is expected to be competent to recognize possible or probable serious conditions across a wide range of building construction and mechanical system topics and is expected to report the need for further action accordingly.

If you have contributions or suggestions for this topic we'd welcome hearing from you.

Reader Question: are these horizontal foundation cracks "cosmetic" or "damage" ?

Cold pour joint in a concrete foundation wall (C) InspectApedia Jing

2016/05/11 Jing said:

I am buying a house (built in 1965) that has several horizontal cracks (2-3, about 6 feet long) in the concrete foundation in the crawl space. I asked a foundation consultant to do an inspection on the house. He checked the leveling of each room with his tool and also went into the crawl space to look at these cracks. After that I was told that the house is in good shape and the cracks are hairline like and thus no concern. When I asked whether I need to fix the cracks, he told me no.

But I am still concerned about these cracks since I saw many people say horizontal cracks can be problematic because moisture can go in and then the steel can have corrosion and expansion and finally the concrete foundation can collapse. I have no knowledge on house structure and thus would like to get a second opinion on this. The inspection contingency is expiring soon and I do not have time to ask another guy to do another round of inspection.

[Here] are several images. It seems to me these cracks are not hairline like.

Reply: Cold pour joints are not damage, but if cold pour joints + poor concrete mix yield an un-stable wall there could be leaks, movement, or other problems with the foundation

Cold pour joint in a concrete foundation wall (C) InspectApedia Jing

Jing, your images of "concrete cracks" look to me like cold-pour joints rather than cracks caused by bending, sagging, settling or other forces on concrete.

The concrete work looks a bit sloppy and possibly the concrete mix was poorly made. One image included a discontinuous horizontal crack that looks like a shrinkage crack (photo above) but is probably one that occurred as the cold pour joint cured.
If the cold pour joints in a concrete foundation wall are unusually open you may find water leaking through the wall (fix that problem outside first) and if earth or other forces from outside the foundation wall are significant, a concrete foundation wall might bend or buckle along the cold pour joint - though that's something I've never seen myself in 40 years of foundation inspections.

It would make sense to make a more careful measurement of leaning or bending in this foundation wall. See BULGE or LEAN MEASUREMENTS (found by searching InspectApedia for FOUNDATION LEAN MEASUREMENT).

Just below on this page you'll see a list of articles on foundation damage assessment. Also in the ARTICLE INDEX to BUILDING STRUCTURESS (live link below) you'll find a complete index to types of foundations and foundation damage, including this article that is a "must read" considering the photos you submitted: CONCRETE COLD POUR JOINTS.

Reader follow-up: cold pour joints are not horizontal foundation cracks

Dan, thank you very much for your reply, you are so fast!

So if I understand you correctly, these (relatively bigger) cracks are cold pour joints but not real horizontal cracks. And it seems to me like if no leaking issue is present here, probably there is nothing to fix, which is consistent w/ what our inspector says. One suggestion I got from him is to keep the crawl space dry. I think this should be true for all houses.

I have posted a few more pictures in the following link. Would you please have a look at them? In case you see anything unusual please do let me know.

I really like this website, a lot of useful info and also very quick reply! Thank you so much!

Moderator reply:

Take a look at our discussion in the article above where you see your photos, Jing and you'll see a link to COLD POUR JOINTS - be sure to take a look there if you haven't done so. Your photos are (mostly) sharp up-close images; stand back and look at the concrete pattern and you may recognize cold pour joints.

However your picture #6 looks a bit like an open crack in an old concrete wall. I can't tell from this perspective if I'm looking at just an open cold pour joint or, as I suspect, someone's prior patch attempt on the wall.

Have your home inspector or other building experts look further as I advised for leaning, bowing, bulging, water entry. If none of those are observed, and if they confirm that these are cold pour joints, then the foundation isn't moving and there has been no foundation issue demonstrated by these clues.

Reader follow-up: so are these cracks indicating structral problems or not?

Jing said:
Thanks again for your quick response. That's very helpful. We need to decide tomorrow, so we don't have time to have a profession come to the site. You mentioned that leaning, bowing or bulging will be a big concern along with the cracks. My foundation consultant gave us a chart showing the leveling of the house, please see the picture I provided. Is it able to tell from this chart that, the house doesn't have settlement movement, and these cracks are not structural problems? Thank you very much!

Moderator reply:

Jing,

I've said as much as I can speculate based on just your photos. That is enormously less information than one would see at an on-site inspection.

Watch out: The most-upset home buyers I ever find are those who are forced by circumstance to run towards a property screaming I WANT IT and throwing their wallet and checkbook ahead of themselves.

That's because in the rush to close people do hasty work, make mistakes, or fail to understand the building they are buying. Sometimes they're upset later by what are described as "big surprises".

While nobody should make up hazards to the detriment of a property seller, the buyer should exercise all due diligence - that's standard advice in real estate transactions.

You should not and cannot rely on brief e-text to a stranger or a website to make multi-thousand purchase decision on a home. You need an on-site expert whom you can trust completely, who has true expertise and experience where needed, and who has no conflicts of interest regarding the transaction, seller, realtor, or buyer.

I have said as much as I can see from your photos; I certainly cannot tell from your posted photos what is the overall condition of the home, its foundation, nor the rest of its structure.

I do not agree that simply determining that the floors in a home are level means there has been no foundation movement. There could be prior repairs that are or are not adequate, additoinal leveling and shimming that have been done that are ok or not ok, ongoing or not -ongoing foundation movement. I can't see that nor answer those questions from your photos. But those questions can be answered by an on-site expert. Enormously more information is available to a competent home inspector or other on-site building professional.

Building Foundation Damage Texts, Research, Codes

Please see the principal texts and citations for this article series found at REFERENCES. Additional research of interest is listed next.

Foundation Damage Article Series List

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Continue reading at FOUNDATION DAMAGE REPORTS or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.

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FOUNDATION CRACKS & DAMAGE GUIDE at InspectApedia.com - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.

INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES: ARTICLE INDEX to BUILDING STRUCTURES

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