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.Foundation Damage Reports - How to Describe Foundation Damage

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Foundation damage reporting:

This document describes how visually observed foundation damage should be reported and what general advice makes sense for building owners or buyers where foundation damage is found and/or where further foundation inspection, testing, diagnosis, or repair appear warranted based on a general field inspection. We include discussion of methods used to perform ongoing monitoring of building foundations for cracking and movement.

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Foundation DAMAGE REPORTS - How to Report Foundation Damage

Foundation bulge sketch (C) Daniel FriedmanIn the most concise summary, any report of the condition of a building foundation following a visual inspection of its condition should include a description of the type of foundation and foundation materials, the explicit observations of defects or other conditions that led the inspector to his or her opinions about the condition of the foundation, an opinion about the urgency of need for further action, and if it can be determined, an opinion on whether or not significant costs are likely to be involved.

If the inspector elects to use simple methods and materials commonly used by masons or general contractors, such as use of a tape measure and plumb line to observe conditions, that information should also be provided. [For an example of simple foundation measurements see FOUNDATION BULGE or LEAN MEASUREMENTS.

Explicit description of observations of the condition of a building foundation or floor slab should be provided with sufficient detail such that a qualified expert on reading the report, and on assuming that the report author did not miss other site clues, could agree that the inspector's conclusions were reasonable and prudent.

Evidence of Foundation Damage or Movement Should Be Reported

Report Other Site or Structural Clues Observed Which are Likely to Relate to the Condition of the Foundation or Slab

NOTE: this documentation can aid future evaluations should the owner or others decide to monitor the structure for further evidence of movement.

Making Foundation Crack or Movement Monitoring/Action Recommendations

Possible outcomes and advice following a foundation inspection include:

Items marked * are or may be beyond scope of ASHI Standards of Practice but may be performed by inspectors, engineers, architects, masons, or foundation repair company representatives who have appropriate education and/or experience.

Methods for Monitoring Foundations for Evidence of Ongoing or Episodic Movement

Please see  CRACK MONITORING Methods for the complete article on this topic.

Foundation bulge sketch (C) Daniel FriedmanBuilding foundations may be moving, either continuously or episodically. Most movement is episodic, that is, the movement is not a simple and continuous creep but rather foundation movement or cracking occurs in fits and starts. Our sketch (left) shows a bulged masonry block foundation wall that has bowed in two inches at its innermost point.)

Usually foundation movement and further cracking occurs in response to occurrences of what has caused the cracking in the first place.

See FOUNDATION DAMAGE SEVERITY and then FOUNDATION MOVEMENT ACTIVE vs. STATIC for distinguishing severe and also ongoing foundation movements.


Proper Foundation Inspection Report Language - "Structural Soundness"

Engineering analysis (structural requirements, load calculations, design and specification of components and/or repairs) is not part of a normal home inspection, even if the inspection has been performed by a licensed professional engineer or architect.

All professional home inspectors are expected to recognize when expert advice or further evaluation are needed. Foundation Experts: have special training, methods, costs. Refer problems to qualified foundation engineer/repair people who specialize in this area. It is proper for an inspector to report whether or not s/he observed indications of damage to the structure. Such basic observations are the normal purview of anyone working in and experienced in new construction, construction repair, and home inspection as well as foundation repair.

An inspector who is not qualified should make no pronouncements of "structural soundness" of building components. Even a home inspector who is qualified to perform structural analysis, (such as a licensed professional structural or civil engineer) should distinguish between stating that there was no evidence of structural damage and a blanket statement that the construction is "structurally sound."

Where conventional construction practices and materials have been used there is implicit engineering work which determined the original specifications for sizes, spans, connections, fasteners, etc. A technical pronouncement of structural soundness is normally not appropriate nor required and would require measurement and engineering analysis of all structural components including ones which are not visible for examination; for example, how would one determine visually whether or not an un-damaged foundation wall has proper steel reinforcement?

There is a reasonable presumption of "structural soundness" of original design at properties which are constructed using accepted, conventional materials and methods. This does not mean that changes in conditions may not require repairs.

What about buildings constructed to standards less demanding than modern contemporary practices and codes? In the absence of evidence of damage to a structure which was designed to standards which were accepted at the time of construction, it is possible that a prudent consumer or inspector would have the opinion that:

Finally, a report about foundation damage should make clear to the client what action, if any, is necessary. The explanation, in lay terms, must indicate what does the damage means to the client. That is, that damage was found, that unsafe conditions or risk of collapse are present (IF that is the opinion of the inspector), and that repair is necessary (or not), that it will be a significant expense (or not). This report is not an explanation of cause/effect/engineering - unless the inspector is qualified & chooses to provide this extra service

Exclusions from "foundation damage" reports:

Basement or Crawl Space Water entry as a Foundation Defect

Some owners consider water entry defects to be foundation defects. This is incorrect. Building foundations are intended to hold back earth and to support the structure. Control of moisture and water entry is not normally the function of these components. (See foundation waterproofing, site work and site drainage topics.) This topic is, however, appropriate to include within the scope of a professional home inspection.

Finding Experts & Examples of Foundation Expert Procedures

Note: consumers should beware of "general practitioner" contractors, architects and engineers who sign-up to diagnose and repair foundation failures. Use an expert who has experience and training in this specific field to assure that various options available for repair are known-to and evaluated by the consultant. A general practitioner may be able to design a repair that will work but if s/he is not familiar with the best practices of the industry and if s/he is unfamiliar with special products which are available, the repair may be far more costly and possibly less effective than desired.

Structural Damage Insurance Recommended for Home Owners/Buyers


Opinions herein are the responsibility of the author. Most of this material has been subject to ongoing peer review but is without any professional engineering analysis. Home inspections may include the discovery of defects involving life, safety, and significant costs. Home inspectors who are not both qualified and certain of the authoritative basis of their conclusions should obtain their own expert advice from qualified experts.

This work is also based on the author's construction & inspection experience, training, research, and survey of material from ASHI, and from N. Becker, R. Burgess, J. Bower, D. Breyer, A. Carson, J. Cox, A. Daniel, M. Lennon, R. Peterson, J. Prendergast, W. Ransom, D. Rathburn, E. Rawlins, E. Seaquist, and D. Wickersheimer. Some useful citations are at the end of this paper.


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