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Foundation damage inspection & reporting standards:
This document describes the national standards used to determine how an inspector,
using commonly-accepted home inspection and/or building trade methods and equipment,
shall be expected to recognize and diagnose various types of foundation failure or damage.
The photo above 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. 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.
FOUNDATION INSPECTION STANDARDS - Foundation Inspection Standards - ASHI Standards of Practice (American Society of Home Inspectors)
The following example of foundation inspection standards is quoted or paraphrased from the ASHI standards. Other home inspection
associations such as NAHI, CREIA, CAHI (in Canada), FABI, TAREI, CHI, and their brothers have (or should have) a similar standard
for inspecting and reporting on the condition of a building foundation.
Those U.S. states or and Canada where home inspectors are licensed
also have published their own version (or have based theirs on preexisting versions of) these standards as well. Since the ASHI standards
are the oldest and have undergone considerable study and periodic updating, we refer to them here. For the latest version of
ASHI's home inspection standards and code of ethics, visit the ASHI website at www.ashi.org.
4.1.A.1. The inspector shall ... observe foundation
4.2.A.1. ... describe the type of foundation
4.2.E. ... report signs of water penetration/harmful condensation
Notice that in some Standards there was no mention of observations of damage or unsafe conditions!
This inconsistency in ASHI Standards reflects debate, fear, risk
Due Diligence: Clients expect inspection to identify concerns & defects
Engineering and Code Standards: pertain mostly to new construction; engineering analysis of
foundation defects and design of repairs is beyond the scope of a professional home inspection and
inspector; a home inspector who happens to be qualified to perform such services is not prohibited
from doing so on making appropriate arrangements with a client.
But notwithstanding Section 4.1 above, the following section requires the inspector to observe and report evidence of significant damage, including to visible portions of the foundation. Significant in this case means in need of immediate major repair; it might also mean in need of further evaluation by a qualified expert.
2.2 inspectors shall ... 2.2.b.3. ... state ... any ... components
... in need of immediate major repair
2.3 These Standards are not intended to limit inspectors from
2.3.A. reporting observations and conditions in addition ...
FOUNDATION DAMAGE SEVERITY TERMS - How to Characterize the Severity of Foundation Damage
Based on multiple national ASHI seminar polls conducted by the author - American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI)
Minor, single, isolated, cosmetic, marketing concerns
Cracks, hairline to 1/16" horizontal
Cracks, hairline to 1/8" vertical and step; [1/4" ? per Alk - note that this is an unsubstantiated opinion]]
Cracks in slabs, hairline to 1/8", not extending into foundation
Modest foundation damage, monitoring appropriate
Horizontal bulge < 1.5", no signs of other significant damage
Leaning wall < 1/3 of wall thickness, from wall base (In author's opinion 1/3 is way too much movement to tolerate; a conventional thickness masonry block wall that leans in one inch over an 8' ht. (or maybe 1.5" per some surveys) might be monitored depending on other site conditions, history, etc. Walls buckled in or leaning more than 1" (or 1.5" in some jurisdictions) should be professionally evaluated further and may require near-term or even immediate repair; Walls buckled in or leaning an inch or less should be monitored.
If the cracks are old, with no sign of continuing/recurrent movement - the inspector is more likely to accept monitoring rather than requiring repair.
Cracks described by "wavy mortar" which were caused by damage during backfill while mortar was still "green" or soft (un-cured) and which are not accompanied by other signs of ongoing or additional movement, can be attributed to a single-event and may not require repair (depending on total amount of wall dislocation).
Significant, expert foundation assessment needed. Foundation repair may be needed
>1.5" horizontal bulge/lean or lateral dislocation >1/4".
Signs of active, recent, recurrent movement (may be seasonal or ongoing)
Sudden appearance of cracks, particularly in areas known to have sink-holes (e.g. some areas of the U.S. such as in Florida.) requires immediate assessment.
Signs of repeated repairs to foundation or interior
Cracks 1/4" [ 3/8" per Alk] & larger
Investigate any finding of which the inspector is uncertain or inexperienced.
WARNING: Don't make conclusions just based on crack size and location. The inspector must consider other site factors conditions,
history, materials, external forces, etc. Sudden catastrophes CAN occur, especially where site drainage or other conditions risk
undermining or sudden forces on the foundation.
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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"Concrete Slab Finishes and the Use of the F-number System", Matthew Stuart, P.E., S.E., F.ASCE, online course at www.pdhonline.org/courses/s130/s130.htm
Diagnosing & Repairing House Structure Problems, Edgar O. Seaquist, McGraw Hill, 1980 ISBN 0-07-056013-7 (obsolete, incomplete, missing most diagnosis steps, but very good reading; out of print but used copies are available at Amazon.com, and reprints are available from some inspection tool suppliers). Ed Seaquist was among the first speakers invited to a series of educational conferences organized by D Friedman for ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors, where the topic of inspecting the in-service condition of building structures was first addressed.
Defects and Deterioration in Buildings: A Practical Guide to the Science and Technology of Material Failure, Barry Richardson, Spon Press; 2d Ed (2001), ISBN-10: 041925210X, ISBN-13: 978-0419252108. Quoting: A professional reference designed to assist surveyors, engineers, architects and contractors in diagnosing existing problems and avoiding them in new buildings. Fully revised and updated, this edition, in new clearer format, covers developments in building defects, and problems such as sick building syndrome. Well liked for its mixture of theory and practice the new edition will complement Hinks and Cook's student textbook on defects at the practitioner level.
Masonry structures: The Masonry House, Home Inspection of a Masonry Building & Systems, Stephen Showalter (director, actor), DVD, Quoting: Movie Guide Experienced home inspectors and new home inspectors alike are sure to learn invaluable tips in this release designed to take viewers step-by-step through the home inspection process. In addition to being the former president of the National Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI), a longstanding member of the NAHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), and the Environmental Standard Organization (IESO), host Stephen Showalter has performed over 8000 building inspections - including environmental assessments. Now, the founder of a national home inspection school and inspection training curriculum shares his extensive experience in the inspection industry with everyday viewers looking to learn more about the process of evaluating homes. Topics covered in this release include: evaluation of masonry walls; detection of spalling from rebar failure; inspection of air conditioning systems; grounds and landscaping; electric systems and panel; plumbing supply and distribution; plumbing fixtures; electric furnaces; appliances; evaluation of electric water heaters; and safety techniques. Jason Buchanan --Jason Buchanan, All Movie Review
Straw Bale Home Design, U.S. Department of Energy provides information on strawbale home construction - original source at http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/designing_remodeling/index.cfm/mytopic=10350
More Straw Bale Building: A Complete Guide to Designing and Building with Straw (Mother Earth News Wiser Living Series), Chris Magwood, Peter Mack, New Society Publishers (February 1, 2005), ISBN-10: 0865715181 ISBN-13: 978-0865715189 - Quoting: Straw bale houses are easy to build, affordable, super energy efficient, environmentally friendly, attractive, and can be designed to match the builder’s personal space needs, esthetics and budget. Despite mushrooming interest in the technique, however, most straw bale books focus on “selling” the dream of straw bale building, but don’t adequately address the most critical issues faced by bale house builders. Moreover, since many developments in this field are recent, few books are completely up to date with the latest techniques. More Straw Bale Building is designed to fill this gap. A completely rewritten edition of the 20,000-copy best--selling original, it leads the potential builder through the entire process of building a bale structure, tackling all the practical issues: finding and choosing bales; developing sound building plans; roofing; electrical, plumbing, and heating systems; building code compliance; and special concerns for builders in northern climates.
Arlene Puentes, ASHI, October Home Inspections - (845) 216-7833 - Kingston NY
Greg Robi, Magnum Piering - 800-822-7437 - National*
Dave Rathbun, P.E. - Geotech Engineering - 904-622-2424 FL*
Ed Seaquist, P.E., SIE Assoc. - 301-269-1450 - National
Dave Wickersheimer, P.E. R.A. - IL, professor, school of structures division, UIUC - University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign School of Architecture. Professor Wickersheimer specializes in structural failure investigation and repair for wood and masonry construction. * Mr. Wickersheimer's engineering consulting service can be contacted at HDC Wickersheimer Engineering Services. (3/2010)
*These reviewers have not returned comment 6/95
Technical Edits, Changes, Amendments to This Document
08/03/2007 adding text, illustrations, content, organization changes, citations to authority
06/07/2007 adding text, illustrations, content
5/30/2007 editing to add content on foundation crack repair
9/23/2006 editing to clarify text and add content; Technical review (partial) by Arlene Puentes.
4/17/2006 editing to clarify text in several sections.
Sinkholes and Sudden Land Subsidence References, Products, Consultants
"A Hole in the Ground Erupts, to Estonia's Delight", New York Times, 9 December 2008 p. 10.
History of water usage in Estonia: (5.7 MB PDF) jaagupi.parnu.ee/freshwater/doc/the_history_of_water_usage_systems_in_estonia.pdf
"Quebec Family Dies as Home Vanishes Into Crater, in Reminder of Hidden Menace", Ian Austen, New York Times, 13 May 2010 p. A8. See http://www.nytimes.com/
"Quick Clay", Wikipedia search 5/13/2010 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quick_clay
Florida DEP - Department of Environmental Protection, & Florida Geological survey (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/geology/default.htm) on Florida sinkholes: Effects of Sinkholes on Water Conditions Hernando County, Florida, Brett Buff, GIS in Water Resources, 2008, Dr. David R. Maidment, Photos - Tom Scott, Florida Geographic Survey - Web Search 06/09/2010 - http://www.dep.state.fl.us/geology/geologictopics/jacksonsink.htm
and - http://www.dep.state.fl.us/geology/geologictopics/sinkhole.htm
Lane, Ed, 1986, Karst in Florida: Florida Geological Survey Special Publication 29, 100 p.
Foundation Engineering Problems and Hazards in Karst Terranes, James P. Reger, Maryland Geological Survey, web search 06/05/2010, original source: http://www.mgs.md.gov/esic/fs/fs11.html Maryland Geological Survey, 2300 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD 21218
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
Design of Wood Structures - ASD, Donald E. Breyer, Kenneth Fridley, Kelly Cobeen, David Pollock, McGraw Hill, 2003, ISBN-10: 0071379320, ISBN-13: 978-0071379328
This book is an update of a long-established text dating from at least 1988 (DJF); Quoting: This book is gives a good grasp of seismic design for wood structures. Many of the examples especially near the end are good practice for the California PE Special Seismic Exam design questions. It gives a good grasp of how seismic forces move through a building and how to calculate those forces at various locations.THE CLASSIC TEXT ON WOOD DESIGN UPDATED TO INCLUDE THE LATEST CODES AND DATA. Reflects the most recent provisions of the 2003 International Building Code and 2001 National Design Specification for Wood Construction. Continuing the sterling standard set by earlier editions, this indispensable reference clearly explains the best wood design techniques for the safe handling of gravity and lateral loads. Carefully revised and updated to include the new 2003 International Building Code, ASCE 7-02 Minimum Design Loads for Buildings and Other Structures, the 2001 National Design Specification for Wood Construction, and the most recent Allowable Stress Design.
"Frost Heaving Forces in Leda Clay", Penner, E., Division of Building Research, National Research Council of Canada, Canadian Geotechnical Journal, NRC Research Press, 1970-2, Vol 7, No 1, PP 8-16, National Research Council of Canada, Accession number 1970-023601, Quoting from original source
The frost heaving forces developed under a 1 ft. (30.5 cm) diameter steel plate were measured in the field throughout one winter. The steel plate was fixed at the ground surface with a rock-anchored reaction frame. heave gauges and thermocouples were installed at various depths to determine the position and temperature of the active heaving zone. The general trend was for the surface force to increase as the winter progressed. when the frost line approached the maximum depth the force was in excess of 30,000 lb (13,608 KG). Estimates of the heaving pressure at the frost line ranged from 7 to 12 psi (0.49 to 0.84 KG/cm) square during this period. The variation of surface heaving force was closely associated with weather conditions. Warming trends resulting in a temperature increase of the frozen layer caused the forces to decline.
Leda clay slopes in the Ottawa valley are vulnerable to catastrophic landslides. More than 250 landslides, historical and ancient, large and small, have been identified within 60 km of Ottawa. Some of these landslides caused deaths, injuries, and property damage, and their impact extended far beyond the site of the original failure. In spectacular flowslides, the sediment underlying large areas of flat land adjacent to unstable slopes liquefies. The debris may flow up to several kilometres, damming rivers and causing flooding, siltation, and water-quality problems or damaging infrastructure. Geologists and geotechnical engineers can identify potential landslide areas, and appropriate land-use zoning and protective engineering works can reduce the risk to property and people.
Deposits of Leda clay, a potentially unstable material, underlie extensive areas of the Ottawa-Gatineau region. Leda clay is composed of clay- and silt-sized particles of bedrock that were finely ground by glaciers and washed into the Champlain Sea. As the particles settled through the salty water, they were attracted to one another and formed loose clusters that fell to the seafloor. The resulting sediment had a loose but strong framework that was capable of retaining a large amount of water. Following the retreat of the sea, the salts that originally contributed to the bonding of the particles were slowly removed (leached) by fresh water filtering through the ground. If sufficiently disturbed, the leached Leda clay, a weak but water-rich sediment, may liquefy and become a 'quick clay'. Trigger disturbances include river erosion, increases in pore-water pressure (especially during periods of high rainfall or rapid snowmelt), earthquakes, and human activities such as excavation
After an initial failure removes the stiffer, weathered crust, the sensitive clay liquefies and collapses, flowing away from the scar. Failures continue in a domino-like fashion, rapidly eating back into the flat land lying behind the failed slope. The flowing mud may raft intact pieces of the stiffer surface material for great distances.
Kochanov, W. E., 1999, Sinkholes in Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania
Geological Survey, 4th ser., Educational Series 11,
33 p., 3rd printing April 2005, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources / Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey, DCNR Educational Series 11, Pennsylvania Geological Survey, Fourth Series, Harrisburg,
1999 - web search 06/05/2010, original source: http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/topogeo/hazards/es11.pdf - Quoting from the document introduction: The first 18 pages of this booklet contain an explanation of how sinkholes
develop. In order to tell the sinkhole story, it is important to discuss
a number of related geologic disciplines. The words used to describe sinkholes
and these disciplines may be a bit unfamiliar. However, general explanations
are given throughout the booklet to help clarify their meanings.
Key words are printed in bold type for emphasis. The more important
ones are defined in a Glossary that begins on page 29.
The remaining sections, starting with “Sinkholes in the Urban Environment”
(page 18), deal with sinkholes and their impact on our environment.
This includes recognition of subsidence features and sinkhole repair.
 Sarah Cervone, [web page] data from the APIRS database, Graphics by Ann Murray, Sara Reinhart and Vic Ramey, Vic Ramey is
the editor. DEP review by Jeff Schardt and Judy Ludlow. The web page is a
collaboration of the Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, University of Florida, and the Bureau of Invasive
Plant Management, Florida Department of Environmental Protection contact: email@example.com [A primary resource for this article
 Center for Cave and Karst Studies or the
Center, both at
Vanity Fair - web search 06/04/2010 http://www.vanityfair.com/online/daily/2010/06/what-caused-the-guatemala-sinkhole-and-why-is-it-so-round.html
Sinkholes, Virginia Division of Mineral Resources,
Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, www.dmme.virginia.gov Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy
Division of Mineral Resources
900 Natural Resources Drive, Suite 500
Charlottesville, VA 22903
Sales Office: (434) 951-6341 FAX : (434) 951-6365
Geologic Information: (434) 951-6342
divisionmineralresources.shtml - Web search 06/09/2010
Sink Hole & Related Engineering References
Newton, J. G., 1987, Development of sinkholes resulting from man's activities in the eastern United States: US Geological Survey Circular 968, 54 p.
Sinclair, W. C., 1982, Sinkhole development resulting from ground-water withdrawal in the Tampa Area, Florida: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations 81-50, 19 p.
White, W. B., 1988, Geomorphology and Hydrology of Karst Terrains: Oxford University Press, New York, 464 p.
Williams, J. H. and Vineyard, J. D., 1976, Geologic indicators of subsidence and collapse in karst terrain in Missouri: Presentation at the 55th Annual Meeting, Transportation Research Board, Washington, D.C.
Barry F. Beck, A. J. (1999). Hydrogeology and Engineering Geology of Sinkholes and Karst. Rotterdam, Netherlands: A. A. Balkema.
Beck, B. F. (2003). Sinkholes and the Engineering and Environmental Impacts of Karst. Huntsville, Alabama: The American Society of Civil Engineers.
Beck, B. F. (2005). Sinkholes and the Engineering and Envrionmental Impacts of Karst. San Antonio, Texas: The American Society of Civil Engineers.
Tony Waltham, F. B. (2005). Sinkholes and Subsidence, Karst and Cavernous Rocks in Engineering and Construction. Chichester, United Kingdom: Praxis Publishing.
Whitman D., G. T. (1999). Spatial Interrelationships Between Lake Elevations, Water Tables, and Sinkhole Occurence in Central Florida: A GIS Approach. Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing , 1169-1178.
Sinkholes in Guatemala, Guatemala City, Wikipedia - web search 06/04/2010 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guatemala_City
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