Photograph of a water dmaged stone wall How to Recognize & Diagnose Stone Foundation Cracks, Bulges, Movement

  • STONE FOUNDATION DEFECTS - CONTENTS: Stone Foundation Defects listed, described & explained along with inspection and diagnosis suggestions for stone walls or buildings.Foundation defects of occurrence: things that happen that cause damage to building foundation walls or slabs. Photographs of stone foundation damage patterns and types
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about stone foundation bulges, movement, damage, collapse risk, repair procedures

Stone foundation inspection, diagnosis, repair: this article explains Stone Foundations & Walls: How to Recognize & Diagnose Stone Foundation Cracks, Bulges, Movement, or other Stone Wall Damage such as damage due to impact, settlement, frost or water damage, and other causes.

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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Examples of structural & other failures in Stone Foundation Walls & Stone Foundations

Photograph of a bulged leaning stone wall

The photograph shows a bulged and leaning stone foundation on an 1885 building in Rhinebeck NY.

We suspect that a combination of steep bank, nearby highway, lack of adequate footings, and failure to control roof spillage along the foundation wall are the forces behind this troublesome damage.

Of these, the roof spillage by the foundation was probably the prime source of damage.

Stone foundation walls on pre-1900 buildings are often quite thick, up to four feet at their base. In their original design these walls tolerated water in the outside soils by permitting it to seep through the wall and often to drain away through a dirt floor or even a through-wall drain in a low corner.

Photograph of a water dmaged stone wallSuch dry-laid structural stone foundation walls rarely fail by leaning but are often found bulged or damaged by water, frost, vehicle traffic, or by modification by the building owner.

Stone walls, like other masonry walls, are often damaged by water and frost, especially where roof spillage splashes close to the foundation wall. In this photograph we see a combination of stone and brick foundation wall. Brick was often laid in finish courses atop a stone foundation wall.

In other buildings the entire wall may be stone except that bricks may have been used at windows and doors (to give a nicer square opening).

In this photo the mortar, probably a soft lime and sand mix, has washed out of stones at this inside corner of the building foundation where the corner is below a roof valley - a source of frequent spillage during rain and melting snow.

Photograph of a water dmaged stone wall

This photograph shows the futility of trying to keep out water by applying mortar to the inside of an old stone wall.

Near the entering water pipe we see ice forming in this wet basement, perhaps because lots of surface and subsurface runoff are being caught and directed towards the foundation wall by the trench dug to install the new water line. But so much of this wall is wet over so much of its height that we can be sure that roof spillage and surface water are entering the building.

Beware of old dry-laid stone foundation walls which were later made "water proof" by mortar or by casting an inside thin veneer of concrete against the stone.

People often point the gaps between the stones in such a wall as an attempt to reduce water entry or to try to keep out vermin. If this change is made without also taking steps outside to keep water away from the building, frost and water damage to the wall may occur.

Some common stone foundation wall or stone structural wall defects to be observed and reported include:

Schematic of a stone foundation wall (C) Carson Dunlop AssociatesThis sketch of the components of a preserved stone foundation with a solid masonry exterior wall is courtesy of Carson Dunlop Associates.

  • Dislocations and loose stones, commonly at building walls and corners above grade where exposed to splashing roof runoff.
  • Bulged stone walls : due to frost, water, vehicle loading if vehicles are driven close to walls
  • Cracked stone walls (if mortared)\
  • Stone wall settlement
  • Stone foundation wall nterruptions and loss of integrity such as where stones have been removed from a structural wall to add a door or to provide access for mechanicals. Unless appropriate measaures are taken, such as adding a lintel or other support, removing stones from a structural stone wall may destroy the integrity of these walls.

    In original construction stones were placed in an interlocking and overlapped pattern from course to course. Removing a section of wall may result in future wall movement unless other steps are taken to stabilize the modified section.

The Carson Dunlop sketch below shows typical construction of a stone foundation atop which is placed a wood frame structure. We continue with our list of inspection points for stone foundations.

Schematic of a stone foundation with wood frame exterior wall (C) Carson Dunlop Associates

  • Water leakage is very common with all stone walls, especially dry-laid stones which were placed without use of mortar. In original use such walls were often expected to be leaky and provision was made for water passing through the wall to continue across a sloped (dirt) floor and out of the basement or crawl space.
  • Building modernization effects on homes built on stone foundations:

    As such older buildings have been converted to modern use often owners add insulation, storm windows, siding, caulking, central heating, and a basement or crawl space floor slab.

    These improvements make for significant changes in how the building works and how water and moisture can (or cannot) escape, and can lead to severe water entry problems and related problems of insect damage, rot, and indoor mold in the building.


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