Unless there is obvious structural damage, most homeowners don’t worry about the foundations of their homes. While it would certainly be nice if buildings with foundation issues were always as easy to spot as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, signs of foundation problems tend to be significantly more subtle. Because a building’s foundation is literally what keeps it standing, foundation repair is best left to contractors who specialize in foundation work. However, being aware of the warning signs and knowing when to call a professional will help you protect the structural integrity of your home.

1. Cracks

While cracks in the foundation itself cause most homeowners to investigate further, cracking anywhere in your home is unusual and a cause for concern. If you notice cracks in the ceiling, walls, or floor—no matter how small—you may have a foundation problem. If you have tile flooring, look for broken tiles, and pay attention to cracked or broken bricks, especially in or around a fireplace. Even something as seemingly insignificant as ripped or wrinkled wallpaper should not be ignored.

2. Separation

Although all houses undergo some settling after they’re built, your home is supposed to remain thoroughly intact. If it looks like your floor, ceiling, cabinets, or fireplace is pulling away from the wall or surrounding trim, or if the fireplace or cabinetry is separating from the ceiling, it would be a good idea to call in a foundation specialist. The same is true if the floor appears to be falling apart or if any Sheetrock, paneling, or brick wall mortar starts to come apart at the joints. Also look out for leaning brick walls, tilted chimneys, and a porch or patio that is separating from either the stairs or the house itself.

3. Gaps Underneath Doors or Doors and Windows That Are Difficult to Open or Close

Windows and doors tend to “stick” or become harder to open and close as a house gets older, but such sticking can also be a sign of foundation problems. Also be aware of:

  • Gaps beneath doors

  • Gaps in the window caulk or trim

  • Window frames that are pulling apart from the surrounding trim or brick

  • Caulking that is stretchy or uneven

  • Crooked door frames

4. Uneven Floors

Obvious problems with a floor such as noticeable bulging or sinking tend to get a homeowner’s attention fairly quickly, but keep an eye out for less conspicuous floor issues like unnatural or previously nonexistent sloping, particularly in a garage. Floors that can be described as “bouncy” are another tip-off that something may be wrong with their support system.

Foundations fail for a variety of reasons, most of which are out of a homeowner’s control. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is leaning because of an insufficient foundation that was built on unstable soil, but water damage or erosion, drought, earthquakes, and even excessive wind can wreak havoc on a structure’s foundation as well. Because foundation damage—and the cost of foundation repairs—can get out of control very quickly, it is extremely important to contact a professional at the first sign of trouble. A foundation specialist will be able to evaluate the damage and determine whether your foundation is in danger of collapsing as well as help you decide on the best course of action to secure your home or business.

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Sources: Dawson Foundation Repair; Foundation Repair Asssociation; Granite Foundation Repair, Inc.; HGTV; The Museum of Unnatural Mystery; Texas A&M AgriLife Research Extension; This Old House.

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