Building Design

Cracks on Your Exterior: Do They Indicate Foundation Problems?

Cracks on Your Exterior: Do They Indicate Foundation Problems?

Homes and commercial buildings rely on strong foundations to support them and keep them level. When a foundation starts to fail, the whole structure can be in danger. But, how can the building owner tell if the foundation has problems? And, if the foundation has problems, how can they be fixed? After all, a whole building sits on top of the foundation and can not be moved for repairs. Actually, some structures can be lifted so that a badly damaged foundation can be replaced or repaired and then will be lowered back onto the foundation.

Do Cracks in Stucco, Stone, or Brick Wall Always Mean Foundation Problems?

Brick, stone, and masonry building materials are strong but are not pliable. So, there are forces that cause movement in a building that results in cracks. Bricks can wear out or become damaged and require replacement. The joints between bricks can break down and need to be tuckpointed. These defects do not mean foundation problems. But, there are cracks that do indicate foundation problems, and it is important to know the difference.

Contacting construction companies or building engineering companies such as roofec precision exteriors or foundation specialists may be the best way to find out what those cracks mean and arrange to have them repaired professionally. Different cracks have different causes and meanings.

Horizontal cracks

Horizontal or jagged cracks running at 45-degree angles can mean there are serious foundation problems such as a shifting foundation or some form of water damage. Small cracks can be repaired with different types of patching compounds. But, more serious cracks need professional attention and repair of the foundation as well as the crack to avoid additional damage.

Vertical Cracks

Vertical cracks might be caused by settling after construction and are easier to fix. They do not usually mean foundation problems.

Stair Step Cracks

Stair-step cracks might mean that the soil has settled or shifted beneath the center of a wall. the cracks usually follow grout or cement lines. They are most common in unfinished basements with cinder blocks. This type of crack must be repaired by professionals, and foundation soil tests must be performed to determine which type of repairs will be needed.

Cracks That Include Bulging

If a wall has cracks and bulging, it means structural problems such as the foundation shifting or settling unevenly are present. This condition must be repaired from the foundation up by professionals.

When Are Foundation Cracks Serious?

Cracks in exterior walls or foundations can be serious depending on where they are located, the size of the cracks, the number of cracks, and if the cracks are getting larger over time. Serious cracks in exterior walls and foundations can lead to problems with the building’s structure, framing, roofing, doors, and windows. It can lead to water leaks in basements.

Up to 98% of the homes in America have foundations made of concrete, brick, or masonry blocks, all of which will crack if subjected to movement or excessive stress. Areas where the soil has a large clay content will have more issues with soil movement.

Signs that indicate a foundation problem include:

·         Sagging or uneven roofs

·         Cracks in brick, stucco, or another masonry siding

·         Cracks or gaps at door or window corners

·         Doors or windows that do not open and close correctly or stick

·         Cracks in a concrete slab or garage floor

·         Sloped floors

·         Cracks in walls or ceilings

·         Leaning or bowing foundation walls

·         Chimneys that are leaning away from the house

Walking around the house is a good way to look for foundation problems and exterior wall cracks. Once the above signs are spotted, it is time to call in a foundation or engineering specialist for help.

What Causes Foundation Problems?

·         Tree roots can damage building foundations

·         Settlement causes cracks

·         Expansive soils with heavy clay content

·         Drainage issues cause water build up along the foundation that results in cracks

·         Plumbing leaks can cause water buildup around or under the foundation causing damage

·         Rotation of the foundation

·         Poor soil compaction before the footings are dug can cause the foundation to fail

·         Engineering defects and poor design can lead to foundation failure

·         Adding a second story onto a house whose foundation is only built for one story and can not support the added weight

·         Lack of proper reinforcement of the cement in the foundation. Rebar is needed for reinforcement of poured cement

·         Ground frost uplifting or heaving in cold climates

·         Geotechnical problems such as earthquakes, landslides, or sinkholes

It is important to get professional opinions on the cause of the cracks, the seriousness of the cracks, and the proper way to repair them and the foundation of the building. It won’t do any good to patch a crack on exterior walls or interior walls without repairing the cause of the cracking. if the foundation is damaged and left that way, the cracks will just come back and get worse.

If a foundation is failing, the whole building will develop serious structural issues if the problem is not repaired. Foundation repair must be left to foundation experts and contractors who may need the input of building engineers to design a workable solution and repair plan.

The worse thing a building owner can do is ignore cracks in exterior or interior walls or cement floors or foundations. Those cracks will not go away on their own. They will get worse over time and will let water seep into them and create even worse problems for the building. The longer cracks and foundation problems are left, the more extensive and expensive the repairs will be.

Any building owner should keep a close eye out for cracks and other indications of basement leaks, foundation wall cracks, or exterior masonry wall cracks. Once trouble spots are observed, professionals should be called in to inspect the foundation and repair it. Once the foundation is repaired, the cracks in the building’s walls can be repaired. Do not neglect a building’s walls and foundation.

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