Is It Safe to Live in A House With Foundation Damage?

Cracked house foundation

Foundation problems are one of the great mysteries of residential dwellings. Unseen forces can shift or crack a foundation in a house that seems perfectly fine. Sometimes there is an obvious cause, like an earthquake or flood. Other times the change is so slow and gradual it goes completely unnoticed until the day you pull up the basement carpet and see the giant crack in the floor. You find yourself faced with a question – is it safe to live here?

The Quarter-Inch Rule to Foundation Damage

There is a popular theory that says, generally speaking, if you have cracks in your foundation that are less than a quarter-inch wide, they are most likely not a safety issue. But there are other factors that inform the quarter-inch rule. For example, is this quarter-inch crack also seventeen feet long, and did it appear overnight? Is water seeping out of the crack? Are the surfaces on either side of the crack still aligned, or have they shifted away from each other? And is the crack horizontal or vertical?

The rapid expansion of a crack is a real danger sign when it comes to foundation issues. If a crack has drastically increased in size overnight or has suddenly appeared out of nowhere, it’s time to investigate. We can help to determine which foundation cracks to repair.

Small to medium vertical foundation cracks are not usually a sign of a safety issue. They are common, and do not usually affect the stability of the structure. The standard way of dealing with these cracks is to determine if water is getting through them, and then fill and seal them. You still do need to have an expert look at them to determine the severity because there are a lot of factors in play.

Horizontal foundation cracks are another matter. A major horizontal crack almost certainly indicates a dangerous loss of structural integrity. The safety of you and your family is compromised, and immediate inspection should be done. Even if the foundation seems stable, a shift of this type can produce added stress on load-bearing walls, staircases, door frames, and the roof. These stresses can cause cracks and voids, and allow water to leak in. Water damage further compromises the safety of the house, as it becomes less sound overall.

Foundation Damage Repair Cost

Most everything can be repaired. So the question is, will my foundation repair cost more than it is worth? Sometimes foundation repairs are covered by insurance. It will depend on the cause of the damage, and we can work with your insurance company and supply all the required documents and certifications. 

Are you buying your dream home? Do you love it so much that you never intend to sell it? Does your dream home have a foundation issue? The cost of a foundation restoration means a lot less in the big picture, even if you spend 10% of your entire mortgage on the repair. After living in your dream home for 30 years, that repair will represent just a tiny percentage of your home’s increased value. You can have a safe, solid house that meets all standards and code requirements, and the added expense from 30 years ago means very little over time.

Are you buying a distressed property in order to flip it? In this case, the foundation restoration cost becomes a lot more significant. The expense of getting the building up to safety standards might not make financial sense, and you might want to pass.

Home Settling and You

“Oh, the building is settling.” After all, that’s what your cousin said, with all the confidence of someone who has read an internet article. That phrase is meant to dismiss any safety concerns and put your mind at ease. It’s also a chance for your cousin to be a self-appointed expert, and you might want to consider a second opinion from a proper, certified expert. 

All houses settle over time. No building is perfect, and to expect a flawless, unblemished structure is just not realistic. Even brand new constructions routinely have structural issues that must be addressed, and “settling” is something you can experience with new construction as well. New buildings are constructed with expansion joints to allow naturally occurring movement as the building components expand and contract. These joints are made with polystyrene spacers in place of some of the solid joints and prevent more significant damage by making the whole structure a little bit flexible and a little less rigid. But a normally settling house may exhibit a few minor hairline cracks in drywall, wood, or cement. When settling produces major damage, the house may no longer be safe.

Over time, foundation settling can result in a building becoming less level. One corner of a house might sink, for example, or the center of a room might be a little lower than the edges. Some structures remain perfectly safe and solid, despite having sunken. Look at the Leaning Tower Of Pisa, which has been happily tilting at four degrees for over 800 years. They could have leveled it out, but the tourists like the tilt, so they stabilized it a bit and it remains perfectly safe. Can you safely live in your tilting house? Certainly, but only if a certified and experienced inspector considers it so.

Reduce The Damage

You can help minimize further damage to your foundation by taking several steps. If needed, regrade the surrounding lot, so rainwater flows away from the building. Be sure there is an adequate drainage system around the foundation. Install any necessary supports needed to firm up sagging areas. And watch for trouble indicators, such as doors and windows that no longer operate properly or have developed gaps. While not necessarily safety issues, they can be early warning signs, and might help you prevent more serious problems if detected early.

How Do I Know For Sure?

We can let you know if your house is currently safe, despite some suspicious cracks or settling. If it is deemed unsafe and requires repair and restoration, we can make it safe for you, often within a matter of days. When you commit to restoring your foundation, be sure to partner with an industry-leading company you can trust. Count on TermiGuard & Fenwick to evaluate your foundation and recommend exactly the repairs needed to make your home safe. Our reputation depends on your satisfaction, and we stand ready to begin your foundation restoration project.