Foundations and Landscapes
Photographs of the elements which make up your foundation and the surrounding landscape.
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is sometimes hard to tell if foundation work has been done around
some homes, but in this photo you can see where some work has been
done. In the drive way, there are two square patches which do not
match the rest of the pavement. One is in the center of the photo,
and the other is just before the walkway (center top). These are the
access points where the workers dug down.
Slab on Grade, Slab on Grade with post tension cables
An indicator that you have a slab foundation with tension cables running through it is to look for these caps. They look like concrete smeared onto the butter coat. If the cable ends are exposed, they could rust out, causing the cable to break, ruining your foundation. The second photo shows the end cap without the cement covering. In this case it is beginning to rust.
Here we see an older post tension cable end which has been rusting. This may never have been protected. Current practice is to place a plastic cap over this end to further protect the nut and cable, then seal it with cement.
Pier and Beam
It is not easy taking a picture in most pier and beam houses, since the space is so tight and small. This home sits on the side of a hill. Part of the foundation is a slab on grade, but the remainder is pier and beam. In this case, treated wood was driven into the ground, which can be seen on the left. Not the best installation method, but there is evidence that cement was used in the hole. On the right you get a better view of the plumbing under a house. The pipe gently slopes towards the right, indicating that the drain to the septic system is on that side. The pipe is attached by straps to the joists. Sheathing was placed under the house to cover the joists, but no insulation was installed.
Pier and beam foundations need ventilation. On older homes, vent covers become broken over time, and pests can enter. Homeowners wanting to stop these animals from entering, simply block off the vent. In the picture we see the old vent space being filled with blocks. This stops air flow. We need the air flow for moisture control.
Signs Of Movement
The foundation movement signs can be seen all over the structure. Starting on the roof, plumbing or other vents can be an indicator. In this photo, we see a plumbing vent that has a caulk sealing it to the base. When these are installed, they often do not have caulk, so the fact that we see this may be a sign. Notice the vent is painted. If we note the white of the PVC, then we know that there has been movement. With the caulked vent, we have to look for breaks in the caulk that indicate that the vent has moved either up of down.
Looking at the exterior walls will also give us clues. With brick and stucco walls we can see cracks. In walls with clapboards, the cracks may not be so evident. The clapboards have joints where two pieces come together at their ends. This is called the butt joint. If there is a large gap, or a buckling of two boards pushing against each other, we have a possible movement sign. In the case of this photo, one board has come off due to the movement. It may be hard to see here, but the other boards are waving on the side of the building, causing gaps at the base of the board where it overlaps the board below it.
Another place to look for possible movement signs on the exterior are wall, expansion, or trim joints. In this photo, we see a brick wall has a gap before we come to the wood trim. This could have been built in this way, but the method for the builder is to have no space between the brick and the trim. If these gaps are widening, then we can have a movement sign.
“Possible”- you will note that I am using the word possible quite a bit in the above section. To evaluate movement, the entire house has to be taken into consideration. Sometimes we see a movement sign that has come about from a different cause, such as the home not being built properly in the first place. Just because a sign is present does not mean movement alone.
In this photo, you will see that there is a crack near the corner of the foundation. This is commonly called the corner pop. Eventually, this crack can become bigger, and a chunk of the foundation could come away from the building. This happens because a large load is being directed down the wall to the foundation at this point. If this load could be spread out, say with a rounded corner, we would not see the corner pop.
People give me a quizzical look when I say that I have to go into the attic to check the foundation. There is not an indicator of the foundation movement in the photo, just the starting of a nest. I am using it to show what are the rafters and the ridge beam. The piece of lumber running from left to right is the ridge beam under the highest point of your roof. The angled pieces of lumber attached to it are the rafters. In this case, they are flush to the ridge beam. This is not always the case. Builders have been known to cut these short. In that case, you will see the nails used to attach the rafter to the beam. There is another reason you might see the nails: the rafter is pulling away from the beam, which would be due to movement in the home. How do you know if the builder left a gap or you are seeing movement? Rust. If the nails have rust on them, we know that the protective coating was scratched off by the home moving.
Trim separation is another place to look for movement. Trim can be around doors, windows, but also crown molding. Usually, an inspector will look at the joints where two pieces of trim come together. In this photograph, we see something a bit more extreme occurring. The trim on the ceiling is not simply separating at the joint, but it is pulling away from the ceiling and the wall.
Inspectors need to state how they inspected the foundation when the home is built on a pier and beam. There are valid reasons for not crawling this space; however, if the space can be accessed, the best option for the person hiring the inspector is that they should crawl the space. Why? The above photograph is one example. We see that there has been moisture damage to the framing. Due to a renovation in the bathroom, no weakness was felt in the floor above, but this damage can be ongoing or lead to future damage, so the homeowner should know.
Foundations are engineered to cope with the load of the structure placed on it. Attached garages are designed a bit differently. The pressure is focused only along the edges, but this where we can find some supply pipes coming into the home. In the photo, we see the water supply pipe in the gap where the foundation has crumbled. The foundation performs two functions at this point: 1) the water supply pipe is being protected; and 2) it is supporting the structure. With the gap now occurring (and continuing), both functions are not happening, so this needs to be repaired.
A Foundation Pour
Here is a visual record of a foundation being poured. For details go to this post.
Many homeowners do not want to see their foundation, so they build-up garden beds or soil near the foundation. The building industry has also changed its standards on how much foundation should be exposed. Why expose the foundation? In the photo on the left we can already see moisture damage on the base of the wall covering. In the photo on the right, we see a high mound near the foundation which is an ant pile (the ants are entering the home). The current standard is to have six inches of foundation exposed when you have a surface wall like brick or masonry work. If the wall consists of a wood or board product, the standard is eight inches.
This picture looks innocent enough, yet there is a problem. Builders grade the backyards to direct the water away from the home to the street, where we have the sewer drainage system. This is the spot in this backyard where the water is directed towards the street. On the other side of the fence, the builder has a raised bed. This bed helps to keep water in the backyard. When following the path of water drainage in a yard, we have to look what is in the path along the entire route. Tree roots on the surface of the ground, garden beds, new additions to the home, and stored items can all be factors not allowing water to drain.
The main concern with standing water will be its proximity to the foundation. Pools of water can cause the ground to shift, which effects the foundation. The water could also effect the structure of the wall and foundation. If you have standing water in the middle of your yard, you may not have an immediate concern. There are other places to consider standing water a problem, such as in the photo. Here the fence is suffering from moisture damage.
The Gutter System
By far the biggest problems with gutters is cleaning. Gutters serve the home well when maintained, but this often does not happen. This is a gutter on the second story of a home, where a tree has its canopy over the roof. This leads to the leaves falling into the gutter. Another problem in this spot is that it was difficult to set up a ladder here due to the distance between houses. Therefore, this gutter probably will not be cleaned often. The leaves block the water from the downspout, so the water will spill over the edge. If the water spills over the back edge, you will have moisture issues in your fascia.
Sometimes the problem is not that the gutter has not been cleaned, but the design of the gutter system. Here we see water standing in the gutter; this being one day after it had rained. During heavy rains, the water can spill over the edges, casing the same damage that we see with clogged gutters. You can look at the ground below gutters to see signs of water spilling over. On the hardscape, we will see water stains. On the landscaping, we will see mulch and soil moved out of position.
Sometimes the bad design is because the builder or installer was not thinking. Here the downspout from a second story roof comes onto the lower roof of a garage. In this case, the downspout is angled to face the roof surface with only and eighth of an inch gap between downspout and roof surface, leaving this downspout clogged.
Bad design choices can cause problems down the line. I have been told by builders that composite shingle manufacturers are fine with a gutter downspout from a higher roof focusing the water on the lower roof surface. Have you seen erosion on a rock surface from a stream of water? Over time the water stream caused by the downspout will cause the same deterioration in the covering of any roof surface. What you may notice is that light colored shingles will appear dark under this downspout. Most people are not convinced that changing this gutter design is necessary, but I have seen roof leaks develop due to this arrangement.
Moving down from the roof surface, we follow water to where it exits the downspout. In this case, the end piece has be damaged by yard equipment. When damaged enough that the downspout cannot shed the leaves or debris coming into the gutter system, we can have clogs here.
There is one part of the gutter system that is often forgotten. Once the water comes out of the downspout, it should be directed away from the home. In this photo, the downspout is out of site in a garden bed. There is no splashguard or tube to help direct the water away, so we keep the water here where ti can effect the home.
A lot of water will come out of a gutter, so having something to protect the ground under the downspout helps. Here we see a splashguard put into place under the downspout. Builders are often setting these down in the reverse direction. Their argument is that this slows the flow rate of the water down, so less erosion occurs to the surrounding soil. We see the water collected here. Have you heard of not keeping standing water around your home due to mosquitoes? Here is the standing water. Also, we have grass in place, so soil erosion is not all that likely.