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How to Take Care of Your Foundation

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Should taking care of your foundation be part of your home maintenance routine? It should if you want to avoid other problems in your home.

One of the most common statements that I write on my home inspection reports is that a home suffered movement. All houses do, even ones which have been newly built. gutter-by-foundationWhat becomes difficult for most homeowners to see is the movement happening because of the weight of the house sagging down, or is it because of the foundation. I have written about inspecting a house for homeowners and investors, so I do not wish to go over that again; however, on several recent inspections, I found that I was repeating myself when it came to some repair items concerning foundations, mainly slab on grade foundations with post tension cables. I thought it might help to have one post collecting all of my recent comments to buyers to provide some guidance on how you may want to take care of your own foundation.

Want your foundation to stay in one place, then look up. On a home inspection two days ago, I came across one of the biggest problems for a foundation, and it was at the roof line, the gutter system. The gutter was filled with pine needles. Two story homes always seem to have gutters that never have been cleaned. Pine needles are the worst. In most of Houston, we have a clay soil that will expand when wet, and contract when dry. Correctly installed and functioning gutters will divert the rain water away from the home, so you do not have water ponding. Water ponding is where pools of water stay around the base of your home. A clean water will take the water to the downspout. The gutter has to be installed in such a way that water will flow to the downspout pipe on its own. Over time, a gutters support system can be weakened, and the water will pool in one spot. To see if this is happening to you, take a hose to run water through your gutters. If it does pool, then find a way to have the gutter lifted at that spot, so water will flow naturally. The next problem area on my inspection reports is typically how the downspouts discharge their water. In the photo, you can see that the pipe runs along the foundation into the ground. Downspouts should cause the water to flow away from the foundation. No downspout should ever run along the foundation. There should always be a splashguard or tube perpendicular to the house. Tip for working on gutters: when setting up your ladder, find a support bracket for the gutter (sometimes these are just pins into the fascia). Straddle your ladder over this bracket to minimize damage to the gutter by the weight being applied to it. Fasten the ladder with bungee cords to prevent it from slipping away.

Can you see your foundation? Most homeowners do not like the look of an exposed foundation, so they put garden beds or yard up to that level to cover it. Exposing your foundation has some benefits that having nothing to do with foundation maintenance. Termites do not like crawling up open areas. High ground level allows water to flow into the house through the exterior wall. These raise beds also keep water right by your foundation. Creating a drainage system along your walls, and exposing the foundation can help stop water from ponding there. The drainage system could be one of those perforated tubes running along the wall. Often this is called a “French Drain”, but a French drain is actually a drainage system below ground at the base of your foundation. Another drainage method is having the landscape graded to allow water to flow away from the house. “How can I hide my foundation then?” Good question. When planning out garden beds, incorporate the drainage system, and leave part of the foundation showing. Six inches of foundation should be visible for brick or cement exteriors, and eight inches for wood. Then find plants that will cover this area of the foundation. Keep the plants spaced where at the full growth, they will be a foot away from the wall. This allows air flow, and it creates an open space that termites do not like. If you do not want a full garden bed, you could plant an ornamental grass in a strip along the base of the home.

We have dealt with water staying around your foundation, but what if it is to dry. When I was a little boy, I thought it was quite strange to see my grandfather “watering the house” after my grandmother had watered the garden. My grandfather went to all of the spots around the house where my grandmother had not watered. I asked home him why, and he reminded me that there was a drought. He did not want any area around the foundation not getting water, when one part was. I have found that this lesson of watering a foundation during times of drought has not been passed onto homeowners anymore. The idea is to prevent the ground from being too wet or too dry. With our frequent droughts in Houston, we have to remember that those trees around the home will be sucking up any available water, which will pull our foundation down. (At the time of this writing, Houston is six inches behind in its annual rainfall, which means the foundation needs watering).

My foundation has been damaged; what can I do? Last year, I saw a builder fix a cracked foundation with duct tape. I could not fathom his belief that this was an acceptable fix. Most often, I see items on the foundation which really do not call for a foundation repair, but they do worry my clients. A “corner pop” happens at the corner of the home; it is a crack at the foundation that will look like the corner of the foundation was being knocked off. The weight of the building, predominately the roof, will come down through a corner, causing a small piece of the foundation to crack. For the most part, these pops are not serious. Another crack caused by much the same thing runs along the foundation and a brick exterior wall. This happens because of weight being applied to the butter coat. The “butter coat” is a smooth coat of cement that covers the real foundation. This coat is fairly thin, and I see it being knocked off by people using lawn mowers. Revealing the rough foundation may look bad, but this is not a cause for concern. You can smooth over that patch with mortar mix. This leads me to one patch being knocked off that can cause a problem. You may have noticed these little cement bumps (caps) in your butter coat. Maybe this cap has been knocked off, revealing a cable end. These are the covers for post tension cable ends. These cables stretch through your foundation to improve its function, and they are under a good deal of stress. I would say that on 90% of the homes that I inspect that have this foundation, there will be cement caps missing from these ends. If this end rusts away, the cable can snap, ruining your foundation. I noticed that on homes built since 2006, a plastic cover is placed over these ends to help prevent rusting if the cement is knocked off. To repair this, you will first place an anti oxidant compound on the cable end. You can find a suitable substance at home centers, but I purchase mine at automotive part stores, since I use it when working on my old Beetle. After the compound has dried, you apply a new coat of mortar.

Lastly, some advice about foundation repair. Two situations arose recently where the homes had the foundation repaired, but other problems came about, because of this work. The foundation is being lifted during a repair, and this movement lifts the remainder of the house. This lifting will cause cracks in walls. An inspector should be able to tell the difference between cracks which indicate movement, and those that indicate foundation problems. If you did have your foundation repaired (or you are soon), you may want to prepare your self for some repairs to the walls. Mostly filling in cracks. The other problem that I saw had to do with an addition onto the home. The addition’s foundation was separate from the main house, but the walls had been tied together through framing. When the house was lifted, a large crack formed between the house and addition. Since there were no other foundation problems, the crack needed to be filled. This kind of crack will also happen along garage floors of attached garages. An attached garage’s floor is typically not part of the foundation; it is a slab, like a porch. Movement in a house happens; it is normal, and you cannot stop it. You can take a few steps to help your foundation out, and that can save you money in the end.

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50 Responses to “How to Take Care of Your Foundation”

  1. Tina Prock Says:

    I am single mother and first time home owner. Being a single mother and having the new expense of my first home my budget is very limited and therefore I wanted to be sure to do my part in taking care of my new home and eliminating future expenses. I googled “How to take care of foundation” and found your article. The information is helpful. I knew about watering the house and have been doing so however I do not know how often or how much. I understand that it is possible to give the house too much water. Any advice on this. Also I have a two story home in a new sub division with very little trees should I have any special gutters installed?
    Thank you for your article and any further information you can provide me. Other than buying or selling my home is there other reasons I should be scheduling a home inspection?
    Thank you again for the great information.

  2. How often and how much is a question of balance. The ground needs about an inch of water each week. If the ground is showing signs of cracks and pulling away from the foundation, then you need water. I try to water evenly around the house when I go to water my plants. If I see signs that the ground is too dry, like the cracks or if the plants are wilting, I water more. If the ground is real moist, then I would not water.

    All gutters will need care and cleaning at some point. Gutters which have a lip to allow in water but prevent leaves from entering are the best option for homeowners who are not able to get up and do cleaning. My experience is that these gutters will have debris fall into them, but not as much as an open gutter.

    I am hired by homeowners who want to a different opinion on the state of their home. For example, a plumber might check plumbing for a leak, but he might not walk around the house to see if water is coming in through a wall or roof. Hiring a home inspector is good if you have general problems and you are not sure of the source. If you know of a specific issue, like you see the pipe leaking under the sink, then hire the plumber.

  3. Doris Nagy Says:

    I am ready to put my home up for sale. About a week ago a fine crack appeared in the cathedral ceiling. It extends from a fine line which appears horizontally along the top bricks next to the ceiling. I could not detect any problems on the exterior walls. Should I schedule a foundation inspection before my home goes on the market, or do the minor repairs? Thanks for your help — Doris

  4. Hello Doris,
    thank you for dropping in. What you describe is not necessarily an indicator of a foundation problem. I would say that it indicates movement. Truly, many factors have to be looked at together to determine issues with a foundation though. Some foundation firms will do a free inspection for you, so it may not be a bad idea to call a few firms to see if they will do one at no charge. Then you can have peace of mind.

    As for repairs, some sellers have hired me to inspect their homes before it goes on market, so they will know what to expect, and so they can make repairs. I would only suggest hiring an inspector if you have real concerns. If you go to my ebooks page, you can find a free ebook geared towards real estate investors (or you can go through the real estate investor posts under the categories section in the sidebar). These posts go over looking at a home, and it might give you an idea on which repairs you can tackle, or that you may need. Good Luck with the sale!

  5. Michelle Says:

    We bought a house in 2007. Not too long after we bought the house we noticed cracks 3 in the living room.It was very obvious the wall had a different texture around the cracks. Looking like the previous owners tried covering it up.Soon after it was harder to shut our living room door. So we replaced the door. We noticed the door that was in there before had been shaved down so it would shut for the previous owners. In early 2009 we replaced the carpet only to find a huge crack in the foundation. So I just had a person come from a powerlift company to give us an estimate. He suggested a french drain. I know this will not fix the cracks but he said it would cut off the main source which is the water behind our house. I was wondering how effective is this? How long would it last? Would this keep my house from falling apart?

  6. Lets set some facts down first: all homes move, so some cracks could be from the foundation, but some could be because of movement. It sounds as if you did have a foundation problem, but some cracks might be due to the movement in the house. Second, a french drain is a drain placed at the base (the base way below ground) of the foundation, and one should have been originally installed. I am making the assumption that the suggested french drain is a drain along the home at ground level. If you are having a problem with water causing the foundation to rise when wet, drains do help, but they will not settle all issues. Here are some items to consider:
    1) is water leaking from pipes under the home- a pressure test will determine if there is a leak. Leaks will continue to effect the foundation.
    2) The roots of large trees will effect the foundation, so a tree should be the same distance form the home as its height.
    3) Taking care of your soil and its composition can effect the home, If you have clay soils around your home, this will rise when wet, and drop when wet. Taking care of your soil will help the home.
    4) Movement does not depend on the condition of the foundation. Movement is caused by conditions in the framing and the weight of the home. Movement will cause cracks too.

    Once you have cracks, they will come back, but after repairing them it can take some time- again depending on other conditions. I have noticed that a repair can last for five to ten years, also depending upon how the repair is done.

    If you wish to ask me further questions, you can send me an email (frank @ yourhoustonhomeinspector.com), or place it here in the comments. The drain will help, if water is the issue. You can also call me. Leave a message if I do not answer, I will call back soon.

  7. Celeste Says:

    I have a crack about between my house and addition. It appears that the crack is only on the second floor and not on the first. I am having someone fill in the crack to repair it, but I want to know what material they should be using. I am concerned that they will fix the outside of the crack without filling it with the proper material thus creating more damage. Ultimately I want to know if they should be using concrete to fill the crack

  8. I would really need to have more information, specifically what type of wall is it? Generally, you can seal a crack with any material that is appropriate for the conditions. This means that a caulk meant for kitchen tiles should not be used to fill an exterior crack. There are silicone caulks that will seal an exterior crack well. However, the seal then becomes quite noticeable, so you may not wish to use them simply because of the way it looks. From your description I think that you mean you have a brick exterior covering with a crack on the second story. Chiseling out the mortar and placing new mortar is the best for appearance over time. There is also a silicone caulk that has mortar for this application. This is the easiest to apply for a homeowner.

  9. wavang Says:

    My house has had two incidents were it felt like an earthquake was occurring and when I went to go check the backyard you could see some cracks in the yard coming out from the corner of the house. The house itself is not damage and I wouldn’t expect huge earthquakes in Wisconsin but these two incidents have me worried. I am wondering if this is do to the weather being so dry this summer causing the soil to give way or is it caused by something else?

  10. There can be several factors, so for a proper response, you would need to speak to a local expert. Some clarification: fault lines are found in many parts of the country which can cause damage to a home, but you would not have a earthquake. For example, you would not think of earthquakes in Texas, but fault lines effect many homes in Houston. If the soil in your area is composed of heavy clay, you may experience a problem where the soil cracks. This type of soil can absorb water in wet season, but it will contract during dry seasons, leaving the cracks. If soil is creating a large enough gap, then foundation could sink. This typically will not happen in a dramatic fashion that you describe, but it can if conditions are right.

    I would suggest having your home examined, or you should take a close look yourself. Go to the attic. What is the condition of the framing? Are there cracks? Are pieces of framing separating? Look for cracks in the walls. If you have a brick wall covering, check to see if cracks are only in the mortar, or do they go through the brick. Going through the brick is more severe. Do the doors in the house open and close well? Do the windows? These are also signs that something may be wrong.

    Note: be careful about time spent in the attic during the summer. Staying in temperatures of 120F or more for a long period is dangerous to your health. You can suffer a heat stroke. I do not know how your attic is situated, but the examination needs to be all over, so you may wish to do it in stages.

  11. Brian Says:

    Tina, a good rule of thumb is simply to water until your dirt feels like dirt. If it’s dried and cracked, you need to raise your watering needs to increase. If it is spongy and soft, you need to cut back. Too little water is just as bad as too little, but in this drought too much water shouldn’t be a concern. Gutters are important, and height of the house doesn’t matter. Size of the roof, pitch of the roof are the biggest concerns. A good gutter specialist should be able to help you there.

  12. Diane KIrksey Says:

    My house is on a slope with a creek at the bottom. I recently noticed that along the back corner of the house the dirt has washed out from under the foundation. The gap between the foundation and the ground is about six inches. I am considering building a retaining wall along that side of the house and replacing the soil. There was a broken downspout at that corner but I have repaired it. Do you think this will be sufficient to stop any damage?

  13. Hello Diane, your plan sounds like the best course of action. I would check that no damage has occurred to the foundation already. In your situation, retaining walls will help prevent soil erosion, which is needed. Does the downspout now direct water further away from the home? Letting the water drain past the retaining wall would be good. If you notice damage signs in the house, having support placed under that corner may be required. Damage can happen to the foundation quickly when conditions are right, so my concern would be that nothing has effected the home.

  14. Paula Says:

    Frank, we live in Texas City. A one room addition (north) and pool and deck was done in 1989. First there was only cool deck cracks; next nail pops; and now the room is pulling away from house. The neighbor to ouir east is less than 20ft with a yard full of trees! Want to purchase soaker hoses. Do we only place them on the north and east sides (basically water her tree roots)? Help.

  15. From your description, the foundation of the addition does not sound as if it was connected to the old foundation. This can mean that problems may continue in the future. Keeping the ground consistently moist would be your best option if the cracks are not too major yet (over 1/8″). As for the trees: do their branches come over your yard? The tree obtains its water from roots which are just beyond the edge of the leaves. If their branches are over your roof, then their roots are under your foundation. There are root barrier products that can stop this growth. The drought will continue till next year. If you continue to have problems, having a foundation company do an evaluation may give you an idea on the extent of the damage.

  16. Melanie Says:

    Hello and thanks for the website. I have a home built in 1969 on clay soil in Houston. Through the drought I watered all around the foundation. Previously I had 18 piers put in 20 years ago. I seem to have cracks right in the middle of the home now with some inner doors having problems. I believe I should wait a while to call the foundation company, to see if the change in seasons helps. What do you think?

  17. Hello Melanie,

    the current drought conditions will be lasting according to some experts. The problem is predicting what may be happening around your home. If the cracks are severe (over 1/8″), or there is more of an issue with the doors, you may want to investigate further. If conditions around each pier stay the same, things may settle in a way that is to your benefit, and if you are not seeing severe damage, waiting is an option. I would suggest that you can have an estimate done which would give you more information. I recently examined the work of one firm on a pier and beam home, and they did a good job. I believe they do free estimates; their name is Golden Construction 281.445.0838. If they do not perform a free estimate, I know other firms will. My concern would be the severity of your issue. If you wait, you need to monitor the situation on a consistent basis, but if it was my home, I would seek some advice based upon someone examining the actual home, and that can be accomplished with a free estimate.

  18. Should I Buy A Home With Foundation Issues? « Real Estate Chat by Melinda Says:

    […] Foundation movement is a different thing altogether and can happen for a variety of reasons.  Perhaps the developer did not prepare the ground properly or the builder made some sort of error in building.  More often however, the home owner is negligent in caring for his foundation.  Perhaps he forgets to water it or he allows poor drainage issues to wash away the soil dangerously exposing the slab.  There are too many reasons to mention.  The important thing is that foundation movement can often be avoided or at least minimized.  If you are concerned about how to properly care for your foundation, do some research.  Here is a great blog I found on the subject:  http://yourhoustonhomeinspector.com/living-in-your-home/green-home-conversion/ihow-care-foundationi/ […]

  19. Jeremy Says:

    Hello All,

    I just bought a house that was built in 2006. Due to the drought last year really large deep gaps have appeared along to the foundation on one side of the house (its a two story if that helps). I have also noticed lots of nail pops and my front door doesnt close smoothly anymore. What is the Best way to fill these gaps? I have been told to use sandy loam.Is filling the gaps with Sandy Loam the best way? Thanks

  20. Jeremy Says:

    My location is Dallas if that helps you with the soil type.

  21. If I remember correctly, your soil type is an expansive clay soil, which is what I have in Houston. You may have a bit more organic matter than us. Sandy loam could make sense then. Loam soil retains some water while maintaining its shape. The sand allows water to flow through faster, so sandy loam allows most water to flow through while maintaining some shape and not washing away.

    Handling the gaps: the gaps indicate that your soil is drying up. Adding organic matter (such as compost or loam) helps keep water in the soil longer, hence less gaps. Filling in the gaps would help. Spreading compost or humus on the soil will also help. Finally, find an appropriate water schedule. Soil should have some moisture, but you do not want the soil very wet. Another suggestion is mulch. Anywhere around the property that does not have a ground cover, like grass, should have mulch. Even gaps in the grass should have mulch (this is where a mulching mower helps). Paths often are on bare ground, so I use rock mulches (two inches of rocks) or I use a thick layer of wood mulch (three to four inches). In planting beds, I use two inches of an appropriate mulch (for example, rosses like pine mulches, vegetable gardens do well with cedar mulches for insect prevention).

  22. Thanks for this informative post! Foundation repair and maintenance can be challenging for home owners. As a home inspection company, we often see foundation problems causing serious issues for the rest of the home! This is valuable information for anyone who wants to keep their home’s foundation stable and secure.

  23. Meghan Says:

    Hi. I am in escrow for a single family home in southern california. The house is 1200 sq ft, built in 1952, raised foundation. It has only had two owners (first owner was the builder. Lived there 7 years). An inspector suggested a geo technician look at the soil and foundation of the house further. His 3 observations for this recommendation are: 1) sloped floors in 3 rooms (used a marble on the floor), 2) one of the bathroom doors had to be shaved down to fit in the frame, and 3) a horizontal beam underneath the house is supported improperly. I’m a first time home buyer, single woman. Costs are some $2200 for a soil report, $200 for foundation people to look at it. I’m kind of lost as to how serious to take his recommendation, and also, what to do, where to go for reputable inspections. Any ideas? Is it possible for nothing to be seriously wrong? What is the worst case scenario as far as price is concerned?

  24. Hello Meghan,
    from your description, it sounds as if the determination that the foundation has a problem is correct. As for the testing, did your inspector explain why he suggested these tests? It sounds as though he did not. First, the soil report may have been suggested since there may be more issues which can be determined with this report. The soil condition and type can effect the home for years to come. Basically, this would be giving you the best information that could help you prevent problems in the future; however, there is the possibility that a soil test may not be needed. I would check with various foundation companies to see how much they would charge to do an evaluation. The fee of $200 is likely, yet in other parts of the country, we find this evaluation done for free. Ask them for a quote on repairs, because this may be done for free. A foundation company will not do a soil test, but a good, reputable firm may provide you with the information that will help you make a wise decision. Ask them if they believe the soil test is needed.

    Here is the bottom line: people live with bad foundations. A foundation that is not performing as intended may not pose an immediate concern, but then again, there may be an immediate problem. Eventually, a foundation not working as intended can cause further damage to the building. This is why investigating this home before you make such a large purchase would be in your interest. Worst case scenario: you make this large purchase only to discover that the foundation has effected the structure. The foundation would have to be repaired, and then the building itself, so we can be looking at ten of thousands of dollars in cost. Depending of how extensive the repairs, you could be looking at $15,000 for the foundation (I am basing this on your description, and what I believe the labor cost would be in your area, but this is a guess). Good luck.

  25. debi Says:

    Found information about post tension cable ends needing to be covered interesting. We just bought an 8 year old home where all cable ends are exposed. Now we wonder if they should be covered. We really don’t want any foundation problems with this house.

  26. toya Says:

    hello, i live in san antonio texas, and rain is allergic to us, so we dont get any. I bought my house a year ago. the dirt around the foundation has separated at least an inch or more away from my foundation. what can I do to fix this? ive seen a few cracks but not many.

  27. jill Says:

    We built our home 20 years ago and during construction when backfilling the foundation, they clipped a corner and the entire right side of the foundation collapsed. They repoured that side and rebared and sealed the area. Now we’re looking to sell the house and have some concerns whether this “broken wall” might be a deal breaker with buyers. Who might you recommend come look at it to assess the situation. Thank you.

  28. Sabrina Says:

    Frank – I have a large, rocked-in flower bed between my garage and front door. It has bushes lining the front windows, a large tree in the center of the bed and plantings around the curved perimeter from driveway to front step. In the bed next to the garage wall in the corner, the dirt has washed away and the rocks have fallen into a crevice a foot deep right where the landscape fabric stops. The crevice is about five feet long and stops. I have clay soil but the bed may have been amended when the landscaping was put in. I haven’t noticed any movement or cracking in the garage floor. Is it okay to just fill in the missing dirt? This area is below a corner where two gutters meet and I’ve had leaves clog and overflow the area many times over the years.

  29. I know some home inspectors who insist that you should have a professional foundation firm examine the home, stating that this is a dangerous situation. This can be dangerous, but if you have not seen any signs, then taking the steps of dealing with any damage to the ends and recovering should be fine. Check each end carefully. If something looks wrong, then please do call a firm to investigate further.

  30. Watering evenly around the home will cause the soil to expand back. The quicker method involves adding compost/humus to the soil. The compost holds what little moisture is there to help the soil to expand. Any bare soil should then be covered by mulch.

  31. If the repair is noticeable, then you may wish to have the foundation examined by a professional firm. If you notice no difference, then I would mention that this happened in a seller’s disclosure, but that the builder did repair. This should not be a deal breaker if everything is fine now.

  32. If erosion will continue to be a problem, then ensuring good water flow away from the foundation would be something to consider. I have seen a solution dealing with a similar situation to your own. The landscaper ensured that there was a path for the water to flow out of the garden bed; he then filled in this depression with rocks to mimic a dry river bed. If this is too may rocks to your liking, then refilling the dirt is fine. I would add a ground cover to grow over this area. Mulch does prevent some erosion, but the roots of plants do keep soil in place. I have used liriope, for example, since it is low growing, and it spreads to fill in the area over the course of the year, but then you have to clear out overgrowth later.

  33. Theresa Says:

    Dear Frank: Thank you for taking our questions. We have a home in Broken Arrow, OK we bought in 07. The house is a single story, ranch style, 1215 sq ft and has never been piered. Two years ago, we, like the south- had the bad and very hot weather- this year is turning out to be the same. We also had a trench type termite bait system put in around the base of our house. After this system and the hot weather- the small cracks taht run verticle in the corners of 2 rooms- seem to have worsened. They dont run diagnonally but vertically directly in the corner. We have gaps this year that in spots run about 1/4 of an inch were we can see the framing. We have also marked the cracks and dated to see if and how much they move in a period of time. We have water issues- when it rains our yard slopes downward and floods against the back of our house. We have newer gutters that are clean and nice. We recently discovered the corners in our walk in closet have split and dropped and have found our first diagonal crack but dont know if its due to poor framing of a closet wall and door. Were from the north and this is all new to us but have been told its not uncommon. Any suggestions on what to watch or check – should we be concerned about the water flow on the back side of the home? Thank you again for your time.

  34. Theresa, your home is experiencing movement, and the reason people may say it is not uncommon is that movement frequently occurs to all homes, but certain areas experience it more. From your description, I would be concerned that the movement has effected the foundation, since the gap is so large. Are doors and windows hard to open or close? Will a door move on its own, which builders refer to as ghosting? These would be more signs of the foundation having a problem.

    If the water coming down the slope has a chance to sink into the ground by the foundation, it can effect the home. This water may also cause moisture issues in the wall (some moisture issues can lead to cracks). A good idea is to create a swale or garden bed that helps direct the water down the slope, but away from your home. As for the cracks, you may wish a foundation company come to look at the house; however, if you do not see other issues of a foundation problem (the hard to open windows and doors; sloping floors; or framing pulling away from each other in the attic are examples), your foundation may be alright. You can patch the cracks with a joint compound and repaint. If the cracks come back soon, then do call a foundation company to have them check it out. These cracks may eventually reappear, but this should be in five to ten years.

  35. Theresa Says:

    Thank you for your very prompt reply. We have 1 or 2 doors ghost on it but door jambs arent plumb that we have noticed. IN spring and fall- doors close with gaps in summer, they dont close. Our bath door for example has in the past- swings open time to time. Every summer since we have moved in here- 2007- its the summer shrinkage as we call it. Winter months things seem to somewhat return to normal as far as the doors go. We have no windows with issues- no jagged angle cracks. just the hideous ones taht go up and down the seam where the walls meet in the corner.

  36. From your description, there does seem to be movement caused by moisture. You can buy a moisture meter for the ground in the garden department of many stores. This can help you to judge when there is excessive moisture around your foundation. Exterior walls become stained with moisture that does not dry quickly. You can also push on the interior walls to check if they are giving, or if you feel a wet area. Keeping any water coming off of your roof or down the slope away from the foundation by about ten feet can help. That is why I suggested the swale or berm or garden bed. If cracks keep coming or getting larger, you should have someone investigate the home. Good luck.

  37. Sarah Joslin Says:

    We live in New Braunfels had DRHorton house built in 2005. Standing at the front of the house looking down the left side line of foundation, the hardy plank is bowed out. You can reach your hand underneath hardy plank and feel the 2×4’s. So in essence the house is moving off the foundation. How is this fixed? We’ve yet to hear from our warranty dept. Hopefully will hear this week. Thanks!

  38. It is possible for the house to move of the foundation. The repair would at its extreme involve lifting the structure and placing it back on its foundation. This is done by jacks and cranes. This is done by firms who move home. This may be a different issue though: the movement in your home seems quite extreme, and the structure may not have been constructed to handle the weight. If this is the case, then the wall will need to be reconstructed. The cladding will be removed to asses the damage to the structure. Once a plan has been made the wall will be reconstructed, and then the exterior wall cladding is put back. In either case, we could be discussing a major project that can effect other parts of the home. In the best case scenario, you may only need to have the exterior cladding reconstructed. I was inspecting a home in San Antonio last week which was a new construction. The cladding already had a bit of a bow. If movement began to effect this home, the already ill fitting cladding can bow out to a greater extreme. In this case, the cladding has to be refitted. Lastly, there is the possibility that the foundation would need repair before any work on other parts of the building could proceed. You probably have a slab on grade with post tension cables. The repair would involve digging trenches on the left side, then placing piers under the foundation, after a jack has been used to correct the foundation.

  39. Tammy Says:

    I would love to get your opinion on a potentially major problem I found today while renovating an apartment. The apartment building is in San Francisco on the mountain of Twin Peaks. It has clay soil. I pulled away a base board and found dirt coming out from the interior of an interior wall. We looked on the other side of the wall, which shares the back yard of a neighbor. The dirt is 4 feet higher than the foundation and causing wood rot on the wood siding and interior wood framing of the building.
    To give a little background this same wall has had mold and dampness issues for years. In San Francisco this is typical. The apartment is part of a 5 unit building and shares one wall with the 5 unit building. The rest of the walls and roof are all exposed and surrounded by neighbors backyards. There are some cracks in the walls, usually over doorways.
    My question is, what is the possibility that the foundation has been compromised? Any other information would be greatly appreciated too!! Thanks for the information in advanced.

  40. Hello Tammy,
    it has been awhile since I have been in San Francisco, and I really do wish to go back! I was the fool who thought he could drive a stick shift around the city without being use to those inclines.

    Firstly, there is a chance that the foundation has contributed to your problem. In sloped grading situations, builders usually create higher foundations to deal with water flowing down the slope and the height of the grade possibly increasing. From your description, this does not seem to be the case, or past construction regraded the neighbors yard to be higher than your own. If you are not experiencing the normal signs of foundation problems, such as sticking doors, you would want a masonry wall constructed to deal with the four foot higher grade. Once this wall reaches at least eight inches above the neighbors grade, the wood framing can start. My thought is that concrete blocks would act like extending the foundation up above the surrounding grading. The eight inches above grade is suggested to deal with water back splashing off of the roof; you may want more exposure depending upon water that may hit your wall running along the grade of your neighbor’s yard. By the way, this masonry wall can be covered with a finished wall in the interior, so you will not be looking at concrete blocks.

    After you have dealt with the foundation, you will then need to deal with the damaged framing. The wood for your framing is dried before use. With contact to the dirt and moisture, the wood starts to absorb the moisture, and you will find it wicking up the frame, so there may be further problem areas above your initial find.

    I would first call a good foundation company to assess the situation. They should have a solution that works in your area. You may wish to invest in a moisture meter. A simple prong style meter will leave two small holes that would be the same as a nail for hanging artwork. These run about $80. You may find them at the builder’s supply, but there are professional equipment websites that sell them. This meter can give you information on how bad the moisture problem is without having to tear down all the walls, so if you are doing your own renovation in an area with moisture problems, this tool will come in handy in the future. Good luck.

  41. Nancy Says:

    Hello Frank. Regarding your answer to “Jeremy” on April 11, is it acceptable to simply fill the gap with sandy loam mixed with organic matter? Thus having a layer of sandy loam between the foundation and clay soil? My dilemma is the same with the addition of this: Upon noticing a gap last year AND that the yard sloped down toward the house, I added approx. 2 ft. of soil, packed and graded it away from the foundation. I didn’t realize the soil was mostly clay. During winter, a horizontal hairline crack appeared inside my basement along the block wall at the outside location where the original soil met the additional soil added. Over summer a 2-3″ gap formed between the outside foundation wall and new clay soil. A suitable fix would be __? The best fix would be __? I have learned much from reading your answers!

  42. Hello Nancy,

    the pulling away of the soil would indicate that the soil is lacking sufficient moisture, but there may an attributing factor. When you added the soil, did you loosen the soil that was already in the bed? I mean was it broken apart so that old soil mixes with new? The reason I ask is that the new soil may be moving on its own, while the deeper older soil is in place. Re-digging and leveling can possibly resolve some issues. I would suggest doing this, then I would suggest checking the area with a moisture meter which is about $10 from your garden center. With the meter, you can check around the home to see that moisture is consistent. Something to consider is a mulch. One area where I have problems in my home was an area in the back under a tree. The tree dried the top soil out by drinking up the water. Other plants were harder to grow due to the deep shade. I placed a rock mulch of small pebbles, which make a nice crunch under foot, that has kept this ground at a consistent moisture level. My rock mulch is about two inches thick. The benefit of the pebbles is that they do not wash away and they do not decompose. The pebbles do embed into the ground, so you do need the two inches. This can be more expensive than other mulches, but you are not replacing it every year. Hope this helps.

  43. Nancy Says:

    I hadn’t thought of that, but no, I didn’t break up and mix the soil underneath. There was probably even old mulch and black plastic that was covered up. My main concern is keeping my wall from cracking more. Question: If I fill the gap with sandy loam mixed with organic matter thus having a layer of sandy loam between the foundation and clay soil, should that be enough of a cushion to keep the clay soil from expanding and pushing in my foundation wall? I even thought about using some sort of expanding foam. Thoughts?

  44. The best solution is to mix the sandy loam mix with the clay soil to limit expansion. If you do fill the gap with this mix, do proper mulch and water the clay soil to limit expansion. The amount of water can be variable, so that is why I suggest the moisture meter to determine the amount needed. Non soil products, like the expanding foam, may just be pushed with the clay soil. I cannot think of a material off hand that will let the water drain to avoid expansion while also being able to compress if the clay expands, so the sandy loam may be best.

  45. uday Says:

    One front corner of my 12 yr old house has dipped and the slab has developed a crack. There was a Pear tree at that corner and I got it cut after i noticed a wall separation in the front. I am watering with a soaker hose 6-8 inches from the foundation. We got the tree cut but am not sure how long it will take to reverse the dry ness in teh soil. The place around the tree shows sandy soil. i wonder if the sand is any good close o the house.

  46. Sand is often used when grading a newly constructed home, since it is an easy material to grade. What sand does though is to let water flow quickly away from that area. Adding compost into the soil will help with water retention. As for the tree, was the stumped removed? If the tree still has a stump above the grade of your soil, there is a possibility that the tree is taking up water to sprout new growth. If the crew came in with a grinder, taking the tree to below soil level, then the tree will start to decay. How long will depend on a few factors, so I cannot give you a time frame. What will happen though is the roots from the tree will help to hold water in the soil as the tree decays.

  47. xin zhou Says:

    Dear Frank,
    We are purchasing a land with an existing foundation in CT. The foundation was poured in 2007, a very large time gap. From surface, it still looks ok with some very minor cracks. But I don’t know what else to look for. I will have some specialist to inspect it. but i value your opinion on it. With such a time gap, is the new foundation considered “OLD” already? Thanks a lot for your time!

  48. The foundation can still suffer from movement over this period, so it s good to have it checked out, but if the structure is not sitting on it, it would not have suffered from the same stresses as it would have. Small cracks may not be a concern, depending upon location and how much separation is evident. I have seen this more in commercial construction, where a poured foundation does not have the structure placed upon the foundation for some years. Generally, I have not seen problems with the foundations in these structures.

  49. Susan Beeghly Says:

    Landscapers recently regraded our very flat yard so it slopes better toward the street. They amended the flower bed by the front foundation so the soil has more compost and is more “loamy”. The rest of the yard (newly sodded) is clay with an inch or 2 of topsoil. The flower bed is surrounded by the yard and although it appears to slope away from the house, the mulch is level with the yard. Doesn’t that mean the bed could soak up water and not allow proper drainage down the new slope of the lawn? The landscaper denies this would be a problem.

  50. Garden beds are generally designed to soak up more water than the remaining parts of the property, so this will always be a concern. If the mulch is at the same level as the yard, excess water will run off as the landscaper suggest; however, you do have to watch the water flow patterns in your yard. If the bed is holding too much water can be determined visually by looking for water standing in the bed a day after the rain, or by a moisture meter. If the moisture is not overly wet, then the plants will be making use of it (an annual flower bed would use more than the grass for example). If you do have too much moisture, then you do have to look at ways of encouraging draining.

© Frank Schulte-Ladbeck Professional Home Inspector Houston, Texas
Frank Theodor Schulte-Ladbeck
home inspector, TREC# 9073
Houston , Texas , 77063 United States

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