When you discover foundation problems, it’s easy to start panicking. After all, the foundation of a home is the base on which your entire home is built. A hairline crack can look like a disaster, and a foundation leak seems like the end of the world.
Home and foundation repair costs really add up. Fixing your roofing, plumbing, HVAC, electrical and home foundation can really eat up your budget if you have to tackle everything at once. Many people want to know if it’s safe to live with a problem for a while, and save up some money for necessary repairs.
In this article we’ll take a look at foundation problems, and if it’s safe to leave them be, or if they need to be addressed immediately.
What are Foundation Problems?
Most problems with the house foundation can be traced back to moisture intrusion. Variations in water and moisture levels swell or shrink soil, which in turn shifts underneath a house’s foundation. When soil moves unevenly, things like uneven floors, foundation movement, sinking foundation, problems with the floor joists, and horizontal cracks in the walls can appear.
Foundation settlement is another problem. In older homes, it’s less of an issue because their settling took place long ago. However, in newer homes, it’s often seen in the first few years, especially in areas of expansive soil.
Foundation Issue Warning Signs
There are several things to look for to know if you have a structural problem with your foundation. However, the only way to be sure is for a qualified, licensed contractor to take a look. Here are some things to look for so you know you may be facing a problem with your foundation:
- Exterior Cracks
- Interior Sheetrock Cracks
- Doors out of square
- Uneven Floors
- Presence of a slab leak
Major Safety Issues from Foundation Problems
Just like other problems you may face with your house, like missing or damaged shingles, electrical work that isn’t up to code or old plumbing, some foundation issues may be safe to live with for a while, and others require immediate attention.
Here are some reasons why you’d need to get your foundation repaired immediately:
The foundation supports the walls of your home, which in turn supports the roof. If the foundation is seriously degrading under weight-bearing posts, then it’s not even safe to be in your home. At any moment, a whole side of your house could cave in, causing serious injury or even death to anyone inside.
The foundation of your home may not be easily visible. It could be partially buried underground or covered by thick bushes. This is why it’s best to have it inspected by a professional repair expert. They’ll know what to look for, what issues can wait until later to be repaired, and which ones need to be addressed right away.
People often talk about “toxic mold” or “black mold.” Though not all forms of mold are dangerous to everyone, it isn’t a problem that should be ignored. Moisture breeds mold. So, if your foundation has high water content, then mold can grow into your home.
You may not even see mold that’s growing under floorboards or within wall cavities. The problem is that when the spores enter the air, they can cause or aggravate respiratory issues. In severe cases, they can even cause problems so severe that people need to be hospitalized, or worse, die.
So, if your foundation problems are leading to mold, that’s not a problem you can live with safely. You’ll need to hire a contractor to repair the foundation and address the moisture issues. Once that’s fixed, you have the mold remediated and return to your home.
Foundation Problems that are a Less Serious Concern
While the major risks of living with foundation problems are toxic mold or structural collapse, there are other serious problems that don’t necessarily mean it isn’t unsafe to live in your house.
Remember though, that some of these problems may get worse over time, and when they do, they could cause a safety concern.
This is probably the number one issue you’ll see when you have a foundation problem. Often, this is simply an aesthetic or annoyance issue. For instance, you may find that round objects roll down or off your kitchen countertops. Or, you may simply notice that a floor feels slightly tilted.
While uneven floors may not be a serious safety concern now, one of the problems is that this may mean that some posts and beams are bearing a higher amount of the structural weight. Over time, they may weaken, leading to collapse.
So, if you do have uneven floors from your foundation problem, you may be able to safely live in your house for a while, but it is important to address the cause fairly soon.
Doors and windows that don’t function well
Even if you don’t notice your floors being uneven, it doesn’t take more than a fraction of an inch of misalignment to make doors and windows malfunction. You’ll probably notice that when you swing a door shut, it doesn’t actually lock into place. The same goes for windows.
This too is mainly an annoyance and a sign that there is a problem with the foundation. However, if your entry doors or windows can’t be secured, this could cause a safety issue. Most people wouldn’t choose to leave their home unlocked and vulnerable to thieves.
If it’s just the interior doors that won’t close, that can wait. If you can’t close and lock your front door, then you should consider it a safety problem that needs to be addressed right away.
Water damage isn’t necessarily catastrophic immediately. It can however cause slow damage over a long period of time, and this is something you’d want to avoid.
How Soon Do I Have to Repair my Foundation?
It’s a good idea to tackle any foundation repairs before they get out of hand and become a safety problem. This is why it’s important to get a sense of which problems are an immediate concern, and which problems can wait.
Whether you plan on living in your house for many years or selling it, a solid foundation is extremely important. If you ignore smaller issues they simply grow and become larger issues.
Living in a house with uneven floors, jammed doors, and cracks in the walls isn’t just a problem of aesthetics, it’s just not sustainable. If you plan to sell your home at any point, you will find that your pool of potential buyers will shrink significantly when they find that there is a potential structural issue with the home.
For this reason, it’s a smart idea to have the house brought back to level condition. If your house is on a pier and beam configuration, you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons in repair options.
Will I be Able to Sell My Home with Foundation Safety problems?
Selling your home depends so much on the current market conditions where you are located. In a hot real estate market where land is at a premium, you may still be able to sell your home with problems as long as it’s an “as-is” sale. For an old house, many buyers expect problems and are prepared to address them. This will affect the appraised value if the buyer needs to obtain financing.
A qualified realtor or home advisor can help guide you through the process. In other situations, you might not be able to find buyers unless the foundation safety problems are addressed. In those cases you’ll need to hire a contractor, have the problem fixed, then put the house on the market.
Checking for Foundation Issues When Purchasing a Home
If you are purchasing a home, you obviously don’t want to be in a situation where you are putting your safety at risk with a foundation problem.
When it’s a seller’s market, you may have to waive a home inspection in order to make a competitive offer. You should still have the home inspected by qualified tradespeople to make sure it is safe to live in.
A foundation contractor can take a look to see if the structural integrity of the home is intact, and safe to occupy. They can also give you a sense of what problems can be addressed in the future and which can wait. See this related post when buying a house with foundation problems.
Living in a House with Foundation Problems
The foundation supports every part of your house. The health of the foundation is integral to the structural integrity of the rest of your house. Some problems can wait, others can’t. Only a professional can help you make the right decision and identify the risk of a foundation failure.
Whether you’re a home buyer looking to protect your investment or a homeowner who is unsure of that crack that just appeared in your wall, it’s always best to invest in talking with an expert.
If you live in Houston, get in touch today for a FREE consultation.