The superior walls of a house is only as strong and dependable as it’s foundation.
This means that the big bad wolf would have gotten his evil jaws on the third pig should the omnivore built it’s brick laden house be built on unstable foundation.
That’s a sad thought.
But on a more serious note, it really is no joke to state that should a foundation tumble, the rest of the house would go with it.
This is why you can often get the full attention of investors and home buyers by just mentioning the word foundation.
For investors, it’s more about the numbers that add up and subtract from a profit and loss statement. They tend to fix it or decline a deal since there is no way they would take on a potential liability or a civil suit from tenants.
But for home buyers and owners, it don’t just have a household budget attached to it. Foundation issues can mean a very serious and personal safety hazard.
Types of foundations
There are generally 4 modern types of foundation built for a house. Different professionals may have their own ways of naming them, but they all mean the same thing.
1) Full foundation
Sometimes called a basement foundation, this is the typical home with a regular basement with adequate head space.
Concrete is the most widely used material in it’s construction. But very old houses can still be found with fieldstone or bricks.
The reason why there is a mass switch to concrete is that the old way of building them can be very prone to moisture damage when there is bad workmanship.
While concrete can also be vulnerable to water, it is not as susceptible as the traditional materials of bricks and mortar.
Some houses use the same methods and material but only goes a few feet deep past the frost line. Since it is not a typical full foundation and no proper basement can be built, it is sometimes labelled as a partial foundation.
2) Crawlspace foundation
Crawlspace is an open space with limited head room under the house. Piers and beams support the house and elevate it a few feet above the ground.
Utility units for electricity and plumbing can be installed in this crawlspace.
It is a popular setup due to the lower costs and ease of construction.
While it might not look as sturdy as other foundation types, sometimes it is the best way when factors of the surrounding environment are considered.
Definitely not suitable for bigger buildings.
3) Slab on grade
Slab refers to the concrete pads that rest on the ground and grade refers to ground level.
These are built with concrete slabs reinforced with steel bars.
Because of it’s vulnerability to frost it. So they are usually used in climates that don’t experience ground freezing as that can cause heaving of the soil.
They tend to be less expensive too.
4) Insulated concrete forms (ICF)
This is the new kid on the block is that gaining popularity.
They are made of insulated rigid foam with hollow centers that enable then to be secures one on top of another. Sort of like building blocks.
When the structure is ready, concrete is poured into the centers and left to dry. It is then layered for moisture protection.
This creates the best foundation at this moment in time.
Signs of big problems
Now that we have had a look at the most common types of building foundations, here are some signs that can be indications of huge problems going on underneath.
1) Sloping or uneven roof line
Let’s not make a joke out of a pitched roof supposing to slope. The roof line is the horizontal line that we see on top of the house that is ideally parallel to the ground.
It indicates settling or sinking.
Sometimes you might find that the rood line looks normal but when you enter the house, the floor is sloping or sagging.
If not plausible reasons can be identified, then the odds are high that you might be standing on a sinking ship.
2) Walls that don’t look normal
A wall is literally what it is a wall. It should be standing upright looking strong and with no puncture wounds.
Walls that buckle, lean against one side, or bulge is a side effect of shifting foundation.
They are usually caused by strong water pressure below the ground that is the result of poor drainage.
3) Large cracks
While cracks are not always a symptom of foundation troubles, they should be a cause for concern nevertheless when the gaps are half an inch or more.
Look our for crack that run up the wall. Especially those that run diagonally from the corners of windows and doors.
Expert advice from a structural engineer might be required.
4) Wood used as part of foundation
This is a disaster in the making. And the danger doubles if the wood is in contact with the ground.
Moisture will wreak havoc on wood. And it is also easy meat for termites when it touches the ground.
If there is no problems now. It is only a matter of time.
5) Basement windows partially below ground level
Another recipe for disaster.
Which building in the right frame of mind would build a basement window that extend below ground level?
Common sense should tell you that this is a call for water to get in and seep into the walls.
Even when basement windows are located above the ground, they should be fitted with window wells for active prevention.
6) Disconnected piers
For crawlspace foundations, every pier or pole has it’s role to play in supporting the house.
Settlement and shifting of the foundation can cause piers to uproot themselves hanging freely from under the house. It can also be the other way around when it is no longer attached to the house and standing freely by itself.
This is a clear sign of something wrong, They should be taken seriously and addressed immediately.
To buy or not to buy?
Personally, if I was going to buy a house, I would run while I still can the moment foundation problems are found.
While these problems can be fixed, they can be very expensive.
And my perception of this issue is that if the soil underneath a house which has spent maybe millions of years compacting itself cannot solidly hold a house properly, then this process will repeat itself.
If you have grown some kind of emotional attachment to the house and have to buy it nevertheless, make sure to get a qualified foundation specialist to do a professional evaluation and recommend the proper remedies needed.