In my previous post I mentioned that foundation movement can show itself in many different forms, whether that be structurally or cosmetically. As always, structural issues should always be determined by a state licensed professional engineer. What you, as a homeowner, should be looking for are the cosmetic signs of foundation damage.
Signs of foundation damage
When we talk about window separations we are normally looking from outside the house towards a window. You can find this type of separation where the brick meets the window and can be one of the definite signs of foundation damage. In the picture you can see that higher up the window, the more separation there is. This is because as the brick wall starts to lean there is more displacement the higher up you get. This sort of separation can allow moisture and bugs inside the house, also it can lead to the breaking of windows.
We consider brick cracks as cracks that travel through actual bricks and/or the mortar between those bricks. You will normally notice these types of cracks in diagonal or stair step patterns down a wall. Based on this we can use it as one of the signs of foundation damage. Just like window separations, cracks like these can allow bugs and moisture into the house. If the wall is leaning too much it can actually cause the brick ties to disconnect, meaning you need to tear down and replace the entire brick facade.
Frieze boards are a great place to start looking for signs of foundation damage, specifically at the corners. Frieze boards are the piece of trim that sit against the brick below the roof overhang. Since they are so high up, you can see the variance a lot better as separations magnify themselves the higher up you get. When a foundation begins to sink it causes the exterior wall to lean. since those boards connect at the corner right on the brick, any lean will cause that corner piece to separate. This is important with 2-story homes, as it can cause roofing issues.
Inside the home, one of the most noticeable issues homeowners begin to see are sheet rock cracks. They can be in the ceiling or walls, typically they run along seams in the sheet rock, but significant movement can cause the cracks to travel diagonally through the wall. Cracks coming off the top of door frames can help point in the direction that is lower. A good tip to determine if this is yet one of the signs of foundation damage is to take a quarter and see if you can stick the edge of it inside the crack, if so then it is definitely worth further inspection.
Once of the most annoying signs of foundation damage are doors that stick, can’t close/open, or locks that don’t line up. This can also be a safety issue, if there is a fire and you can’t open a door. This occurs because one side of the door is at a different elevation than the other after installation. When looking at a door reveal, or the space between the door and the frame up top, we should see that once side of the reveal has more space than the other. This will help tell us which side is lower than the other and which side is potentially causing the problem.
Tile cracks are never fun, especially if they happen immediately after installing some new floors in that kitchen or bathroom you are remodeling. They stick out like a sore thumb and can cut up your feet. This occurs because tile is a very rigid surface glued down to another rigid surface, it just wasn’t built to flex. When the foundation moves and the tile can’t, you end up with cracks. Normally you will find a slab crack below that tile crack and since this is one of the signs of foundation damage in the kitchen or bathrooms, you’ll want to check your plumbing.
Expansion joints are the cuts builders put into a brick wall to identity some signs of foundation damage, they go vertically from the slab to the roof and are typically filled with sealant or caulking. These are specifically built into the wall to allow the brick to move due to settling without causing damage to the brick. If the brick is breaking and the expansion joint is open, it is safe to assume that the movement is well past tolerable amounts and should require stabilization and re-leveling. Again, notice how the separation gets wider the higher you get.