Are Foundation Cracks Normal?

building a foundation for a new home

Building a Strong Foundation

In honor of our upcoming Independence Day, let’s take a look at one of the strongest foundations in history. The cornerstone of the United States Whitehouse was laid in 1792. From there a foundation was built for a mansion that Presidents would reside and watch over the country and the world. Sounds important and impressive, doesn’t it? Just as important is your home’s foundation. Foundation inspections for cracks and damage to the cornerstone of your home are just as important and crucial to your family’s life. 

Are foundation cracks serious?

It depends on the type of crack and where the crack is located. There are ten different types of cracks that a foundation inspection can find. Once there are found and identified, it can be determined if they are a danger to your home. If you’ve been asking, “what does foundation damage look like”, the following are some descriptions and information on what causes them. 

  • Horizontal Cracks

These types of tracks in the basement foundation can be a serious matter. Hydrostatic water pressure and unbalanced soil are the typical cause, resulting in the foundation caving inwards and water leaking into the basement. A foundation inspection can determine how to fix this problem.

  • Stair Step Cracks

Typical of block foundations, stair-step cracks occur at mortar joints. These can create a dangerous threat to the integrity of the basement foundation and are caused by these two common issues, which a foundation inspection will determine: whether it’s foundation settlement or sinking, or moisture-related problems outside the foundation.

  • Hairline Cracks

Commonplace for new construction are hairline cracks and will appear within the first 12 months. They are caused by the settling of the new foundation as it dries, and for the most part, are a cosmetic issue, not any concern for the stability of the house or foundation. A foundation inspection may be done for peace of mind and the repair can be done for around $200 by the homeowner or a professional for a cost up to $600.

  • Vertical Cracks

Vertical cracks aren’t as serious as horizontal cracks in the foundation. These are common types of foundation cracks caused by the foundation settling and the natural process of cement curing. There are kits available for DIY repair using an epoxy or polyurethane crack injection for under $100. Or a professional repair after a foundation inspection confirms the problem is around $500.

  • Diagonal Cracks

Diagonal foundation cracks are like vertical cracks and typically aren’t any threat to a foundation’s structural integrity. A foundation inspection will find they run 30 degrees vertically at the maximum and is part of the concrete’s natural curing process. An epoxy crack injection will get rid of the view for under $100 or a professional can cover them for around $500. 

  • Shrinkage Crack

Shrinkage foundation cracks are caused by the concrete foundations drying out and losing moisture, typical of a new home build within the first 12 months. These vertical cracks do not pose any structural threat to the foundation but can be a concern where Radon Gas is found in high levels getting into the basement.

  • Foundation Slab Cracks

These cracks can be an indication of bigger problems, i.e., plumbing problems. There are three possible causes that a foundation inspection will determine, which are: 

  • Concrete Curing

A natural process of drying and settling a concrete slab that is not of any structural threat. 

  • Slab Settlement

If this occurs with a new foundation slab, it can be a problem. Typically caused by poor workmanship where the ground was not supported or compacted. This needs immediate attention starting with a professional foundation inspection. 

  • Frost Heave

This is when the crawl space slab foundations are either at or above grade and during freezing, any water that gets underneath the slab can freeze, resulting in the buckled concrete foundation. 

  • Non-Structural Foundation Crack

This type of crack doesn’t threaten the structural integrity of your home, but it will allow water to leak into the basement. It should be addressed to save any issues with things stored in the basement getting ruined. Any time water is allowed inside a home, it will eventually start causing mildew and mold growth. It isn’t an urgent matter but should be addressed sooner than later. 

  • Wet Non-Structural Foundation Crack

As water evaporates from the foundation, it causes the foundation to shrink and this type of crack develops, typically within the first month that the foundation is poured. A professional foundation inspection can determine the severity of this type of cracking and can use a urethane sealant material.  This flexible substance is injected into the crack and will expand, filling the cavity.  

  • Structural Foundation Crack

This is a serious type of crack and will weaken the structural integrity of the home. A foundation inspection will determine the size of the crack and a recommendation the best repair method. Epoxy material is the common choice in conjunction with a carbon fiber reinforcement with countersunk staples or straps to keep the crack from expanding.

What happens when you have foundation issues?

There are 4 main things that can happen when issues and problems are found during a foundation inspection are ignored. And while there are only 4, the content of each of them can create a lot of problems for a homeowner: 

Foundation Settling and Sinking

This is usually the first thing that happens because foundations will move over time, sink into the ground, settling unevenly. Things you’ll notice are uneven floors, doors and windows aren’t opening or closing correctly, or not at all. 

Insect and Rodent Infestations

As a foundation settles and sings, falling into disrepair, insects and rodents will find their way inside your home through the cracks. Buying cans of bug spray isn’t going to fix this either because an infestation of insects or rodents will lead to nesting where they breed and multiply. Some insects and most rodents can cause more damage. 

Plumbing Problems

As the concrete foundation shifts and sinks, the plumbing inside and under the foundation becomes vulnerable. The pipes bend, break, and water damage starts deteriorating the foundation, and then you have extensive water damage that your homeowner’s insurance may or may not cover.

Mildew and Mold Issues

When a foundation inspection finds issues and problems that you choose to ignore or postpone repairs, the wooden members in the structure will begin to mildew and mold starts to form and spread. This creates a toxic environment and health risks for your family. The wood keeps rotting until it crumbles and disintegrates. 

Can foundation issues be fixed?

In most cases, yes, foundation repairs are possible. As you’ve just read, any foundation issues shouldn’t be considered a minor thing. If you can’t do the repairs yourself using the kits we’ve mentioned, you should hire a professional that knows how foundation repair is done after a thorough foundation inspection is recommended.  The longer you wait, the more extensive the foundation repairs can be and could require new foundation piers to be installed that will level the house and reinforce the existing foundation. This type of work is expensive, as much as $10,000 or more.        

Is it safe to live in a home with foundation issues?

Yes, you can live in a house safely with foundation problems when they are confined only to sagging or unlevel flooring and doors and windows that don’t close and open properly. If there is mildew and mold forming, the health risks become more dangerous, leaking to respiratory issues and more. This is why it should always be taken care of as quickly as possible.

What causes foundation damage?

Seasonal changes and the soil structure are the two most common causes of foundation problems. The soil can be too dry or too wet and create foundation problems. The soil in Texas causes foundations to shift constantly, which leads to damage.  Foundation experts advise that these are the most common of all foundation problems: 

  • Evaporation– Extreme heat and lack of rain will cause the soil to shrink, leading to structural cracks.
  • Improper Drainage– Too wet will cause foundation failure as the water pools around the foundation and erodes the soil and the foundation to settle and sink.
  • Plumbing Leaks– Water is the enemy to a foundation. It may be years before a leak is noticed in a foundation and by then, the damage is expensive and extensive. 
  • Low-Quality Soil– Low-quality soil expands and shrinks frequently, contributing to foundation failure.
  • Inferior Foundation Construction– A top cause of foundation failure is man-made materials and human error. The amount of rebar or steel used in a foundation affects the structural integrity and when coupled with poor quality concrete, or it isn’t allowed to cure, will make a foundation weak. 
  • Insufficient Soil Structure– A low-density soil under the foundation that isn’t compacted can lead to foundation problems. 
  • Transpiration– If you don’t keep your trees properly watered, the roots will pull the water they find from the ground, including the moisture under your foundation. 
close-up of a home's foundation

At The Bottom Of It All 

It is important for a homeowner to learn how to prevent foundation damage and follow the professional foundation contractor’s advice. When they recommend watering the foundation on a certain schedule, it should be followed exactly.  Will your water bill increase? Yes, but it will save you thousands of dollars to get the foundation repaired. 

Is foundation damage covered by insurance? That can depend on the cause of the foundation damage. If your homeowner’s insurance covers destruction from a tornado and your foundation is damaged, you’ll have help with reconstruction. Some plumbing cause issues may be covered unless the adjuster deems the problem is owner neglect.