How to Check the Foundation of Your Home in 7 Simple Steps

All it takes is a little walking around and an eagle eye

Marwa Hasan
Written by Marwa Hasan
Updated May 11, 2022
A exterior view of custom home
Photo: David Papazian / DigitalVision / Getty Images
Difficulty

Intermediate

Perfect for handy homeowners.

Time to complete

3 hours

A few hours, depending on the design of your house

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A solid foundation for your home is crucial to maintaining the structural integrity of your house. 

The average cost of foundation repairs ranges between $2,000 and $7,000, or higher if your home has damage. Knowing how to catch foundational problems early is a crucial part of preventative foundation maintenance that will help you save money in the long run.

7 Steps to Inspect Your Foundation

As a homeowner, you should routinely look for any sign of foundation problems. Here’s how:

  1. Walk Around the Exterior of Your Home

    Take a stroll around your property and check out the following: 

    Walls and Foundations

    Look for any signs of bulging or leaning that indicate an uneven load on the foundation. Both the foundation and home walls should be flush and level.

    Water Damage

    Check for pooling water, water damage, or cracks in concrete. If you find any moisture on the exterior of your home, make a note of it.

    Pooling water can indicate broken pipes or an issue in the foundation. Water rots wood and shifts soil, both of which can cause serious damage. 

    Cracks

    Cracks and fissures can be hard to diagnose. You'll mainly need to keep an eye out for any cracks that are greater than a quarter inch in size.

    Horizontal cracks can indicate stress on the foundation. You can apply waterproof paint over the crack and see if the paint cracks or chips. If it does, it suggests the crack is growing, and the foundation is shifting.

  2. Look for Warped Floors or Ceilings

    Inspect the floors. Look for any cracks, buckling, bulging, sloping, or warping. A sloping floor is a telltale sign of foundation issues; use a ball to see if it rolls to test how level your floor is. 

    If you notice that your floors or ceilings are not leveled, it can be a warning sign of foundation issues. 

    When a home’s foundation shifts, it pulls walls and support beams apart. This results in uneven movement and sagging of floors and ceilings.

  3. Examine Your Walls for Cracks, Leaning, and Bowing

    Inspect the interior walls of the home and look for any noticeable cracks in the wall. Cracks or separations larger than a quarter of an inch may indicate issues with the foundation. On the other hand, hairline cracks are harmless and can be easily repaired with spackling paste.

    Look for any bowing, bulging, or leaning walls. Sometimes, cracks may not be present but walls will still be out of place due to shifting foundations.

  4. Check Your Windows and Doors

    Check your doors and windows. They should all open and close smoothly. If you notice that a few of your doors and windows are stuck or are difficult to close, the foundation may have moved.

    Gaps between the wall and doors or windows could mean the foundation is shifting. These gaps can also allow water and insects into your home, causing structural damage in the long run.

  5. Scan the Foundation

    Be sure to check the structural elements if you have access to your foundation. 

    • Check concrete slabs and piers for any noticeable damage.

    • Examine supported beams and load-bearing elements.

    • Make sure that everything is leveled and nothing is buckling in the foundation.

    • Inspect metal or steel piers for rust—which can be a sign that there is moisture in the basement or crawl space. 

    • Look closely at the tops of piers for any broken connections or movement.

  6. Look for Water Damage

    If your home has a crawl space, inspecting the area for water damage or mold is important.

    Look for any moisture or mildew you see in warped or rotten wood elements. 

    If you smell a musty odor in the basement corners or crawl spaces, it can signal foundation damage. While the problem could be plumbing-related, it can also indicate that outside moisture is seeping through cracks in your foundation.

    You should check mold-prone areas to see any foundation-related cracks or gaps that could be letting in water before turning on the dehumidifier.

  7. Pay Attention to Your Chimney

    If you notice that your chimney is tilted or cracked, this is another telltale sign of foundational damage. If your chimney shifts too much, it can collapse entirely, posing a serious threat to your family and your property. 

    If you’re concerned, call a chimney repair professional immediately to get your chimney stabilized.

DIY Foundation Inspection vs. Hiring a Pro

If you find a few warning signs of foundation problems during your initial inspection, it’s time to contact a professional to put your mind at ease.

The goal of a professional foundation inspection is to determine if the underlying base of your home is structurally sound. A licensed structural engineer looks at these points:

  • If you need foundation repair or modification

  • If the foundation acts as intended

  • If the foundation follows building codes

A structural engineer will prepare an inspection report for your foundation repair pro. The report should include the extent of the foundation damage (if any), the approximate repair costs, and the turnaround times. 

Expect to pay from $200 to $750 to hire a structural engineer for home inspection and obtaining a report.

Home Foundation Inspection FAQs

How often should you inspect your foundation?

It's a good idea to check your foundation every season—at least twice a year, if not every quarter. Extreme weather conditions and the change of water content can cause the soil around your foundation to change, whether because of melting snow or drought.

Either condition can cause soil to expand and contract in response to weather and result in foundation shifting.

What does the structural engineer foundation inspection entail? 

A structural engineer inspection consists of three stages:

  1. Pre-Inspection Discussion: You will talk to the engineer about what you found, and they will ask questions about the structure of your home, which should help the structural engineers know where to look first.

  2. Visual Inspection: The inspector should look at the exterior and interior of the home. They will inspect the surrounding property and look for signs of any old repairs since it could indicate previous foundational issues.

  3. Post-Inspection Report: A licensed structural engineer will prepare a comprehensive report that discusses any current or potential structural damage to the building. In addition to providing detailed descriptions of specific damage points, these reports offer recommendations on the best type of foundation repair for your home

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