Can You Identify Dangerous Foundation Cracks Just By Looking?

Residential foundations may look straightforward, but they're arguably one of the most complex elements of any structure. Your foundation needs to support the weight of your home (often referred to as a 'dead load') while also accounting for forces that can constantly change and shift. For example, hydrostatic pressure from soil moisture can vary dramatically with seasons and rainfall.

Since foundations are so complex, foundation failures tend to be equally complex. They can also take many forms, some of which aren't easy to spot with the untrained eye. So, what should you do if you spot a crack in your foundation? Unsurprisingly, the answer is that "it depends."

Understanding Foundation Movement

All foundations will move to some degree, either as the structure settles or due to changes in surrounding conditions. Building engineers design structures to withstand this movement, and your home's foundation is no different. As a result, cracks can sometimes occur in foundations even when no significant structural issue is at play.

When examining a foundation, inspectors will typically classify cracks as either "active" or "static." An active crack is growing over time. Active cracks may appear in new construction as a house settles, but they're often a worrying sign in older homes. These cracks tell you that not only is your foundation shifting, but it's shifting in a way that's affecting its overall structure.

However, it's also critical to understand that even active cracks will grow incredibly slowly. A crack that noticeably increases in size over a few weeks or months typically indicates a very severe structural issue and one that you shouldn't ignore. Still, a crack that grows over many months or years can signify a major structural problem with your home.

Addressing Foundation Cracks

In general, it's very hard to understand the severity of a crack just by looking. You can try a few do-it-yourself approaches, such as marking a crack with tape, to determine if it's growing over a long period. However, these methods are relatively inexact, and it's easy to misjudge movement that occurs very slowly. Likewise, trying to judge a crack by its shape or direction can often be misleading.

If you have small cracks in your foundation that have been present for many years without changing, they're probably not a major concern. On the other hand, any new crack, or any crack that seems to be visibly changing, is something to worry about, regardless of whether it's vertical, horizontal, diagonal, or in some other pattern.

When you spot these cracks, the best option is to contact a foundation repair company. An expert can examine and measure a crack to judge its severity and help you understand the underlying cause. Once you have this information, you can use it to make an informed decision about the repairs necessary to keep your foundational structurally sound.

If you need cracked foundation repair, reach out to a foundation contractor in your area.