Buying a house with a crack in the foundation?

Part 1 – Buying a House, Starting the Inspection process, and Foundation Cracks – What to Know             

I’ve been renting a house for several years in the Boulder area after owning home in Loveland. Last year I was married and we decided that in early 2020 it was time to purchase a home of our own. Buying a house in Colorado, particularly in Denver and the surrounding suburbs, is no easy task in this housing market. We started looking for a house to purchase in early January, and with it being so early in the season, there wasn’t much of an inventory to choose from. We didn’t let that stop us though. We looked at almost every house that was listed in the locations where we wanted to live, everything from hot new listings to houses that had been on the market for several months. The hot new listings that did appeal to us were snatched up within a day or two. We even made a few offers and were outbid by other buyers willing to pay way over market value. The houses that had been on the market for several months had issues like a crack in the foundation – obviously they weren’t selling for a reason – mostly floor plans that just didn’t flow or they simply needed too much work to make them livable. Super frustrating to say the least. Then about 3 weeks into the process of searching, we hit up a newly listed “hot on the market” house in Broomfield, made an offer, and this time our offer was accepted! We were elated, to say the least, and set off on the next phase of the home buying venture. The hurdles that come with buying a home; making an offer, accepting and signing a counteroffer, working through the home inspection process, looking at title documents, appraisal, loan objection, and finally the closing can make the process a stressful one.

Everyone who has bought a home knows that one of the most stressful parts of the process is working through the home inspection. There is a lot of worry around what the home inspector will find, will the issues be something the seller is willing to pay for and fix, will we lose the contract because there are too many issues or because we can’t come to an agreement? Our experience was no different. The home inspector found a few big-ticket items that were of concern, which began the process of haggling over what we wanted resolved and what the seller was willing to fix.

One of these issues was a horizontal crack in the basement wall. Luckily, I work at EVstudio as a Structural Field Inspector and have both the knowledge and resources around foundations to know that this type of crack was not one to take lightly. There are several types of cracks that can appear in foundation walls, these include; shrinkage, hairline, settlement, vertical, diagonal, and horizontal. Below is a basic overview of each type of crack and when to be concerned:

  1. Shrinkage – Concrete shrinkage results when moisture within the concrete itself changes. Concrete is porous and will expand when exposed to moisture and shrink when the moisture dries up. This results in vertical, diagonal, or sometimes V-shape type cracking. Shrinkage cracks are typically wider towards the top of the wall and will get smaller as they get closer to the floor. This type of crack usually results from conditions around the time of construction, i.e. poor concrete mix, rapid curing. When to be concerned: If the crack reaches the bottom of the wall it could impact the footing and cause significant damage to the foundation structure.
  2. Hairline – These will appear as the concrete cures and are usually located in the center of walls. When to be concerned: These will not cause foundation issues but can allow moisture through the walls.
  3. Settlement – These types of cracks occur when the backfill soil was not compacted properly or if the soil was not properly prepared. Settlement cracks can appear as vertical or diagonal cracks that typically will not get larger over time. When to be concerned: Cracks getting larger over time or moisture is seeping through.
  4. Vertical – These usually occur as multiple cracks in one area. Cracks that appear straight and are generally even in width usually occur due to concrete shrinkage and are generally not concerning. When to be concerned: If there is significant vertical dislocation, signs of continued movement, or moisture seeping through.
  5. Diagonal – Settlement in soils surrounding the foundation walls usually accounts for diagonal cracks. Diagonal cracks stemming from the corner of a window or a door are called reentrant cracks and are usually the result of stress built up at the corner. When to be concerned: When there is a settlement problem with a footing on one side of the wall causing the diagonal cracking or if moisture is seeping through
  6. Horizontal – Horizontal cracks are caused by more serious issues. Below is information on possible reasons for cracking based on the location of the horizontal crack in the foundation wall:
    • Crack located in the upper third of the concrete wall – likely caused by freeze/thaw cycles in surface water and sub-surface water.
    • Crack located at mid-wall height – potential backfill damage, backfilled too soon, earth compacting as it settles, hydrostatic pressure against foundation walls due to high water table, poor drainage against the foundation wall, or vehicle weight issues such as heavy equipment being operated too soon close to the foundation wall or a driveway being close to the foundation wall
    • Crack located low on the foundation wall – excessive lateral earth loads in areas of wet or dense soils.

When to be concerned: When it comes to horizontal cracking, a structural engineer should always be consulted.

The benefit of my being a Structural Field Inspector at EVstudio is that I had both the resources and expertise within my company when we were dealing with the horizontal cracking in the basement wall of the home we were purchasing. EVstudio specializes in structural foundations and is equipped to answer questions and/or assess any foundation concerns a person might have in their current home or a home you may be purchasing. If you are experiencing this right now, give us a call to chat with an expert or schedule an assessment.

Tune in next time for Part 2 where I will discuss more horizontal cracking and what it can lead to, recommended repairs for cracks, and how the rest of our home buying process went.

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