Chicago Structural Foundation Damage – What are the Exterior Signs?


When structural foundation damage happens to a Chicago home, the ramifications are serious; in fact, the stability of the home’s entire structure can be placed in jeopardy, depending on the extent and type of damage. 

Structural damage usually isn’t a one-time event, either.  Once it starts, it continues to get worse and weather conditions and the resulting presence or absence of ground water can accelerate the damage.

The good news in that, of course, is that catching the damage early allows the Chicago homeowner to stop it in its tracks by repairing the damage while it’s still minor.  Repairing the foundation at that point often costs less and creates less of a disruption than waiting until the damage spreads before fixing it.

In order to do this, it’s essential to be able to spot the signs of structural damage to a home’s foundation, both from inside the house and outside.

How to Find Signs of Structural Foundation Damage Outside the Home

There are two main kinds of structural foundation damage:  foundation walls that tip, rotate or bulge inward and sections of foundation that experience extreme settling, better described as “dropping” or “sinking.”  Both result in a change in the foundation’s support for the aboveground structure, with the latter damage being more drastic, and both leave telltale signs on the home’s exterior.

Cracks in Brick or Stone – Many homes have a masonry facing of brick or stone on all or parts of the exterior which, although not usually structural itself, is tied to the structure of the home.  When the foundation below these facings moves it is very common for cracks to occur in the mortar joints between the bricks or stones.  These cracks usually move upward at an angle from the bottom of the masonry, creating a “stairstep” effect.  When the movement is minor, the cracks are narrow; widening cracks indicate that the problem is getting worse.

Gaps between House and Foundation – The base of the aboveground construction of a frame house is a beam called the “sill plate” that sits on the foundation all the way around.  When foundations drop or when walls move drastically inward, the sill plate may separate from the foundation and a gap will appear in between.  This gap may be the source of drafts or moisture inside the basement even before it is visible from the outside.

Out of Level – When serious dropping or sinking of the foundation occurs the aboveground part of the structure can go out of level or plumb, the vertical version of level.  Because modern home design creates many horizontal lines on the outside of a house – siding, trim, window molding, etc. – it can be relatively easy to spot when the house is out of level.  Homeowners should trust their eye – and confirm with a carpenter’s or laser level.

Separation of Building Elements – When the house goes out of level it is inevitable that it goes out of plumb as well, a condition that may not be as easily spotted.  One place to look is the chimney, which will remain upright and actually begin to separate from the structure.  Another is any addition to the home which, having been built on a separate foundation may not move the same way as the original structure and will also separate, creating a visible gap.

When a Chicago homeowner sees any of these signs on the outside of his or her home, the assistance of a full-service foundation repair contractor is needed – and quickly.   At U.S. Waterproofing, our foundation repair experts use engineering data to diagnose and repair structural foundation damage from minor to extensive.  Ask us for a free consultation on your foundation problems.


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