Structural foundation damage is one of the most serious problems a homeowner can face. It can result in inconveniences like sticking doors and unsightly cracks in drywall but, left undiagnosed and unrepaired, it can also cause the entire structure of your home to become unstable.
The sooner you find the damage the better. Structural foundation repair done before the problem gets worse is likely to be less extensive and less costly and your home won’t suffer additional collateral damage from a sinking foundation or a collapsing wall.
Makes sense, sure, but how does the average homeowner find the problems?
We’ve written before about signs of structural foundation damage – drywall cracks, sticking doors and damaged exterior masonry among others – but just because you don’t see those signs doesn’t meant the problem isn’t there. One simple way to judge the health of your home’s foundation is by using a basic carpenter’s level that you probably already have around the house.
Two categories of damage can happen to your foundation: it can sink or the walls can tip inward or tilt outward. No matter which of these things happens, something is going to go out of level or out of plumb and you can find it using a spirit, or bubble, level.
You can use any level you have on hand but a 4-footer is ideal. If you’re skilled with a laser level, that also works but we’ll stick to basics here.
Start with the walls – If your foundation walls are cracked and have gone out of plumb, which means exactly 90 degrees straight up and down, you’ll find it quickly by placing the level upright against the wall. Read the horizontal vial on the level from the side:
If the bubble’s in the middle, your walls are plumb
If the bubble is off-center away from the wall, the walls are tipping outward
If it’s toward the wall, they’re tipping inward
Try the Floor – Place the level on the floor in several spots, starting in the middle to get a general idea of how level the floor is overall. Move the level along the perimeter of the floor, setting it perpendicular to the basement wall. If the bubble’s centered, it’s all good; if it’s off toward the wall, the floor is tipping downward.
The Footings Are Best – If you have a full or partial crawlspace without a concrete floor, your foundation footings may be exposed. If so, you can place the level directly on top of the footings, which will give you a more accurate reading than the basement floor using the same procedure.
Check the I-Beam – If your house is like most, there’s a steel I-Beam running down the center of your basement, supported by notches in the basement walls on each end and by steel columns in between. If your foundation has sunk, the ends of beam will have dropped out of level and the joints in the beam (usually found right above the columns) will have separated from the top down. Lay the level on the beam – if the bubble’s centered, things are OK; if it’s off to the side away from the wall, the beams are out of level.
If you find any of these problems using the level test, don’t panic but don’t ignore them, either. You can avoid further damage by having your foundation assessed by a structural engineer or foundation repair contractor. They’ll tell you what caused the problem, how it can be repaired and what you can do to prevent it from getting worse.
Our structural foundation repair experts at U.S. Waterproofing are experienced in construction and in diagnosing structural foundation damage. We’ve helped hundreds of homeowners with their foundation problems in our 55 years in business, so why not schedule a free consultation?
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