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4 Questions to Ask a Chicago Home Inspector about Foundation Damage

May 17, 2013 • By Matthew Stock.

4 Questions to Ask a Chicago Home Inspector about Foundation Damage


The residential real estate market in Chicago has begun to bounce back and people are once again listing homes for sale and eager buyers are traipsing from house to house in search of their dream home. 

A key player in this residential real estate game is the home inspector.  Wise sellers have engaged one before listing the house to learn of any shortcomings before the property went on the market.  Savvy buyers depend on the inspector’s report to make a final “yes or no” decision and to point out to them things that should be repaired or replaced before the property changes hands.

One of the major problems that can befall a home in Chicago, or anywhere for that matter, is structural foundation damage.  The consequences of this damage are far-reaching and the cost to repair it can be significant.  Unfortunately, not all home inspectors are giving their clients the information they need to make an informed decision so home buyers must take the initiative with their inspectors.

What to Ask a Home Inspector about Structural Foundation Damage

What are the Signs of Foundation Damage? – If a home inspector can accurately describe to the buyer the signs of structural damage to the foundation, this gives the homeowner an idea of what look for himself and also establishes that the inspector himself knows what to look for.

The signs of foundation damage include:

Basement – cracked walls, bowed or bulging concrete block or other masonry walls, walls out of plumb, separation between top of foundation wall and sill plate.

Aboveground Indoors – cracks in drywall, sticking doors, jammed windows, uneven floors

Aboveground Outdoors – “stairstep” cracks in exterior masonry, chimneys and fascia board separating from the structure, gaps around doors and windows

Did You Specifically Check for Foundation Damage? – Inspecting for foundation damage requires some specific efforts, including making detailed measurements and using a laser level to determine where the house may have gone out of level or plumb.  There are some, both inspectors and foundation contractors, who have been in the industry for a while who feel comfortable diagnosing foundation problems (or absence of them) merely by eye.  As good as their eye may be, there’s no substitute for measurement because even the most experienced or best-trained eye can be tricked.  Measurements are crucial in reporting foundation damage because as little as an inch can mean the difference between a minor problem that is easily and inexpensively repaired and a serious issue that may cause a buyer to walk away from a house.

What is the Cause of the Damage? – There are two main causes for residential foundation damage – lateral pressure from over-saturated soil around the foundation and a sinking or settling foundation caused by soil desiccation.  Both can be serious and threatening to a home’s future but the scope of necessary repairs is usually vastly different.

Lateral pressure usually causes poured concrete walls to crack and tilt or rotate inward; masonry walls, including concrete block, will bulge or bow inward in the middle.   Depending on the extent of wall movement, fixes can range from repair with carbon fiber strips to bracing with steel to a complete rebuild; costs rise along the same scale.

Sinking foundations are pretty serious business.  Repairing them requires underpinning with hydraulic push piers; the worse the problem, the more piers are required to stabilize the house.  More piers equates to higher costs so it is essential for a potential home buyer to understand the extent of the problem.

Should I Get a Second Opinion? – Not every home inspector is qualified to diagnose a foundation problem; that doesn’t mean they’re bad at their job.  If the inspector finds something unusual about the home’s foundation but isn’t sure what it is, it may be time to call in a consulting engineer for a full report.  It will cost extra but the cost is minimal compared to buying a home with hidden foundation problems – or walking away from a structurally sound house due to uncertainty.

Most home inspectors understand the importance of the foundation and the potential for damage and will make sure the foundation is thoroughly covered.  At U.S. Waterproofing, we regularly meet with home inspector organizations to offer the benefit of our knowledge and expertise to help them do a better job of inspecting foundations and we are ready to help homeowners as well to learn about their home’s foundation issues.  Please ask us for a free consultation.

Tags: foundation damage, structural foundation damage, home inspector, home inspection

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