The foundation of every building supports the floor, wall and roof framing. It helps keep floors level and windows and doors working smoothly. There are a number of ways to check for deficiencies, all of them easy.
When a foundation shifts, the doors and windows often begin to stick or bind. This happens because the framing around them shifts, too, twisting or leaning in their openings. If this is happening, you’ll probably need to call a home inspector (licensed, trained and qualified) or other expert to examine the foundation. Unless there’s a serious soil issue, the cost to alleviate the problem will probably be less than a full blown foundation repair. One home I inspected for the cause of cracks around doorways and windows simply needed a couple of shims inserted between the floor joists and the concrete block piers holding them up to level the floor.
Another obvious sign of foundation shifts is the presence of cracks in the drywall at the corners of doors and windows. You can trying hiding them with drywall joint compound or spackle but they’ll most likely come back. You’ll probably still have to have the foundation inspected.
Side Comment – I’m not a big fan of spackle. It dries hard and usually has to be sanded. But sanding can create a shiny surface that most paint can’t hide, leaving the repair visible. Drywall joint compound serves the same purpose. It can be applied by hand or with a putty knife then smoothed with a damp sponge or fine sandpaper until it blends into the surrounding surface.
CHECK FOR MUSTY AIR
Stick your head into the crawl space and sniff. If it smells damp or musty you may have moisture intruding under the house. If that’s the case you’ll probably find efflorescence, a white powdery coating, on the foundation walls. Efflorescence is a clue to look further. It isn’t particularly destructive but is unsightly, especially on basement walls. You can clean it with a one-to-one mixture of vinegar and water applied with a nylon brush or a wire brush if the stain is really stubborn. There are also commercial products you can find at hardware stores but why spend the money?
If the crawl space is only damp, no sign of significant water, you may be able to control it by installing a vapor barrier, sheets of plastic wall to wall, on top of the soil.
GO UNDER THE HOUSE (If You Dare)
If you’re adventurous, take a tour around the crawl space, but remember, they don’t call it a CRAWL space for nothing. You’ll need a strong light, old clothes or coveralls, old shoes, hat or cap (for ever present nails), gloves and a respirator for dust, insulation or mold spores. I also use knee pads. Check the foundation walls and piers for cracking or tilting. If they’re tilted or cracking they can be the cause of the drywall cracks we mentioned above. If the mortar between concrete blocks is powdering or gapped it’s a sign they may be grinding together because they’re moving around and candidates for inspection by an expert. While you’re under there, take a look at the insulation. If it’s falling or missing altogether you may have to replace it.
SAFETY WARNING: Never, ever go under a house with a wet or water covered floor when there are electrical wires hanging down or that you might come in contact with. No professional home inspector will go in there and neither should you. People, water and electricity don’t mix!!