Cracks In The Foundation? Serious or Not

Home Inspector with Alert Home Services

The following is a good article about foundation cracking. Cracks in foundation walls, to the untrained eye, are all serious when in fact that is untrue. As a native of the Denver Metro area and very knowledgeable of the expansive soils here it is in the best interest of your client that you have a knowledgeable and trained eye to detect if is truly serious or minor and superficial. 

Cracks in Basement Walls
by Gerry Aubrey of Blue Bell Consulting, Inc.

When spring arrives we generally focus our attention on cleaning the house, cleaning the yard, and planting gardens. Before we venture out, let's head to the basement and check something really important: the basement walls. Winter is brutal. Freeze thaw cycles destroy streets and frozen rain pulls down wires and trees. Those same forces are busy below grade, and they can wreak havoc on the home's structure. When the ground freezes, it swells and pushes against the foundation. This pressure can crack the wall, resulting in serious damage to the home. Almost 1/3 of the claims made against home inspectors are related to structure. The vast majority deal with structural failures discovered after renovations begin and were not visible to the inspector, but the central issue is the structure which is very important. A house is only at strong as its' foundation.

The first order of business is pull everything away from the walls so you can see all sides, top to bottom. If you finish your basement, build the walls out far enough so you can examine the foundation. What type of walls do you have? A rule of thumb, stone is the best. This is only present in very old houses, but it's the most solid foundation you can have. Poured concrete is the next best thing to stone. You are inspecting it to find damage that can result in structural failure. Concrete foundations often crack. The crack is usually vertical. It is caused by shrinkage of the concrete as it cures. If you find a vertical crack, rub your fingers across it. If both sides of the crack are even, the crack is most likely from shrinkage. This is a common cracking pattern and is rarely a structural concern. If you have water entering through the crack, get it professionally repaired. If you can fit a dime in it, get it fixed. Occasionally the wall on each side of the crack is not even. This type of crack may have been caused by a backhoe operator in a hurry. Walls are sometimes cracked during the backfilling process.

If you have cinderblock walls, they are most prone to problems. If properly installed and maintained, they generally perform well. Again, a vertical crack is usually not a concern. The wall is merely segmented, and the wall on both sides of the crack is doing its' job. Look for water penetration, and if present get it repaired. If you find a long horizontal crack in the wall, you should be concerned. A horizontal crack compromises the integrity of the entire wall. It can lead to catastrophic structural failure. If you can put a dime in the crack, call a structural engineer. These horizontal cracks usually appear about 3' below grade. They are caused by hydrostatic pressure against the side wall, and it snaps the wall. If I find a small crack during an inspection my advice is often to monitor the crack. If the crack never changes, you need not worry about it.

Monitor the crack? The Client generally looks at me like I suggested they study Latin Literature. Cracks are like a stain on the ceiling, it's very difficult to tell if it changes. There is a device that I've discovered for monitoring cracks that is brilliant in its' simplicity. It is manufactured by Avongard Products of Santa Monica California. They have a toll free number to order it, 1-800-244-7241, and the device, with shipping, is less than $20.00. It consists of two pieces of clear Plexiglas with a grid on them and two holes in each piece to secure it to the wall. It comes with a chart that duplicates the grid, and a spot on the chart to write the date. The device is secured to the wall and the grid is placed over the crack. You can secure it with masonry nails or an epoxy that the manufacturer sells. Once it is secured to the wall, you cut the tape that joins the two pieces of Plexiglas. The two pieces will move slightly when you cut the tape. You then draw a line on the chart to duplicate the reading on the grid. Keep the chart in a safe, dry place, and re-inspect the crack regularly for at least a year. Mark the next grid on the chart and date it each time you check it. The soil conditions can vary greatly between the seasons, so it takes a while to be sure there is no movement. Monitor it for at least a year. If the crack is moving, call an engineer.

When I find a crack in a basement wall, the first thing I try and determine is what the crack has been doing lately. Cracks caused by backfill, or water damage ten years ago are far less of a concern than a crack that is moving. If there is evidence of moving, a specialist should be called as soon as possible. There are a multitude of methods to repair foundation walls, short of tearing the house down and starting over. They obviously will vary in price depending on the labor involved. One thing is certain. If you have a crack in the basement wall, check it regularly, and if you are at all suspicious of it moving, call an expert, and get an expert to repair it. This isn't the same as painting the back porch. If the job's not done right, the down side can be disastrous.


This entry hasn't been re-blogged:

Re-Blogged By Re-Blogged At
Active Rain Newbies
Keller Williams 'Rainers
Century 21 Network
You've GOT to be kidding
Colorful Colorado
Exit Realty--Real Estate Re-Invented
Home Inspections Q & A
Independent Brokerages
RE/MAX Active Rain Bloggers
Keller Williams
1st Time Buyers
Coldwell Banker Group
Ask the Home Inspector
Services for Real Estate Professionals
GMAC Real Estate
Keller Williams Agents
Independent Thinking Inspectors
Metro Brokers GMAC Real Estate
Keller Williams Referral Network
colorado home inspection
colorado home inspections
colorado home inspector
colorado home inspectors
colorado home buyers

Spam prevention
Show All Comments
Paul Anyanwu
CRS, SFR, Broker-Salesperson, Sales West Orange,NJ
Cracks in the foundation serious or not i leave that to the trained inspectors to determine, thats the reason a home buyer has the option to inspect the home and there are very qualified home inspection companies they will make that call . Thanks for the information.
Apr 12, 2007 03:41 AM #1
Ryan E
Dartmouth, NS

Great information Rick.

As soon as I get on-site, the first thing I look at is the foundation and I take a lot of photos of the condition because the conditions can change quickly depending on the type of soils and moisture in the ground around the foundation. I then take all those photos and burn them to CD in case I ever get call backs about the foundation.

In our area there is a lot of clay soils that as you now can move a great deal in wet conditions so it puts a lot of pressure on the foundation walls and causing a lot of damage especially if the walls do not have a good gravel drainage system installed around the foundation.

Anyway great posting!


Apr 12, 2007 05:24 AM #2
Erol Kartal
Schaumburg, IL

Thanks Rick.

If homeowners would drain the downspout discharge 6' away from the foundation, there would be less foundation problems. I rarely if ever, see a home with proper drainage including new construction.

Home Inspection Chicago

May 01, 2008 03:49 AM #3
Sandy Nelson
Riley Jackson Real Estate Inc. - Olympia, WA
your Olympia area Realtor


I'm so glad I found this article. One of my buyers is interested in a home (built 1901) that has cracks in the foundation. I've bookmarked your post and will email the link to my client. Thanks.


May 01, 2008 04:01 AM #4
Kevin O'Shea
Coldwell Banker - White Plains, NY
White Plains, NY Real Estate

Interesting post.  I try to get to engineering inspections with my buyers, I almost always learn something.

I know that horizontal cracking is usually more of a problem than vertical cracking.

My policy is to have the inspector make these determinations.

All the best!

May 01, 2008 04:09 AM #5
Don Draughn - Mortgage Professional
High Point, NC
This is great information.  I am currently looking at a house that has these verticle cracks that are very narrow.  thanks for the information.
May 01, 2008 07:34 AM #6
April Hayden-Munson
Brookfield, WI
Brookfield Wisconsin Real Estate
Great post Rick, most people don't understand foundations and cracks!  Great information.
May 01, 2008 07:59 AM #7
Jacki & Jerry Shafer
The Shafer Real Estate Team, Keller Williams Louisville East - Crestwood, KY
The Shafer Team, Call 502-643-SOLD
Extremely informative post.  Thanks!
May 01, 2008 01:18 PM #8
Teresa Franco
Keller Williams Realty - Amarillo, TX


Thanks for this information.  This has been very useful.

Thank you,


May 01, 2008 02:15 PM #9
The Bartley Group SouthEast MN Real Estate
Coldwell Banker Home Connection - Owatonna, MN

Rick, thanks for the information.  We always advise sellers to have foundations professionally inspected if there is any question.

Brian Bartley

May 02, 2008 11:04 AM #10
Gene Allen
Fathom Realty - Cary, NC
Realty Consultant for Cary Real Estate
Thanks for the info.  A lot of our homes are built on crawl spaces around here.
May 03, 2008 03:51 AM #11
Sabrina Kelley
ERA Herman Group Real Estate - Woodland Park, CO
Woodland Park Colorado Mountain Homes and Land

Hi Rick,

How do you get your blog to post to all of those groups? I thought the limit was only five,


May 04, 2008 03:36 PM #12
Sabrina Kelley
ERA Herman Group Real Estate - Woodland Park, CO
Woodland Park Colorado Mountain Homes and Land

Hi Rick,

How do you get your blog to post to all of those groups? I thought the limit was only five,


May 04, 2008 03:36 PM #13
Sabrina Kelley
ERA Herman Group Real Estate - Woodland Park, CO
Woodland Park Colorado Mountain Homes and Land

Hi Rick,

How do you get your blog to post to all of those groups? I thought the limit was only five,


May 04, 2008 03:36 PM #14
Kevin Corsa
H.I.S. Home Inspections (Summit, Stark Counties) - Canton, OH
H.I.S. Home Inspections, Stark & Summit County, OH Home Inspector

I would also like to know how you get your blog to post to all those groups... did you get special dispensation from the Pope or something?

Anyway, regarding the post; I see foundation cracks of all sorts all the time. On the severe ones that are of concern, I usually recommend an interior carbon fibre strap system, which can be epoxied over nearly any interior foundation crack, and will stabilize it. This is a very stabe, and economical fix for many foundation problems, and can usually be completed in one day. Tests have shown that the reapirs are genrally stronger than the wall itself, and also can stop inward movement (tilting). I have more info on this for anyone who is interested.  

May 04, 2008 10:39 PM #15
Jim Curry
Re/ Max Achievers - Hagerstown, MD

Some very good information; Thanks

Oct 30, 2012 11:30 PM #16
Show All Comments

What's the reason you're reporting this blog entry?

Are you sure you want to report this blog entry as spam?


Rick McCullough

Ask me a question