Foundation Cracks: When to Worry
Your home and everything in it -- including you and your family -- rests on its foundation. So, you're not alone if you ask yourself, "Should I worry about foundation cracks" or, "Are foundation cracks normal?" You may be surprised to know that the answer isn't as simple as "yes" or "no." The answer also depends on what kind of foundation you have, poured concrete or block.
Older homes often have foundation walls constructed of 16" x 8" x 8" concrete blocks, also known as concrete masonry units (CMUs). These are joined by mortar to form a single block wall. Newer homes often have foundation walls constructed from poured concrete and reinforced with steel bars. These can sometimes have the look of a brick wall, but this is a purely aesthetic effect achieved with the mold that held the concrete when it was in its liquid form.
In this article, we've outlined some of the most common types of foundation cracks you may find in your basement walls. We'll explain what normal foundation cracks are, what's not - and when you should be concerned.
Shrinkage Cracks in Poured Basement Walls
Concrete can crack over time, often early on in its lifespan as it cures and shrinks. So, if you find a short, often vertical, hairline crack in your foundation wall -- especially if it occurs near the seam where the forms were joined for the initial foundation pour -- it may be nothing to worry about. Foundation wall cracks of this type usually don't represent a structural weakness that could worsen over time. However, if you are concerned about hairline cracks, we would be happy to take a look at them as part of our free, no-obligation inspection.
Diagonal Foundation Cracks in Poured Walls
If a poured concrete basement wall is experiencing excessive stress, it will often fail from the corners in. This will typically result in longer diagonal cracks that emanate from the corners of the foundation wall -- usually at the upper corners. If you see foundation wall cracks of this type, it is probably time to call for an inspection, as this could indicate a serious structural problem with your home's foundation and is often associated with a foundation sinking or settlement problem.
If you do see foundation wall cracks of this type, don't panic -- most foundations can be stabilized and even lifted back to their original position using specialized equipment. This is often less expensive and far less disruptive than total foundation repair.
Foundation Cracks in Block Walls
Where poured basement walls typically fail from the top corners inward, block foundation walls most often fail horizontally in the middle, bowing in as the mortar joints break. The evidence of a failing foundation block wall, then, will usually consist of horizontal cracks midway up a basement wall. You may also see stairstep cracks as the joints fail around concrete blocks at different levels.
As with foundation cracks in poured walls, cracks in block walls indicate a foundation under extreme stress. But just as poured foundation walls can be repaired, so too can block foundations.
How Serious Are Foundation Cracks?
Foundation wall cracks don't magically go away; they get worse with time. The thing is, they tend to do so very slowly. So slowly that you may not even notice them getting bigger. So, it's tempting to forget about them and let them be. But if you let foundation cracks grow, there is a danger that the entire foundation wall may fail, and then you're in for a very messy, very expensive situation. Not to mention that foundation problems have on your home's value.
Just as foundation cracks don't get better with time, they also don't get any cheaper to fix. In fact, it's pretty much guaranteed that your cracked foundation wall will never be cheaper to fix than it is today. So, we always recommend fixing now rather than later.
When to be Concerned About Foundation Cracks
If your basement wall is cracking due to foundation settlement, you may see symptoms all over your house that you didn't realize were related. Things like sticking windows and doors or sloping floors and gapping ceilings can all be related to a sinking or settling foundation. This means, when you repair your foundation, you may actually take care of other problems throughout the house - or at least stop the damage from continuing. And, of course, if you're planning any remodeling in the future, it's always best to have a level foundation to begin with.
Repairing Foundation Cracks: Where to Begin
Repairing a foundation first requires a diagnosis of the problem. At Thrasher, we have a team of experts who are highly experienced in identifying the causes of foundation failure and determining how best to repair them permanently. An inspection is free and carries with it no obligation. Your Thrasher design specialist will walk you through everything, one step at a time. And by the time you sit down at the kitchen table at the end of the inspection, you'll know exactly what caused the problem, exactly what it will take to fix it permanently and exactly how much it will cost. And if it turns out you don't have a foundation problem, we'll be happy to give you that good news, too.