Are Minor Cracks in Your Foundation a Cause for Concern?

minor foundation cracksAs a homeowner, discovering cracks in your foundation can be alarming. After all, the foundation serves as the structural base for your house. You quickly begin to wonder if the cracks you see are an indication of a serious problem and if the structural integrity of your house is threatened. All sorts of nightmare scenarios play in your mind as you fear foundation damage and mounting, costly repairs.

Cracks can happen for many reasons — it all depends on the type of foundation you have, the way your house was constructed, grading, terrain and drainage around your home.

We’re here to reassure you that not all cracks are created equal and minor cracks in your foundation many not necessarily spell trouble. To help you get a better understanding of whether or not the cracks you’ve spotted are cause for concern, here’s an overview of the most common types of foundation cracks.

Vertical Home Foundation Cracks

Vertical foundation cracks are common and are the least cause for concern. Vertical cracks go straight up and down, or run slightly diagonal, about 30 degrees of vertical. These types of cracks occur as the result of your foundation settling. Most houses, including those in Austin and San Marcos and throughout Texas, will see vertical cracks form within the first couple of years after construction — when most foundation settling occurs. While these cracks don’t signal structural concern, they can allow water to seep through the foundation wall during heavy rains.

How are vertical cracks repaired? Typically, a urethane or epoxy material will be injected into the cracks, to permanently seal them to prevent them from reopening or growing as your foundation continues to settle.

Diagonal Foundation Cracks

Diagonal cracks are another common type of foundation crack and run from about 30 to 75 degrees from vertical on your foundation or basement wall. Diagonal cracks can sometimes be very narrow (called hairline cracks) but are frequently wider at one end than at the other. They are caused by differential settling of a foundation — where one side of a home’s foundation settles lower than the rest of the foundation. This type of settling occurs when the soil beneath the structure expands, contracts or shifts away. This can be caused by drought conditions, flooding, poor drainage, roots of maturing trees, broken water lines or gutter downspouts that drain too close to the house’s foundation on one side.

How are diagonal cracks repaired? They’re repaired the same way as vertical cracks, but also require the important extra step of determining the cause of the differential settling. This is when seeking the advice of an Austin foundation repair expert who has specialized training to determine the cause of the settlement and to make proper recommendations on how to fix the situation is key.

Horizontal Foundation Cracks

Horizontal cracks are more commonly seen in concrete block and brick foundations, but can also occur in poured concrete foundations. Cracks that run sideways are caused by a bowing foundation and are an indication of serious damage to your foundation and a threat to the structural integrity of your house. There are several causes of this type of foundation damage, including damage from heavy equipment near the wall, frost heaves or excessive backfilling. When the force of the ground is too much for the foundation to withstand, it bows inward and develops a mid-height horizontal crack.

How are horizontal cracks repaired? To restore the structural integrity of your home as soon as possible and prevent further damage, a bowing foundation should always be evaluated by a licensed structural engineer. Bowing foundations are serious and foundation repair should always be done by a professional and certified foundation repair company.

Step Cracks

Stair-step cracks are horizontal and vertical cracks that create a stair-like pattern in concrete block and brick foundations. This type of crack is typically an indication that the footing under the foundation is moving. This can occur for several reasons, including external lateral soil pressure due to excess moisture. If the pressure is greater than the resistance the foundation wall offers, the wall will bulge into the basement resulting in the formation of cracks.

How are step cracks repaired? Stair-step cracks require further investigation by a licensed structural engineer and repair by a foundation specialist in order to keep your home safe and supported. If the brick or block is moved in or out from the material, or the cracking extends through the blocks, the problem may be more serious.

As with many home repairs, cracks in your foundation should be addressed earlier rather than later. Whether you notice a small crack or a large crack in your home’s foundation, it’s important to have a foundation specialist evaluate it to determine if the damage falls into one of the following categories:

  • Cosmetic, requires minimal or no repair;
  • Minor, monitoring needed to watch for changes or worsening conditions; and
  • Significant, requires immediate repairs

Other Signs of Foundation Cracks

Get in the habit of routinely inspecting your foundation and be aware of any cracks or areas that bulge or lean. In addition to the telltale sign of visible cracks in your foundation, be on the hunt for other areas in your home that may indicate an issue with your foundation:

  • Bulging or leaning interior walls (due to shifting foundations)
  • Buckling or bulging of floors (another indicator of a shifting foundation; A quick test is to use a ball to see if it’ll roll when placed on the floor)
  • Windows and doors that become difficult to open and close
  • Cracks in walls (especially over doorways, windows or where walls meet ceilings)

If you have concerns about new or old cracks in your home’s foundation, schedule an appointment with one of our Austin or San Marcos foundation repair specialists. Our experienced team will thoroughly evaluate your foundation and suggest the best options to safely fix the problem.