A home’s foundation is as essential as it sounds. Without a proper foundation, a variety of structural issues can plague a home that could end up costing you scads of cash to repair. But how do you know if a house has foundation problems, and how hard are they to fix?
Never fear—the answers may not be as scary as you think. (Not all of them, anyway.)
What causes foundation problems?
There are a number of different types of foundations—ranging from masonry to concrete to wood. But no matter the type, they all face similar stressors.
- Deterioration of stem walls: A stem wall sits on top of your concrete slab and acts as the base structure to which other walls and floors of the house are attached.
- Foundation settlement: Settlement is how the foundation is affected by time and/or weather, causing the soil underneath the foundation to shrink.
- Foundation heave: This is when the soil under the foundation surges up over time (which can happen to compensate as other areas settle).
One thing to note: Your home’s age shouldn’t be the chief factor in determining potential problems. So don’t assume you’re in the clear if your house is new, or doomed to encounter problems if your home is old. Foundation problems can plague any home.
Signs of foundation problems
The effort to determine the exact source can be complicated, but you should start by looking for visible cues. Without an expert, there are a number of telltale signs you can see:
- Cracks on walls, floors, columns, and window and door openings
- Doors or windows that stick when you try to open or close them
- Bowing basement walls, where pressure from outside the walls has caused them to bend inward
- Sagging crawl space floors
- Leaning chimneys
- Sinking front porches and stoops
- Overall water intrusion or damage
How to fix foundation problems
If you’ve identified a problem with a home’s foundation, you’ll probably turn first to a home inspector to begin the repair process. This can be helpful, but according to Brown, you shouldn’t restrict yourself to home inspectors alone.
“Home inspectors are only qualified to see the very basic signs, and have no training or skills to make more sophisticated determinations,” says Brown.
A report from a local engineer (costing around $200 to $800) can be helpful in that it can provide you the structural or geotechnical (meaning soil-related) expertise the job may require.
How much does it cost to fix foundation problems?
Costs vary depending on your area and specific circumstances, but they can total around $3,500, according to national averages posted on HomeAdvisor.com. Here are some other costs based on what exactly you’re trying to repair.
- Fixing cracks: ranging from a few hundred dollars (e.g., $400 to $800) up to $2,000 to $3,000.
- Underpinning or lifting a sinking foundation: from $1,000 to $3,000 per pier (support)—the number and type of supports will depend on the foundation type and the extent of repair required.
- Major repairs: ranging from $3,500 on up to $10,000 or more, but can go as high as $20,000 to $30,000.
- A brand-new foundation can cost up to $40,000.
But no matter how bad a foundation problem ends up being, none is necessarily a reason to walk away from a home you really want. As Brown puts it, a foundation issue is much like any other repair a homeowner encounters.
“Every case is unique. And almost every problem can be fixed—some very cheaply, others not so much,” he says. “It’s a function of perceived risk and return.”
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