Everything You Need to Know About Foundation Inspection: Why It’s Crucial, Who to Hire, and More
Don’t crack up over foundation cracks. Get an expert opinion about the integrity of your home’s foundation by scheduling a foundation inspection.
Mentioning “foundation problems” can evoke visions of costly repairs for most homeowners. Still, it might surprise you to learn that some foundation inspections and repairs are less expensive than you’d expect. Many problems are only cosmetic, but others are structural. If you need a foundation inspection, then you’re probably wondering what it involves and who you need to hire. Thankfully, there are professional structural engineers who are qualified to inspect your foundation and determine the extent of the damage along with suggesting possible solutions. Sometimes nothing more is needed than a bit of sealant or epoxy, but it’s often best to let an expert determine that. During a home foundation inspection, these pros will identify areas of concern and the best solutions for any needed repairs. Keep reading to learn more about the process and what to expect.
Who Performs a Foundation Inspection?
Anyone can walk around their house and see hairline cracks, expanding cracks, and bowing walls. However, it’s one thing to see them and another to know what’s causing the problem and how to repair it. That’s where a structural or foundation engineer comes in. These professionals are trained to understand the physics and mechanics of how a foundation can break down and how best to repair it. In some extreme cases, repair might not be possible. But have no fear—a home foundation inspector’s goal is to help homeowners understand their exact situation, safety considerations, and possible solutions. Since the inspectors don’t make the repairs themselves, you can trust that their report is based on their expert assessment of your foundation.
Do I Need a Foundation Inspection?
Houses settle naturally, and in some areas, the ground frequently shifts due to seismic activity. In addition, weather and water also wear down construction materials over time. Sometimes an extreme situation requires an immediate foundation inspection, but other cases are not so critical.
If the foundation of your home is suddenly questionable due to an extreme event, then calling a home foundation inspector should be at the top of your list. Living in a house that could collapse to any degree is a significant safety concern. If an inspector can’t come quickly or a repair can’t be made promptly, little can be done while you wait. You might be able to prop up 2×4 lengths of wood against a bowing wall temporarily, but in reality, your family’s safety is paramount. In extreme cases where significant damage is apparent, you’ll need to relocate temporarily. Additionally, minor problems can grow to become an emergency over time, so don’t hesitate to act.The following are emergency situations that require immediate assessment from a qualified foundation inspector.
- Severe earthquakes
- House hit by equipment or a vehicle
- Severe flooding, mud, or heavy ice
- Walls separating from the other walls
- Bowing or bulging walls
- Expansion joint separation
Since it’s common for homes to settle and shift over time, some concerns you have about your foundation might not be an emergency. For instance, hairline cracks that run vertically usually aren’t cause for alarm, but horizontal cracks that are wider than a pencil should be taken seriously. Keep an eye on any cracks that are about ⅛-inch wide to see if they expand quickly. When in doubt about a problem, find a structural engineer who can assess your home. And though some of the following issues might not be an immediate emergency, they can often become one.
- Cracked windows
- Windows that have loosened from their foundation
- Large or horizontal cracks in the foundation
- Cracks in the interior walls or ceilings
- Water seeping into the basement
- Standing water around the foundation
- Bulging foundation
- Soft or sloping floors
- Cracked floor tiles
- Rotting wood or mud tubes from termites
- Doors and windows that recently started sticking
- Mold or mildew in the basement
Homeowners also request home foundation inspections when a question is raised about the foundation’s stability during a home inspection. While a home inspector can make general assessments about a foundation, only a structural engineer can truly provide a qualified assessment regarding the stability and safety of a foundation. When buying or selling a home, you might need to get a foundation inspection done. Neither party is obligated to request or pay for one, but the party most interested in having the information should pay for it. Here are some reasons you should consider a foundation inspection.
- A favorable inspection can improve overall home value
- A potential buyer needs to know the condition of the foundation
- Helps homeowners see where they need to manage their water runoff
- Prevents long-term health problems if mold is detected early
- Keeps family members safe
- Prevents future significant damage if issues are caught early
Foundation Inspection Cost
There’s no single cost for foundation inspections since every home and situation is unique. The average foundation inspection cost ranges between $400 and $750, but a complex project that requires detailed plans could cost upward of $1,000 to $3,000. Keep in mind that this is only the inspection cost and does not include repairs. However, the benefits of paying for a home foundation inspection are significant since it helps to ensure your home is structurally sound. Catching a problem early means you can apply a foundation solution quickly—and hopefully before it’s costly. The engineer’s hourly rate, your location, any municipal fees, the complexity and size of the project, and accessibility will determine the overall cost. The type of foundation you have could also affect your foundation inspection cost.
DIY vs. Hiring a Professional
Homeowners are encouraged to actively check their homes for obvious signs of structural damage. If homeowners regularly inspect their homes, they have a better chance of getting a potentially severe problem repaired before it’s much worse. Take some time to check the exterior of your house and along the inside of your basement to see if there are cracks or seeping water. And if you notice doors or windows start to stick, make a note of it. However, beyond checking for the obvious signs of a problem, homeowners are not qualified to adequately assess the structural integrity of a home unless they are structural engineers themselves. And it’s difficult to know about the integrity of a foundation when you’re looking at buying an older home that you don’t live in; that’s where a professional comes in handy.
Foundation inspectors, or structural engineers, have years of training under their belts to understand the scientific processes of force, gravity, load-bearing beams, and much more. They’re also qualified to know the right solutions to repair a foundation problem, whether that’s adding a waterproofing material or jacking the foundation.
Furthermore, foundation inspectors must be licensed in the state where they work. This helps ensure that they understand local building codes and are trained and qualified to do the work. The last thing you want is to have an unqualified “professional” provide you with a shoddy report about a home’s structural integrity, only to discover how bad the damage is after a wall nearly collapses or the basement floods. Finally, mortgage lenders often have lists of local foundation inspectors with proven track records, just as they do for home inspectors. They won’t accept the word of you or your friend about the condition of a foundation, so you’ll need to use a licensed foundation inspector.
How to Find a Professional for Foundation Inspection
Your best bet for finding a professional foundation inspector is to check with neighbors or coworkers who’ve recently had an inspection done. If they had a good experience, they could recommend the professional they worked with. Referrals are one of the best ways to find someone who will leave you with a positive experience. Alternatively, you can do an internet search for “foundation inspection near me.” This will bring up local companies and individuals to research further. Here are some tips for finding and narrowing down your choice of home foundation inspectors.
- Check online reviews from multiple sources, including the Better Business Bureau when possible.
- Only hire licensed foundation inspectors who are credentialed to work in your state.
- Ask your local building permit office what kind of foundation inspection permits or licenses are required in your area.
- Obtain multiple quotes after talking with several potential inspectors to see if they are knowledgeable and understand your situation.
- Look for companies that have multiple certifications and are members of foundation associations.
- Ask for a sample report to see how detailed their work is.
- Make sure they are qualified to inspect your type of home or building and its foundation.
- Choose an established company that has been in the business for a while.
Keep in mind that your location and extenuating circumstances will affect which professional you need to hire and how much it will cost. Use these tips to guide your decision-making process, but be open to other specific considerations for your situation.
Questions to Ask About Foundation Inspections
Once you’ve identified the licensed and insured foundation inspector that you want to hire, you’ll want to ask them some questions. This will help to avoid miscommunication and surprises and help you feel comfortable with the process.
- Have you worked on my style of house and foundation before?
- What kind of problems do you usually anticipate with a house this age?
- Can you provide a sample of what I can expect in my report?
- What does the inspection include?
- How much will this inspection cost?
- Is that price firm, or will it change after the inspection?
- How and when do you accept payment?
- Do I need to be present during the inspection?
- What kind of access do you need?
- Is there anything you need to know about the house or its systems before or during the inspection?
- How long will an inspection take?
- Do you offer several solutions for repairs?
- Can you recommend a few good foundation repair contractors if necessary?
- When can I expect the report?
If You Need Foundation Repair…
While most of us hope all we need is a little sealant to repair a crack, some foundation problems are more severe than that. Repairing a bowing wall or a significantly depressed driveway along your foundation is not a DIY kind of job. There are safety considerations to make and specialized equipment necessary to complete some repairs. Though it’s not fun to have to spend the money on an expensive foundation repair, it’s well worth it in the long run. You’ll be able to rest easy in your structurally sound house, knowing it’s been repaired to last for many more years.
Hiring a foundation inspector is the first step to knowing if your house is safe and sound on a solid foundation. Since this process can involve a fair amount of technical construction information, having the help of a qualified professional can make the process easier—and so does having as much information as possible as you prepare for an inspection. Consider the answers to these frequently asked questions.
Q. How much does foundation inspection cost?
In most cases, the average cost is $400 to $750. However, that can increase to a range of $1,000 to $3,000 and up. Large or complex properties typically cost more than average since inspecting and completing a detailed report takes more time.
Q. What is involved in a foundation inspection?
Most inspections only take a couple of hours. The engineer will visually inspect the exterior, interior, and the nearby terrain for any signs of damage or drainage problems. This also includes getting into any crawl spaces to look for damage of any kind and checking how level the floors are and if the walls are straight. After the engineer leaves, they’ll draft a report that includes any pictures they took and potentially terrain assessments from city survey maps if necessary. The complexity of your project and your location means this scenario could vary, but this covers the basics of what to expect.
Q. How do I know that I need foundation inspection?
Vertical cracks at least ½-inch wide or horizontal cracks in the foundation are common signs that you need an inspection. Additionally, you might have water seeping into your basement or pooling around your foundation, bowed walls, bulging concrete, or cracked windows. When in doubt, you can call a local foundation inspector and see if they can come quickly check to see if a full inspection is needed.
Q. What do pros look for during a structural inspection?
Foundation inspectors are looking for abnormalities that can’t be attributed to a house that’s just settling in the ground or issues present on an old home that’s not built to current standards. What may seem insignificant to you could speak volumes to them. They’ll spend a lot of time measuring, taking pictures, and checking even the smallest details inside and out. A foundation should keep water out and keep the house standing straight. If anything is out of the ordinary from those two situations, the engineer will look for it and do a forensic analysis to determine the cause and solution. This could include lots of popped-out drywall nails, walls that lean slightly, floors that slope, cracked tiles, mildew in the basement, mud tubes, crumbling bricks around windows, sloped drainage toward the house, and much more.