Identifying Foundation Issues for Adjusters

Author

Allan_Abbata_WEB

Expertise Includes:

    • Building Foundation Issues
    • Civil/Site Work Evaluation
    • Concrete Systems - Cracks/Settlements/Failures
    • Construction Defects/Claims
    • Storm Water Control
    • Structural Design - Collapse/Failure Analysis

As a structural engineer, I am often called upon to determine the cause of commercial and residential building problems. Common problems I investigate include doors or windows that don’t open properly, cracks in interior and exterior walls, gaps in the trim, leaking roofs when the exterior covering is otherwise in good condition, sloped and out-of-level floors and leaning walls. Many of these problems are a direct result of foundation cracks, settlements and/or failures.

Below is a partial list of potential factors that can contribute to foundation cracks, settlement and/or failures:

  • Characteristics (make-up) of Underlying Supporting Soils
  • Consolidation (compaction) of Existing Soils
  • Hydrostatic (Lateral) Forces against Foundations
  • Erosion (scour) of Above Grade Soil Surfaces
  • Freeze/Thaw Temperature Cycles

Cracks in foundations can potentially lead to collapsing walls while settling or shifting foundations can lead to walls and roofs out of plumb, all of which lead to property damage and expensive repairs. A definition of a foundation is simply a base structure or supporting component of the building situated on the underlying soil or rock of the ground below the building. The foundation is designed to carry the building’s weight and transfers that weight to the ground or rock underneath to keep the building stable with minimal movement to its original location and elevation.

Foundation problems can usually be traced and are the direct result of moisture either at the ground surface or below. Soils will expand like a sponge when they get wet (during heavy rains) and/or contract leaving voids when they dry out (during drought conditions). These types of movements can cause a foundation to shift by settling or heaving. A settling foundation indicates that a portion has dropped below the original foundation elevation. This occurs from loss of soil bearing capacity caused by consolidation of fill, loss of moisture in the supporting soil, or to the erosion of the supporting soil. A heaving foundation means the slab or footing has risen above the original foundation elevation. This happens most often due to the introduction of moisture under the foundation or through a series of freeze/thaw cycles. In many cases, settlement and heaving originate and are more pronounced at the perimeter of the structure since the slab or footing perimeter is the most susceptible to loss of moisture and differential settlement conditions. Evidence of foundation problems is usually apparent in the exterior and interior of the building, as well as in the ground around the structure and in the foundation itself.

Signs or indications of exterior foundation problems

  • Exterior concerns such as:
    –  Doors or windows that do not open or close properly
    –  Doors or windows showing diagonal cracks
    –  Caulking around brickwork or masonry starts separating
    –  Excessive spalling/chipping and cracking in the foundation walls
    –  Cracks in brick, masonry block and mortar
    –  Gaps at the corner of fascia trim
    –  Roof in good physical shape is leaking

    Brick Veneer Exterior Wall

  • Exterior cracking and/or bulging walls
    –  Large cracks in concrete or brick piers, footings, walls and other structures
    –  Large cracks displaying a regular pattern and appear to be getting bigger
    –  Step patterns in concrete footings could result in uneven settling
    –  Bulging or rotation along a foundation wall
    –  Cracked or shifting chimney
  • Yard and Lawn Areas
    –  Large cracks and irregular elevations in driveways, sidewalks or connecting patios
    –  Large cracks in a concrete slab on grade construction
    –  Gap between garage door and pavement immediately near the door

    Slab and Foundation Wall Crack

Signs or indications of interior foundation problems

  • Interior concerns such as:
    –  Walls showing cracks toward the top and at corners where the walls meet
    –  Leaks and cracks in and around a brick fireplace wall
    –  Cabinet doors that will not stay closed
    –  Diagonal cracks in the wall at corners of doors or windows
    –  Gaps above kitchen cabinets
  • Doors and Windows Misaligned
    –  Doors or windows not plumb and are out of alignment
    –  Doors or windows jammed in their frames
    –  Doors or windows that stick, don’t swing open or close properly
    –  Windows or doors with cracked glass
  • Sloped Floor and Cracked Walls
    –  Uneven, unleveled or sloping floors
    –  Curling and tearing of existing sheetrock repairs
    –  Cracked drywall seams, especially around doors and windows
    –  Popped drywall nails and gaps between the baseboards and the walls
    –  Baseboard is loose or misaligned at the walls and seams

    Interior Wall Stress Crack at Top Corner of Door Opening.

Of course, many homes in temperate climates have concrete perimeter foundations but rest on a structure of posts and beams. If an inspection reveals that any of them are leaning, it’s an indication that the house has shifted its position. You shouldn’t see any water under the house. If you do, or if you notice that the ground is wet on one side of the house and dry on the other or that there is standing water near the foundation, it’s a sign of drainage issues that need to be addressed. If they haven’t already, such issues will cause foundation problems in the near future. Note that some foundation damage is strictly “cosmetic” damage that does not interfere with the foundation’s load bearing capacity. These “cosmetic” items could be cracks in floor tiles, cracks in sheetrock, etc. A qualified structural engineer can help you determine the cause of the problems observed and whether they are cosmetic or will require foundation repair.

Allan Abbata is a senior consulting engineer at Warren and a licensed professional engineer in South Carolina, North Carolina, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Missouri, Texas, Alabama, Maryland, Minnesota and Virginia. Allan holds a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering. He has more than 40 years of applied engineering expertise to include in-depth knowledge of building codes, rules and regulations that guide design. Allan has also prepared construction drawings and specifications, provided on-site supervision and inspection of construction projects, and. has overseen project management and responsibility for overall performance of building contracts while also serving as the client’s liaison with local, state and federal agencies and municipalities.

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