Common issues with foundations

A house with foundation issues can be enough to scare any potential buyer. Especially, when the buyer receives a report with a deficiency below the foundation section. Knowing what to look for, and correcting the issues early, can save you thousands of dollars and possibly the deal on selling your house. The foundation for your home probably has one or more of the following issues. These issues are very common and can be easily corrected if caught before it compromises the structural integrity of the home. Having these issues addressed before you list your home, not only shows the buyers and their inspector that routine maintenance was done, but also makes for a cleaner report with less deficiencies.

1.)     Exposed Tension cable ends

You are having your home inspected and your inspector points out that the cable ends are exposed at your foundation, and you wonder exactly what this means and, “What is a cable end doing in my foundation Anyways?”  In short it means that the cable ends of the tendons or cables that reinforce your foundation are at risk of eventual corrosion failure or possibly have failed.  When tendons fail there is an increased potential for large cracks to form in the foundation concrete.

2.)     Cracks at corners (Corner Pops/Shovel Cracks)

Corner pops are the unflattering cracks you will commonly find on the corner of a home’s foundation. They are found on houses both new and old, and are often referred to as shovel or wedge cracks.  Corner pops occur when the weight of the exterior siding (normally brick, stone, or stucco) exerts enough downward force on the corner to cause cracks. There is no need to fear the corner pops found by your inspector. I have done hundreds of inspections and less than one percent of the corner pops I found, were deteriorated enough to suggest calling in a foundation specialist.  In most cases, the problem is merely cosmetic causing no structural damage to the foundation.  It does not affect the performance of the foundation unless the crack or chip is extensive and/or rebar or tension cabling is exposed. A minor repair can be performed by a handyman and will improve the overall appearance of the home.

3.)     Cracks at garage floor/porches

Most garage floors and porches have cracks in them. It’s something we see every day and they are rarely a structural defect.  There are two factors that contribute to cracks in a garage floor or porch, they are shrinkage of the concrete as it cures and settlement of the ground under the slab. All slabs naturally contract as part of the hardening process or “curing”, over the first couple of months after being poured. We do not define a crack as “structural” unless it has one of these two characteristics; A separation of 1/8-inch or more across, or the sides are experiencing some shifting or one side is lower than the other.

Even though some cracks might have one of these characteristics, a structural crack does not necessarily mean it is a serious problem. The most important factor is the widening of the crack over time. Because, there is  typically a little settlement of the ground in the first two years after construction as it reacts to the new loads piled onto it, and after the initial settlement, the site stabilizes and not much further movement should occur.

4.)     Spalling (flaking)

Spalling or flaking is the result of water entering brick, concrete, or natural stone. It forces the surface to peel, pop out, or flake off. If you notice spalling in a concrete foundation wall, it should be repaired sooner better than later. Once water or salt has entered a foundation wall, it can continue to penetrate the concrete and tension cables, causing more and more damage. Spalling will cause the concrete to crumble and if it is left uncorrected overtime, it will no longer be a properly performing foundation.

5.)     Poor drainage

Proper drainage is an important part of maintaining your homes foundation. Improper drainage can cause structural issues and cause the foundation to shift, slide, or tilt. Proper drainage should lead moisture away from your home at a minimum slope of 6” in the first 10 feet. Here are some things you can do to ensure better drainage.


Gutters should be installed to prevent erosion around the foundation, creating a negative slope. The gutters should be kept free of debris and slope properly toward downspouts that carry it away from the foundation.


The final grade done around a home ensures the yard is sloped and draining towards the swale. The swale is a valley that starts at the backyard and runs down the sides of the home towards the front, draining all surface water to the street. The swale line should be free of structures, trees, plants, or anything else that could impede the flow of water.


Subsurface drains can improve drainage for problem areas that do not allow gravity to drain the water to the street. Drains are commonly installed in yards that have pools, various types of structures, uneven grading, and houses that were built in close proximity of each other.

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