The most important component of a house is the foundation. It supports the entire house, and failure can have far-reaching effects. Watch the foundation for general deterioration that may allow moisture or water to enter the basement and may require expensive repairs. Watch for uneven settlement. Uneven settlement will distort the house, frame or even pull it apart. This distortion may rack window and door frames out of square, loosen interior finish and siding, and create cracks that permit infiltration of cold air. A single localized failure of minor settling can be corrected by releveling of beams or floor joists and is not a sufficient reason to reject the house. Numerous failures and general uneven settlement, however, would indicate a new foundation is required or, more critically, that the house is probable unsuitable.

All foundations will show some settlement cracks. Keeping water away from the foundation is the first step in keeping a dry and solid basement.

Major vertical cracks, wider at the top than at the bottom, usually indicate differential settlement of the footing. Horizontal cracks located at about the front line indicate pressure caused by wet soil expanding during freezing weather....this is not usually a serious problem and can be corrected by improving the drainage and/or slope. Walls that bulge inward may have been caused by too much pressure during the backfill operation at the time of construction. Major cracks indicate potentially serious problems that should be examined over a period of months by a structural engineer to determine if the movement has stabilized.

Wetness: Wet basements and crawl spaces can often be corrected by improving the grade and/or drainage. Sump pumps can be helpful, and waterproofing compounds can be applied to the inside walls to reduce water penetration. Chemicals pumped into the soil are ineffective.

All structures develop minor settlement and shrinkage cracks. Structures are not completely rigid --- they move, expand and contract with changes in seasons, temperatures, humidity and soil wetness. Therefore, it is not unexpected for minor cracks to appear from time to time. Even changing or adding furniture can cause the formation of minor cracks as the structure adjusts to new loading patterns. Minor cracks should be considered cosmetic flaws and should be patched, painted or covered over.


Masonry foundation cracks, a common defect, can usually be filled with caulking. More extensive deterioration may indicate the need for major repair or replacement.

Crawl space houses usually have piers supporting the floor joists. These supports must be maintained insuring that settlement is the same as the perimeter foundation.


Occasionally, houses will be on pier-type wood post foundations. Such foundations give good service if the wood is properly preservatively treated.


Most foundation walls of poured concrete have minor cracks that have little effect on the structure. Whether a crack is active or dormant can be determined only by observation over several months.


Wet basements and crawl spaces can often be corrected by improving the grade and/or drainage. Sump pumps can be helpful, and waterproofing compounds can be applied to the inside walls to reduce water penetration. Chemicals pumped into the soil are ineffective.

Damp or leaky basement walls may require a major repair, especially if the basement space is to be used. Possible causes of the dampness are clogged drain tile, clogged or broken downspouts, cracks in walls, lack of slope of the finished grade away from the house foundation, or a high water table.

The most common source of dampness is surface water, such as from downspouts discharging directly against the foundation wall. Therefore, the cardinal rule is to keep water away from the foundation, and this is best accomplished by proper grading.

A high water table is a more serious problem. There is little possibility of achieving a dry basement if the water table is high or periodically high. Heavy foundation waterproofing or footing drains may help, but since the source cannot be controlled, it is unlikely they will do more than minimize the problem.


Uneven settlement of the foundation will cause cracks in brick or stone veneer. Cracks can be grouted and joints repainted, but large or numerous cracks will be unsightly even after they are patched. The mortar also may be weak and crumbling, and joints may be incompletely filled or poorly finished.

If these faults are limited to a small area, regrouting or repainting is feasible. For improved appearance, the veneer can be cleaned with water or chemicals.

It is important to prevent water from entering the masonry wall or flowing over the face of the wall in any quantity. There should be flashing or caulking at all projecting trim, copings, sills and intersections of roof and walls. Plan to repair any of these places where flashing or caulking is not provided or where need of repair is apparent. Clear water repellent should be used with caution on brick or stone because it can trap moisture within the material.


Cracking in sidewalks and drives is fairly common. Cracks large enough to trip over are a safety hazard and should be patched or fixed. Cracks that are not caulked or patched will rapidly get worse due to water eroding the soil and/or the heaving of the wet soil caused by freezing. Driveways and walks should not cause water runoff toward the home....improper water runoff can cause serious problems in any home.


The most obvious defects found in a chimney are cracks in the masonry or loose mortar. Such cracks are usually the result of foundation settlement or the attachment of television antennas or other items that put undue stress on the chimney. These cracks are a particular hazard if the flue does not have a fireproof lining. The chimney should be supported on its' own footing. It should not be supported by the framework of the house. If the house has a fireplace, you should maintain an operating damper. Where no damper exists, one should be added to prevent heat loss up the flue when the fireplace is not in use. A fireplace or wood stove flue should be cleaned at least once a year, more often, it is is used regularly.

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