Cracks can be present on brick veneer, foundation walls, drywall in the home, etc. I typically find some degree of cracking on over 50% of the homes I inspect. Several conditions can lead to the formation of cracking.
- Typical cracking can occur in the first five years after a home is constructed as the soil is considered “disturbed earth”. The weight of the structure will bear on this graded/disturbed soil, and the soil will compact allowing for “settlement” or movement of the home. After approximately five years the soil is once again considered “undisturbed earth”, and the majority of the settlement has taken place. Some settlement can still occur after this five year period, but typically not to the degree that occurred in the first five years.
- Other conditions and deficiencies can also allow for settlement or movement, including but not limited to; excessive rain, drought conditions, improper grading surrounding the structure, inadequate footer drains, the composition of the soil, the floor structure design, etc. Cracks or movement associated with these conditions typically will require some degree of repairs.
What to Look For
Home Inspectors look for several conditions in association with cracks on foundation walls or veneers, and if any of these conditions are observed, the crack will be described as being outside of normal tolerances, and further evaluation will be recommended;
(1.) Lateral Displacement – When you rub your hand over the crack is one side of the wall jutted out in comparison with the other side.
(2.) The width of the crack’s “gap” – Typically any crack over 1/4″ in width should be evaluated.
(3.) A tapering gap – A crack that starts out over 1/4″ in width and tapers to a hairline crack may show differential settlement.
(4.) The number of cracks – if there are several cracks that are all within normal tolerances, it’s the culmination of all the cracks that is important.
(5.) Multiple cracks on drywall/plaster – Multiple cracks over window and door opening or on ceilings may be associated with settlement, thermal expansion, expansion/contraction of differing building materials, etc.
(6.) Visible settlement associated with the crack – When the mortar line is followed across a crack, if a “drop” is observed with brick or block, evaluation will be needed.
All cracks initially start as a small crack, which is another reason home inspectors cannot render an opinion on a cracks severity. Any references to cracks on foundation walls below grade will need to be sealed at a minimum by a qualified person to prevent the possibility of moisture/water infiltration, regardless of the cracks size.
Can Cracks be Acceptable?
Wall cracks are reported on by their presence and visual condition as existing at the time of inspection only. Home inspectors can’t render a professional opinion as to a crack’s severity, cause, whether it has been recently active, or if further movement may occur; as this would require invasive inspections, quantitative measurements, and consultations with the seller(s) in regards to its history.
Cracks on walls will be reported as either being within normal tolerances, or outside of normal tolerances as they appeared at the time of inspection.
- Cracks reported as being within normal tolerances contained a crack width of less than 1/4″, contained no lateral displacement, and/or had no tapering of the crack width present.
- Cracks reported as being outside of normal tolerances may have contained a crack width 1/4″ or larger, contained lateral displacement, was horizontal in orientation, and/or had a tapering crack width. Cracks outside of normal tolerances will always be recommended to be evaluated by a Structural engineer.
Although cracks may be listed as being within normal tolerances, this observation only applies to their appearance at the time of inspection. Furthermore, a crack within normal tolerances may have been in the same condition for years with no activity, or may be newly formed and still active. I recommend consulting with the seller(s) as to the history, including recent activity, of any cracking present on the walls.
Inspectors can not render a professional opinion as to a cracks severity, cause, or whether it has been recently active. Only a Structural Engineer can render a judgement on a cracks severity, cause, and repercussions and they should be consulted as desired. As well foundation contractors are in the business of making money, and they will typically quote repairs for any crack or indications of settlement, regardless of its severity. Therefore, if you would like ANY referenced cracks evaluated, quoted, or repaired, a foundation contractor or other qualified tradespeople should be consulted prior to the end of your inspection contingency period.
For more details and informational videos, visit the Chimney Safety Institute of America
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