Chris' Corner: Here a crack, there a crack (part 7)

Here a crack, there a crack (part 7)


Russel Ray is a very professional, knowledgeable and experienced home inspector from San Diego CA and fellow Active Rain blogger.  Over the last while, he has written a series of posts on the subject of cracks in a property.  If you have a crack and are unsure of the impact on your property, consult with a professional, such as a structural engineer, however, as a primer, and to gain general knowledge, I have found Russel's information very helpful.  This is Part Seven of the series and Russel not only discusses the root cause of many foundation cracks, namely water, but also suggests tips we should consider to help create an environment that is not conducive to inducing cracking caused by water ...


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Here a crack, there a crack....
(part 7)

DISCLAIMER: This discussion is based on several decades of experience in real estate, including as a home inspector and general contractor. I am not now a concrete professional or licensed structural engineer, so if you are not comfortable with common concrete cracks and our discussion here, hire one of those two professionals to help you. This discussion, however, should help you be a little more knowledgeable about cracks so that you don't just automatically assume the worst. Cracks happen, kind of like ActiveRain blogs.

I'll presume that you have read previous lessons.


Lesson Seven

So far, we've discussed

  1. curing and shrinkage cracks in the foundation stem wall in the garage (Lesson One and Lesson Two),
  2. cracks in the garage floor (Lesson Three),
  3. cracks in the foundation stem wall of the house proper, the living area (Lesson Four), and
  4. cracks in raised foundations with crawl spaces (Lesson Five and Lesson Six).

Before we move on to more cracks, let's discuss that one thing that is most responsible for cracks in our homes: water. We know it is because insurance companies regularly report that water is the #1 cause of homeowner claims.

Water is an integral part of the human body, it comes out of faucets and hoses, it occupies over half of the surface area of the Earth, and it falls from the sky as rain, snow, sleet, and hail. We even freeze it in order to make margaritas!

If you've ever seen pictures of the Grand Canyon, you know the power of water. Couple water with wind, as in a hurricane, and that power becomes even greater. Our homes are simply very small microcosms of the Grand Canyon or a hurricane, so the best thing you can do to help prevent cracks in your foundation, ceilings, and walls, is to keep water away from your home. There are several things you can do to accomplish that:

  1. Make sure the grading around your house — the soil, concrete, and landscape materials — slopes away from the house so that water drains naturally by gravity away from your foundation.

    Many landscapers and concrete installers do not understand how installing grass, brick, stone, and concrete up against the foundation can negatively affect the foundation. The problem with grass is that if you don't get the drought-resistant variety, which often is the most expensive, you'll have to water it to keep it looking good, like in this picture:

    Landscapers and concrete professionals rarely take time to slope the materials they are installing away from the foundation, so water usually ponds on the materials causing moisture damage to the exterior walls.

    The best walkway is one like that shown in the following figure:

    The walkway is away from the foundation, so we don't care if water ponds on it for any length of time (actually we do, but your house foundation doesn't!) and the rocks prevent water from hitting bare soil and splashing mud onto the siding. Since mud is wet, when it's on your siding, it's causing moisture damage. (Some strategically placed pots of flowers and other small plants could create a beautiful effect here.)

  2. Keep plants away from the foundation, especially large plants and trees. Tree roots are notorious for damaging foundations, and those tree roots grow when you give them water. Therein lies the problem! Some trees don't even belong on residential properties, like the one in this picture:

    That tree is a ficus, and it destroyed the foundation of the house to the left of it, which is the house that I was inspecting. Ficus trees belong in arboretums or in the wilds of the Amazon rainforest, not on your property, and certainly not close to houses, sidewalks, driveways, and plumbing and sewer pipes!

  3. Refrain from trying to make your home look like a tropical paradise if you don't live in an area where water abundantly falls from the sky. If you want a tropical paradise, you can use a variety of succulents and vines outside and inside, hang lots of pictures of tropical paradises, or move to Hawaii or the Bahamas. (Readers who would like to explore xeriscape tropical-looking plants and other drought-resistant vegetation can download my Vegetation file which is a part of all my home inspection reports.)

    The following picture shows a home in San Diego. It had a $600 monthly water bill and simply is not appropriate for a desert, even one with a Mediterranean climate.

    That home was only a few years old at the time of the inspection, and I warned my Clients that continued watering would ultimately lead to foundation, wall, and ceiling cracks because the soil was mud and could not properly support the house. I need to stop by there and see what kind of problems they're having. Not if they are having problems, but what kind.

  4. Install gutters and downspouts on your house. Many builders here are of the opinion that since we only get an average 10 inches of rain annually, there is no need for gutters and downspouts. Nothing could be further from the truth because just as soon as an El Niño winter arrives with 23 inches of rain in six weeks, all bets are off.

In Lesson Eight, we'll look at exterior wall cracks.


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Comment balloon 0 commentsChris Smith • April 20 2011 02:25PM