Chris' Corner: Here a crack, there a crack....

Here a crack, there a crack....


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 Russel's first post in a series on cracks.  I have found this information to be first rate, and his examples and pictures to help with one's understanding on the subject.  I encourage people to read this series for a great introduction into a very common occurence, namely cracks in a home...


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Here a crack, there a crack....

My first experience with cracks in our homes was on December 18, 1965, when I was delivered to my wise old grandmother's house in Kingsville, Texas. I was a juvenile delinquent package that had been shipped from Brigham City, Utah. No one up there wanted me. Only my wise old grandmother was willing to take on the task of straightening me out.

Shortly after arriving, granddad went to work to patch a crack in the living room. It was one of those ugly cracks that goes diagonally upwards from one of the door corners. Granddad had built his house back in 1937, and that one crack was the only thing wrong with it. Here's a picture of 420 W. Alice Ave. in Kingsville, Texas, that I pulled from Google Street View a couple of years ago:


I'm proud to say that I planted those two oak trees, but you'll notice that they are far from the house. By the time I planted those in 1968, I had already been taught about the possible damage from tree roots and, in hurricane country, trees or limbs falling on the house.

In this series of posts, I'm going to discuss the various cracks that appear in our homes and how much of a concern they should be to you.

Lesson One

Many home inspectors don't understand concrete cracks. In fact, some of them are as bad as Clients buying homes with cracks, thinking that if there is a crack, the house is falling down.

The synonym for concrete should be "crack," and there's a common saying among concrete professionals and home inspectors that there are two types of concrete:

  1. That which has cracked.
  2. That which is going to crack.

Back in 2008, Cristal Drake emailed me asking for help with a comment and picture in a home inspection report that she had received on her listing. Here's the picture:


And here's the comment: "Vertical crack in foundation wall in Garage. Recommend a licensed contractor inspect further and perform appropriate repair."

I looked at that crack and called her to tell her that it was a common concrete shrinkage crack and that I would guess that it was exactly at the midpoint between the two corners. She confirmed. I did that based on a picture, and I really don't like to inspect homes based on pictures!

That type of crack in a foundation stem wall, in that location, TYPICALLY is not of a structural concern. I say TYPICALLY because there are exceptions, such as if this was a brand new structure completed just last month, or if it had occurred after an earthquake. Then I might want to get a second opinion. In Southern California (or other dry climates like Arizona, New Mexico, and west Texas), if the home is over 10 years of age, that crack in that location, well, it is what it is.

Because many home inspectors don't understand concrete cracks, I would have a concrete professional (doesn't need to be a licensed contractor) repair the crack, which usually means that he's just going to apply some epoxy to it. Epoxy doesn't really do much other than (1) preventing moisture from intruding into the crack and (2) covering up the crack so that the next home inspector won't note it and cause undue concern with his recommendation.

And for the record, this would have been my comment in my inspection report on that crack:

Crack in foundation stem wall in garage. This crack does not go completely through the foundation, and its location at the center between the two ends typically indicates that it is a common concrete shrinkage crack. Note that this is based on my 46 years of experience in real estate but that I am neither a concrete professional nor a licensed engineer, and practicing a licensed profession without a license is subject to severe civil or criminal penalties. If you are not familiar with common concrete shrinkage cracks, consult with a concrete professional or a licensed engineer for further information. Recommend having crack patched, and regular homeowner monitoring and maintenance, particularly after earthquakes, heavy rains, or high winds to ensure that crack does not expand and that there is no differential displacement.

Please comment and let me know if this information was useful to you. Thanks.

Join me soon for Lesson Two.


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Comment balloon 0 commentsChris Smith • April 20 2011 02:49PM