The question every homeowner must answer: How solid is your foundation?
The foundation of any home or building, the oldest saying in construction warns, must be built on solid ground.
These days, it can be difficult for residential home and commercial building owners to know for sure just how strong the foundation holding their most important investment is. A fundamental question every American home owner and business owner should ask themselves at least once year while inspecting your property’s foundation: Is your foundation stronger than steel or gradually turning into quick sand?
The tragic, deadly collapse of the Champlain Towers South Condominiums in Surfside, FL on June 24 are a harrowing, timely reminder to all property owners to ensure their structures’ foundations are healthy. Over two dozen people have been confirmed dead and over 140 people are still unaccounted for in one of the most terrible building collapses in recent American history. Sadly, a 2018 foundation inspection report and an additional inspection in April 2021 found severe structural deficiencies in the concrete of the massive 12-story housing unit.
“The concrete deterioration is accelerating,” the CTSB board president wrote to residents in her April “State of the Building” reports. “New problems have been identified.” The building, Jean Wodnicki further wrote, was in substantial disrepair.
Sadly, the calls for immediate needed repairs went unanswered and unaddressed as the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association feared the $16.2 million price tag needed for the necessary repairs.
Concrete health is critical to the long-term stability of every structure. A building’s foundation supports its entire weight.
“When you can usually see the concrete (cracking) that means the rebar holding it together is rusting and deteriorating beneath the surface,” Wodnicki, president of the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association, told reporters in June.
What are red flag warning signs of a building foundation in trouble? Here are the 8 Most Common Signs of Foundation Problems.
- Foundation Cracks, Wall/Floor Cracks & Other Types of Fractures
- Foundation Settling or Sinking
- Foundation Upheaval
- Doors That Stick Or Won’t Open Or Close Properly
- Gaps Around Window Frames Or Exterior Frames
- Sagging or Uneven Floors
- A Damp Crawl Space in a Pier and Beam House
- Counters & Cabinets Separating From the Wall
If you observe any of these issues with your property’s foundation, contact a qualified foundation repair contractor immediately and enlist them to perform a thorough inspection of your house or structure. These evaluations are usually free of charge, but the peace of mind you will gain knowing you have nothing to worry about or have caught a major foundation integrity issue is priceless. If a contractor discovers foundation damage, they can provide you with a written estimate for repairing your cracked concrete slab, sinking pier, beam foundation or troublesome basement. Only trust a certified professional to restore your home or building’s foundation to its original level position and make it upright again (also called house or foundation leveling).
Identifying foundation problems can prevent small concerns from becoming a repair migraine that can stretch into tens of thousands of dollars.
“The sooner you identify potential problems, the easier – and less expensive – it is to fix them,” House Logic stresses.
Here’s where and how to gauge your foundation’s health:
- Check the Outside: Make sure your foundation is straight by sighting down the length of your foundation wall from each corner. The walls should be basically straight, both up and down and from side to side. Check for leaning walls with a level. A bulge or curve in either a block foundation or a poured concrete wall could signal that the foundation has shifted, or that the soil around your foundation may be expanding or contracting, putting pressure on walls.
- Probe Concrete for Weakness: If your structure’s concrete is chipping or breaking off, it could be deteriorating. Poke it in a few places with a sturdy screwdriver. The concrete should be so hard that you can’t damage it.
- Check Structural Components: Analyze your basement or crawl spaces and posts and concrete supports. Posts should stand straight and be firmly planted underneath the beams they support. The bottoms of posts should rest firmly on concrete piers. Puddles or wet framing are clear signs of a compromised foundation.
- Reading Foundation Cracks: All concrete and blocks have at least a few cracks (as concrete cures, it shrinks slightly; when concrete can shrink evenly, it tends to crack). Look for hairline cracks in the mortar (these are minor issues), cracks at an L-shape section, stair-step cracks in masonry joints, and the most serious type of crack, horizontal cracks. Any crack wider than 1/8” should be sealed. Any foundation wall crack wider than ½” merits a call to a professional.
The Champlain Towers South Condominium collapse is a cautionary tale and timely reminder to all property owners that you simply can’t afford to have your home or commercial building resting on a foundation that does not have a clean bill of health. For as Surfside Town Commissioner Eliana Salzhauer warns, “buildings just don’t fall.”
“Investing in preventative (foundation collapse) measures instead of reactive responses saves lives, money and time,” Keren Bolter, a Florida-based geoscientist at the engineering firm Arcadis, told USA Today.