It may be hard to imagine at this point in the year, but spring is coming to Colorado, and soon we’ll be looking at more cracks. As anyone who has been around concrete knows: concrete = cracks. Concrete expands and contracts over time and moisture and changing temperatures affects cracking, and Colorado has plenty of that. Most foundation cracks are cosmetic, although size matters and larger cracks obviously indicate more serious problems. When you may have insufficient time evaluating a property, it is helpful to know not only which houses to choose but also which to avoid. The purpose of this article is not to make you an expert at evaluating, diagnosing or repairing foundations, rather to suggest homes that may need much more extensive repair and therefore pass on. As Warren Buffet has said: “The first rule of investment is don’t lose money. And the second rule of investment is don’t forget the first rule. And that’s all the rules there are.”
The best place to evaluate the foundation is the basement or crawl space. Cinder blocks are chosen for building foundations and walls due to their strength, resilience, low weight and ease of construction and are the most common type of foundation wall in Colorado in homes built 10 or more years ago. Above is a typical cinder block basement with common crack types and issues indicated. Let’s look at some types of foundation cracks that can show up, from scariest to safest, and what they mean.
Horizontal cracks: These are problematic. Horizontal cracks indicate shear pressure from part of the structure being pushed along by the surrounding earth at a faster rate than another part of the structure and indicate larger problems. In all cases, horizontal cracks are probably worth getting evaluated professionally and may make the property a pass for all but a rehabber with the experience and resources of time and money to deal with this type of issue.
Vertical cracks: These generally appear a short time after construction and are caused by normal shrinking and settling. Generally, these are not a significant concern although cracks that are significantly larger at the base than at the top are not good and vertical cracks along with horizontal cracks is really not good.
Step cracks: These are common especially around windows and center beams and frequently come in pairs. As with vertical cracks, they are caused by concrete shrinking and aging and are of little concern unless the size varies top to bottom and/or are paired with horizontal cracks.
Floor cracks: Basement floors are especially susceptible to cracking as they are poured below the frost line and generally without expansion joints. Basement floor cracks are to be expected and of little concern except if the crack begins to heave, separate and/or it changes significantly in size from the origin (usually a wall).
Paying attention to cracks and properly evaluating them can help you avoid unpleasant surprises with the budget and timing of your remodels.