Home inspection in Vancouver, WA: Structure and Foundation inspection

The structure and foundation, like any system on a home, can fail. Unlike other systems within a home, when the structure fails, it can be catastrophic. That’s why a hiring a Vancouver WA home inspector who is knowledgeable about building techniques and defects is so important. But knowledge is only part of it. You want a home inspector that can not only identify the issues found in a structure and foundation inspection, but one that will be able to tell you the significance of each defect and what type of contractor you’ll need to fix it.

Here’s what you should know about the structure and foundation from a home inspection:

Foundation inspection — Let’s start with the large defects. One of the most obvious and troublesome problems you’ll find in a structurally-damaged foundation is large, horizontal cracking or heaving. If this comes up in a report, know that you’ll likely be needing a specialist to evaluate and repair. It will likely be expensive. Horizontal cracks and heaving of the foundation walls is typically caused by significant soil movement found on properties with expansive clay soils or properties built on steep hillsides. In essence, this is an issue caused by excessive water on the property — water is by far the most common threat to a structure and any other part of a home. At times, heaving of the walls can be caused by a plumbing leak left too long without repair, causing the soil to expand and put pressure on the walls. This issue can be exacerbated by freezing temperatures in the winter that cause the water-saturated soil to freeze and expand dramatically. A quality foundation inspection can save you from significant financial burdens stemming from foundation issues.

Large vertical cracking — greater than 1/4 inch — can also be a major defect that, if found during a foundation inspection, should be evaluated by a structural engineer. These cracks likely indicate structural issues, often related to water or improper building practices. Additionally, homes with heavy tile roofs can have foundation issues if the construction was not designed to withstand the heavy load that comes with a roof made from concrete or other heavy material.  Home inspectors often find small vertical cracks less than 1/4 in the foundation when they inspect the foundation. These hairline cracks are common. They are usually caused by normal settling of the home over time and do not pose a serious structural issue. However, it would be prudent to keep an eye on any foundation crack periodically to ensure it’s not growing. This is especially a good idea if it’s a newer home — the small cracks in a newer home could become larger given time.

Large cracks and heaving walls have precursors that can help you catch a minor problem before it turns into something major. One of the most common precursors — especially in water-soaked Vancouver WA and SW Washington — is white staining on the foundation walls, also known as efflorescence. Efflorescence is the migration of salt through a porous surface, manifesting on the material’s exterior, such as a foundation wall. When the wall is inundated with water, the salts within the water will move to the surface of the concrete wall, appearing as a white stain. You might also notice this on concrete floors where the house was built on a slab. This is usually cosmetic and can be treated with various techniques. Efflorescence is an indication of excessive water in the soil. And while it would be nice for the excess to be coming from a single source, this problem commonly has several contributing factors, such as, negative grading, improper downspout discharge, gutter issues, and leaking pipes. A quality home inspection will identify these issues and give you information on how to deal with them.

Structure inspection — Standard residential buildings are designed to transfer the structural load of the home down through the framing members into the foundation and soil. In a home inspection, an inspector should be able to identify load paths and areas of concentrated load, which will help determine where to look for structural problems. Uneven or sloped floors are one of the most common and easily identified structural problem areas. But often these issues are found in hard-to-reach areas, like the crawlspace and attic. In the crawlspace, your home inspector may find inadequate post bases, unsupported girders, and missing or inadequate supports — all of which pose structural integrity challenges. Additionally, inspection of the attic is essential because it allows you to get a clear picture of the support structure and identify problems that may be difficult to determine from the outside of the building, such as, toe-nailed trusses (weak connection) and inadequate or missing rafter ties. These problems may be more evident in older homes where the ridge is bowing, but in newer construction, enough time might not have passed in order for the defect to be glaringly evident without a home inspection.

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