How to Identify Structural Defects in Your Home?
By Victoria Baeker
Updated: June 10th, 2019
Most of us know how to identify a faulty socket, a home appliance that isn’t working right or a leaky roof panel. What about noticing a structural defect before it gets out of hand? By definition, any crack, fault or deviation in the structural integrity of the building is identified as a structural defect, one that requires immediate attention. And here comes the Structural Warranty for your aid, provided if you have carefully chosen the policy after going through the fine print of the contract.
Often these defects are noticed in load-bearing elements of the home – the beams, roof frames, support walls and the like. For example, a shift or crack in the foundation stumps could play a part in putting the entire house off balance just the way a fault line in one the walls along the perimeter that hold up the roofs entire weight.
What are Structural Defects
The first step to identifying a structural defect is knowing what it really is. A structural defect is any element of the building’s structure that shows signs of faulty workmanship or materials that result or may result in:
- Destruction and damage of any kind to the building itself
- Prevention of use of a part of the building due to structural defects
- Need for a space in the building to be blocked or closed due to structural defects
- Eventual collapse of the structure
Why Structural Defects Occur
The cost of repair is astronomical, as compared to fixing appliances or cosmetic non-load bearing partitions and frames. Accessing the foundation stumps can cost an easy $10,000; double if the house is large. While structural engineers and inspectors can be easily hired for routine inspections, it is important for you as well to be able to spot defects.
When it does come to a hired professional, you have the option between a Licensed Engineer and a Home Inspector. The former being advisable as he or she has the authority to not only notice a defect but also suggest plans of action to rectify the issue. If you plan on investing in a Structural Warranty or State Warranty for your home, then it usually comes with an inspection.
In the US, soil expansion and other elements of nature account for an easy twenty-five percent of structural defects. But improperly built structures play a large role as well. Bulges in walls due to temperature expansion, loose bricks or wood beams, faulty roofing, slanting walls and their lack of load bearing capabilities, cracks – all add up to faulty construction methods. And this is what it results in when necessary precision and regulations are not used for construction.
Before purchase, a home inspection is considered mandatory for all practical purposes. For an investment that large, it makes no sense flying blind and taking a risk, especially when it comes to the reliability of the structure itself. Unfortunately, that is not the end of it. All statistics indicate to structural defects manifesting themselves 4 to 7 years post the completion of the building. This interestingly leads to why 10-year coverage Structural Warranties have become so common.
Identifying Structural Defects in Your Home
Faults in Foundation
The roots of the building that keep it grounded and steady with an equal distribution of load, a weak foundation can not only be the death of a home but can also be very difficult to fix. Just like a game of Jenga, the home stands firm on its foundation, load bearing frame of walls and roof. If the base shakes, it all comes tumbling down.
Now the tricky part is that faults in the foundation are difficult to identify at an early stage. The first signs of these are seen in the floor – buckling or raised tiles and planks, ruptures, sagging of the flooring materials and crumbling of concrete. Improper sloping and drainage can be markers as well, this is often caused by roots of surrounding trees that are spreading under your home.
So check if you have a structural warranty in place and that it covers all the mentioned damages so that you can have a worry-free stay at your home!
Improper Technique and Materials in Flooring
Unless the fault is rising up from the foundation, defects in flooring usually owe their existence to faulty workmanship. If the inspection shows that the damage is only on the topmost layer – affecting the tiles, wooden planks or stone surface – then you needn’t worry about the integrity of the foundation below.
Any seepage at the floor level, loose tiles due to the grout crumbling and wood warping or raising due to moisture and gaps between tiles are all signs of structural damage. It may seem like a cosmetic issue but left unattended the damage could cause faults in the foundation as well.
No wonder, the recommendation to have a structural warranty makes sense to have, ain’t it?
Homes made of concrete can be easily subjected to expansion and contraction. Due to the increase and decrease in moisture and temperature, ruptures begin to appear on the walls and floor.
Cracks on the surface are not usually a problem, especially if they remain static and do not increase or spread. Known as Hairline Cracks, they are less than a tenth of a millimeter and rarely grow or increase in length and width.
Ruptures that are around a millimeter in width can be more visible, but even these can be treated on the surface for cosmetic reasons. They almost never expand and mean no harm to the structure of your home, though depending on where they are positioned they may cause seepage.
Constant expansion and contraction in states that experience extreme changes in weather may cause cracks that are a lot more distinct, often around doors and windows. Not only do they alter the structure of the wall to a certain extent, they also are a few millimeters wide. This shift can cause windows and doors to jam or not shut at all, which may require attention.
A crack with a width of over 5mm is cause for alarm and needs to be inspected. While they can be fixed by reworking on certain parts of the wall, there is a chance that the crack may have damaged the wiring, plumbing, and service pipes which run through the walls.
More than 15mm and you can be rest assured that immediate attention is necessary. No doubt, there has now been some impact on the pipes and wiring inside the walls, and if it needs to sustain a monsoon then seepage is inevitable. Most often, cracks of this width are difficult to miss, and they cause windows, doors, and woodwork to warp and slant. Walls may bulge in certain parts, and floors may slope and rise, making the weight-bearing beams compensate for the load that the walls should be bearing.
Having a Structural Warranty in such instances is nothing but a big relief. The home is covered and the repair costs for such huge cracks are all taken care of by the home builder.
Inspection from the Outside
Walking around the outside of your home can tell you a lot about its structure. Keep your eyes open for sagging roof ridges, external cracks, gaps between utilities like chimneys and the adjoining walls, and bulges or recessions in the walls.
Windows and doors must be tested for proper mechanics, as well as for cracks around them due to pressure. It helps to keep a right angle tool ready to check if the corners are clear and without slopes.
Another reason to look both outside and inside for defects in correlation. If cracks and shifts on the outside matchup with defects on the inside, rest assured there is a deep rooted defected that is definitely structural.
Home and Builder Structural Warranty
It may be a tough decision to make, but when you are hunting for a home then it’s a good idea to check if builder-sold homes come with Builder Structural Warranty to back up their reputation.
Home Warranty focuses on the home’s appliances and interiors, while Builder Warranty usually takes care of all the heavy duty structural detail, windows, doors and internal systems. Though both their purpose and choosing a plan that offers both is a good idea, it may be best to have your house inspected before choosing one – Home or Builder.
So, it is always good to have the protection and peace of mind a homeowner who has both – structural warranty and a legitimate home service contract or home warranty. A structural warranty to protect the home from existing structural defects that a homeowner isn’t aware of and a home warranty policy to back up the appliances in the home.
The signs of poor foundation in a building can be spotted if you are unable to close windows and doors, there is inadequate draining from the foundation, the concrete is crumbling or flaking, there are ruptures or gaps, and if there is sloping, sagging or buckling of the foundation floors or walls.
Here are the top signs of structural damage:
- Bowed Walls
- Gaps where your walls and floors meet
- Drywall cracks, especially around door frames
- Nail pops
- Cracked basement walls – horizontal, stair-step or vertical
- Uneven or bouncy floors
- Sticking windows or doors
Most small cracks in drywall or plaster walls are not serious and are caused by seasonal expansion and contraction of the wood framing in your house over time. Larger cracks in your walls, however, can indicate structural or foundation problems.
Structural Issues. If you notice cracks in your walls, walls which are sagging or see rust stains down the side of your building, you need to address the problem before it gets bigger. The internal evidence of movement within the building due to structural issues.
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