House Foundations and How To Spot Issues

The foundation of a property is what the home rests on. Built a number of different ways, a foundation keeps a property stable, so it's a major and important part of any house. When it comes to your home, the type of foundation you have is very likely determined by where you're located in the US and your area's climate.



A slab foundation sounds just like it is - a big slab of flat concrete on which a property is built. A slab foundation doesn’t require a lot of prep on the part of the builder, and it is favored in warmer climates because it doesn’t do well in areas that freeze in the winter.



A basement is a popular foundation style in many colder climate areas. Not only does a basement add additional square feet to a home, it provides a place to escape from extreme weather. Typically constructed of cinder blocks, basements are built to be waterproof.


Crawl Space

A crawl space foundation is a foundation that affords a small amount of space between the home and the ground. Typically built using cinder blocks or bricks, the home is elevated about two feet off the ground. Crawl spaces are favored in areas that get a lot of rain or in areas where water can accumulate.


Pier and Beam

Pier and beam foundations are favored by many builders -- because they are less expensive than other foundations -- and they’re especially favored in areas not prone to earthquakes or hurricane-force winds. This foundation uses wood posts or concrete piers that are set deep into the earth and hold the weight of the structure.



No one wants to buy a home and find out that it could crumble, but it is important to know what foundation issues look like. Whether you’re an owner of an older home, or searching for a new home, these are the most common signs of foundation issues in houses:


Foundation Cracks, Wall/Floor Cracks and Other Types of Fractures Basement

It’s normal for a house or property to ‘settle,’ which can cause minor small hairline fissures in any foundation, but if you can see major horizontal cracks in things like brick exteriors or concrete blocks, it’s more than just the natural sinking of the home. If you see major cracks in the walls, floors, or stairs of a home, it’s highly likely the foundation could be in trouble.


Foundation Settling or Sinking

Again, homes and properties will have a natural settling period, which means the foundation will sink, but if a home is visibly sunk into the ground or one side is lower than the other there’s definitely a foundation issue that could require extensive repair. Another tell of foundation settling or sinking, is sagging or uneven floors. If a house has major issues with uneven floors or floors that sag in certain spots, the foundation may have done more than just simple settling.


A Damp Crawl Space

Heavy moisture in any area of a home is bad news, but moisture in a crawl space or under a home sometimes goes unnoticed due to the lack of daily use of those areas. If you notice that a crawl space is damp, that there’s a noticeable musty or moldy smell in a home, or you live in a climate that gets a lot of year-round rain, it’s very possible there is an issue under the house. Not only can excessive moisture hurt a foundation, it can also attract termites and cause wood beams to rot, all of which are not good for a property.


Foundation Upheaval

A home can settle or sink, and it can also move in an upward direction. Foundation upheaval, which mainly impacts slab foundations, can be caused by expanding and contracting soil, trapped moisture, and frost heaving. If you see a home that looks like it’s higher in certain places, it could have foundation upheaval.


Issues with Doors or Windows

When a property is built, all the doors and windows work with ease, opening and closing with no issues. After a home has settled, they might not open as easily, but it’s usually not noticeable or not a problem. If you happen upon a house where doors or windows drag, doors get stuck in the jamb, both need to be opened with force or require force to be closed, the property could have some major foundation issues.

Another door and window issue that can indicate foundation issues is any visible gaps around window frames or exterior doors. Doors that no longer latch, double doors that no longer align, or any door or window frames that are crooked and impair the proper use of the item all indicate possible issues with the foundation.


Counters and Cabinets Separating from the Wall

Counters and cabinets are generally installed with care, especially when it comes to how level and secure they are to the walls. If you notice a home where the counters or cabinets are separating from the wall, it could be an indicator of foundation damage. It can be hard for homeowners to see walls shift (because it could look like everything is fine from the outside), but a counter or cabinet separating from the wall is a very visible signal of an immediate issue.

If you have any questions about the foundation of your home, or a home you’re looking to buy, find a trusted professional to help you navigate the waters of home foundations.

The Watsons are active in local communities and have lived in the Northwest Suburbs for over 40 years. Their knowledge and experience will get you the results you want! ~ Jayne Smith, Palatine, IL