If you’re a homeowner, foundation cracks are problematic. While they don’t necessarily mean your home is unsafe – or even that your home has foundation trouble – they could be a sign your home has structural problems.
If you’re reading this article, it probably means you’re concerned about cracks in your foundation. If you were worried enough to Google it, you should probably get a foundation inspection either by an experienced foundation repair professional or a structural engineer. We say this because there’s no way even the best, most comprehensive blog article can provide you with a 100% accurate guideline to determine whether or not your home is structurally sound. However, we can provide you with the basic information every homeowner needs to know about foundation cracks.
Note: This article covers structural and non-structural cracks, specifically in homes with basement foundations. It discusses cracks in basement foundation walls, not cracks in drywall, ceilings, or floors.
Structural vs Non-Structural Cracks – Click the image below to enlarge
Difference Between Structural and Non-Structural Foundation Cracks
The simplest explanation is that structural cracks indicate there has been movement in the foundation while non-structural cracks indicate that there has been concrete shrinkage during the curing process. To put it another way, structural foundation cracks threaten your home’s structural integrity while non-structural foundation cracks do not.
Let’s take a closer look at the difference between the two types of cracks:
A non-structural foundation crack is one that doesn’t threaten a building’s structural integrity. They’re mainly caused by concrete shrinking during the curing process. That doesn’t mean they’re harmless though. For example, non-structural vertical cracks caused by concrete shrinkage can cause leaks in basements.
Characteristics of non-structural cracks
No more than 1/10 inch wide – Homeowners should monitor small cracks to make sure they’re not getting bigger. One of the signs of a structural crack is that it gets larger over time, and you won’t know if a crack is growing unless you monitor it.
Vertical foundation cracks – Vertical cracks in a foundation wall that go from the top of the wall down to the floor also usually aren’t structural because there’s no obstruction stopping the home’s load from reaching the footing. The load simply passes on either side of the crack as it makes its way to the footing.
Cracks isolated to one block in a concrete block wall – A single, hairline crack in just one cinder block is usually a sign of damage during construction or transportation and does not present a structural issue.
If you see any of these cracks you should monitor to them to see if they grow larger. If they do, they’re probably structural cracks.
Causes of non-structural cracks
Non-structural foundation cracks are mostly caused by shrinkage during the concrete curing process.
Photos of non-structural cracks – Click on an image to enlarge
A structural foundation crack is one that threatens a building’s structural integrity. Here we are talking about cracks in poured concrete and concrete block foundation walls, not cracks in drywall or plaster.
Characteristics of structural cracks
Over 1/10 inch wide – Structural cracks are usually wider than 1/10 inch (often wider at one end than the other) and grow larger over time.
Stair step cracks in block or brick walls
Horizonal foundation cracks in walls, with or without bowing – These are almost always structural.
A series of vertical cracks next to each other
Large diagonal cracks
Cracks in a ceiling that run across the ceiling and down a wall – These are usually structural cracks.
If you see any of these cracks, contact a foundation repair professional immediately for a foundation inspection.
Causes of structural cracks
Various things cause structural cracks, including – but not limited to – expansive soils, voids under the foundation, soil that can’t properly support the structure, soil that wasn’t adequately compacted before construction, and improper grading that causes water to pool near the foundation.
Photos of structural cracks – Click on an image to enlarge
Common signs of structural problems include windows and doors that stick, uneven floors, and cracked walls and floors. For more information about the signs of foundation settlement, see What Is Foundation Settling.
Foundation repair methods: Repairing structural and non-structural foundation cracks
Repairing non-structural foundation cracks
Non-structural foundation cracks can be repaired using epoxy injection or carbon fiber straps. Carbon fiber straps will stop an already bowing wall from getting any worse and prevent a wall from bowing in the future.
Repairing structural foundation cracks
Repair solutions for structural cracks include wall plate anchors, carbon fiber straps, and push piers.
Why you should fix structural foundation cracks as soon as possible
Structural cracks should be fixed as soon as possible because not only are they already affecting your home’s structural integrity, but they will get worse over time. The longer you wait, the more you’re going to pay to repair the damage. For example, a horizontal crack in a basement wall can lead to bowing. The infographic below provides average cost estimates in the Midwest (such as Omaha and Lincoln, NE) to repair a bowing wall depending on the severity.
How to measure the severity of a bowing wall. Click on the image to enlarge.
As we mentioned above, homeowners should monitor non-structural cracks for signs of growth. If they start to grow, you might have a structural crack.
Cracks in a foundation: When to worry
Any cracks that appear to be structural (see above discussion about structural vs. non-structural cracks) should be immediately inspected by either a foundation repair professional or a structural engineer. They will be able to determine if they’re indeed structural cracks and if they are, they’ll be able to give you information about the severity of the settlement. A geotechnical engineer can also provide you with information about the soil under the foundation. However, hiring a structural engineer to perform a foundation inspection or a geotechnical engineer to examine the soil can cost thousands of dollars.
While no structural crack is a DIY repair project, homeowners can use a plumb line to determine the severity of a bowing basement wall (see graphic above). This quick test will let you know if the wall is indeed bowing, and if it is, you can contact a contractor for basement wall repair.
Frequently Asked Questions About Foundation Cracks
Who repairs foundation cracks?
If your home has one or more foundation cracks, you should contact an experienced, licensed, and insured foundation repair professional and ask for a foundation inspection and estimate.
How much does it cost to fix foundation cracks?
Repairing a single, non-structural crack might cost no more than $2000 or so, while stabilizing a foundation that has one or more serious structural cracks could cost you around $9,000-$12,000 to fix. For more information about the cost of fixing various foundation issues, see the FAQ on our home page. Remember, these prices reflect the cost of foundation repairs in our service area only.
The cost of fixing foundation cracks depends on whether the crack is structural or non-structural, the severity of the problem, and what needs to be done to fix it. It will probably come as no surprise that non-structural cracks cost less to repair than structural cracks.
The cost of repairing a foundation crack also depends on your geographical location. Therefore, we can’t even give a ballpark estimate. The only way to know how much it will cost to repair any particular foundation crack is to contact a foundation repair contractor for an inspection and estimate. Most contractors will do the inspection for free.
Does homeowners insurance cover foundation cracks?
Most homeowner’s insurance policies probably won’t cover foundation crack repair unless the crack was caused by something the policy covers. For example, many homeowners have earthquake and/or flood insurance coverage. Check your policy to find out what’s covered and what isn’t.
Which foundation cracks can be repaired DIY?
Only minor, non-structural foundation cracks can be repaired DIY. However, even these should be inspected by a professional to make sure they’re not structural cracks in disguise. Sometimes, what looks like a minor, non-structural crack, can actually turn out to be a structural crack. Of course, structural cracks are most definitely not DIY projects. Only experienced foundation repair contractors should fix structural cracks.
Is it safe to live in a house with foundation problems?
Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. It depends on the type and the severity of the foundation problem. The only way to know for sure if it’s safe to live in a house with foundation problems is to contact either an experienced foundation repair contractor or a structural engineer and ask for an inspection. Most foundation repair contractors will do a free inspection and then provide you with an estimated repair cost.
How to prevent foundation cracks
Since water is the cause of most foundation problems, good drainage around your home’s foundation is essential. Make sure your yard is properly graded so that water doesn’t pool near the foundation. Also, clogged gutters and downspouts that are too short will dump water next to the foundation where it can sink into the soil. Therefore, you’ll want to clean your gutters regularly and install downspout extensions, if necessary.
Structural foundation cracks can be expensive repair jobs that cost thousands of dollars, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars. Therefore, the most cost-effective solution for homeowners is to prevent a problem from happening in the first place.
If you’re a homeowner, you can’t afford to merely react to foundation problems after they arise. Homeowners need to be proactive. If you see any foundation cracks – no matter how small – contact a professional for an inspection. Keep a close eye on hairline cracks to see if they grow. Sometimes what appears to be a non-structural crack can, over time, turn into a structural crack.
If you’ve noticed one or more suspicious cracks in your home, and you’re in our service area in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri, contact us today for a free inspection and estimate.