In the early stages of foundation problems, the issue can go unnoticed for years before your home seems to suddenly develop significant problems. Keeping a watchful eye on your home can help you spot problems in the earlier stages when they are typically easier to fix.
One of the more obvious signs you have problems with your foundation is visible cracks. In the beginning, the cracks might be subtle and could easily be blamed on old paint or building materials that are showing their age. Eventually, these subtle cracks become more obvious, such as large gaps in sturdier building materials, such as concrete or brick. The longer these cracks exist, the worse they become because they are also affected by changes in the weather.
Sometimes you can determine the likely problem based on the location of the cracks, the material, and the direction of cracks. For example, cracks in bricks or concrete blocks might create a stair-step effect. This can occur when one side of your home is shifting in relation to the other side. If the material affected were cohesive, such as plaster, the crack might move up the wall vertically. Although cracks can occur because of foundation failures, the foundation can fail because of changing soil conditions under your home. If cracks occur because the terrain is changing, the problem can be more complicated to fix.
Gaps can appear in various places throughout your home when there is a foundation problem. A common location where gaps can occur is between cabinets or walls and the floor. Since many cabinets are attached to the wall, the floor may begin to separate from the bottom of the cabinet while the cabinet remains connected to the wall. Similar gaps often occur between windows or doors and their respective frames. You might notice slight issues opening and closing both interior or exterior doors, with the problem becoming more apparent over time. Eventually, some doors may be impossible to open or close because they no longer fit correctly in the door frame.
When windows or doors do not fit within the frame, you might also notice it becomes harder to heat or cool your home since more of your heating or cooling efforts are lost through these gaps. Any signs your home is settling should be cause for alarm because the issue might be more than the foundation. In severe cases, the underlying problem can be home built on unstable surfaces, such as sand or silt. When the ground is unstable, supports need to be driven into the ground until a stable area is found to prevent the home from experiencing further damage.
If your home has a basement, you may first notice problems because your basement feels different than the rest of the house. When the humidity is high in your basement, it will often feel muggy, especially during the warmer months, although you are using the air conditioner. If you infrequently visit your basement, the problems can go on for a while before you notice serious signs of moisture damage, such as rotting building materials and mold growth.
For homes without a basement, the first sign of problems might be water creeping inside between the walls and floor when it rains heavily. On rainy days there might be certain spots in your home where stepping on the floor causes water to appear between the seams of flooring materials. Sometimes these problems can be corrected by having your basement and/or crawl space waterproofed. This typically involves encapsulating the area and removing any water currently under your home.
When there are unusual issues with your home, it is best to have your home evaluated by a contractor to determine the problem. If there are foundation issues, performing a foundation repair quickly can often prevent irreparable damage to your home.