Homebuyers on the hunt for the perfect house have a lot of small details to pay attention to from location, to floor plan, to landscaping potential. This is why it can be really easy to overlook major signs of damage in a home that indicate a home is likely to collapse.
Before you buy a home, you want to be certain of the structural integrity of the home or you risk having to face very expensive repairs when you should be enjoying your new home. Even if you plan to buy a house in cash and don’t have any lenders to keep happy, it’s a good idea to hire a home inspector to help catch issues that indicate the structure of a home isn’t secure. When you're touring homes and properties, here are a few things to look out for.
While you may not pay too much attention to concrete, this not-so-exciting material can reveal major signs of damage that can lead to a house collapsing. Concrete is often held in place by steel reinforcing bars and if those bars begin to deteriorate, then the concrete may not hold in place.
This type of damage can be more common in homes near the ocean - the salt that blows off the water can be corrosive. Even hairline cracks in concrete can be signs that a house doesn’t have enough support anymore. Keep an eye out for dark brown stains as well as they’re a sign that steel reinforcement bars are corroding.
Another sign that a house may be at risk for collapse is mushy soil. As easy as it is to write off squishy grounds as a landscaping issue - especially if you live somewhere where it rains a lot - it’s a good idea to give that soil a second look as it may be a result of water leakage in the home. A home can sink in soft soil and is a sign of extensive and prolonged water damage. You may even see the porch pulling away from the house from outside.
Examining the inside of the home is just as helpful as reviewing what’s going on outside. If you find cracks in your floors, walls, moldings, or window frames, that can indicate some movements in the foundation. If wider cracks begin to appear, it may be too late to repair the damage so don’t ignore small cracks for long.
If your home is in a fairly rainy area, you may already be familiar with having a damp crawl space. While moisture in a crawl space is normal, that dampness can lead to bigger trouble down the road such as termites, mold, and rotting wooden frames. This moisture can also lead to that wet soil we mentioned earlier that can cause your home to sink.
Bowing or uneven floors that are separated from the wall can be a sign that a home is likely to collapse. Look for sunken, heaved, or sloped areas on floors inside the building. They may also feel bouncy. Don’t forget to check if the wall moldings are out-of-place, too.
Doors that are no longer aligned to the frame or don't shut and open properly, or open on their own, may be a sign of foundation issues. If you see any diagonal cracks beginning at the top corners of any windows or doors that extend towards the ceilings, then that may be another indication of a shifting foundation. You don’t have to worry about every hairline crack you see, but major cracks are cause for concern.
Cracks in the walls can be easy to catch, but don’t forget to give the chimney a close review. A chimney with cracks or one that separated from the house can mean that a house is on its way to collapse.
You can keep an eye out for common signs of structural damage (like the ones outlined above), but if you have serious concerns about structural issues with a home you want to buy, it’s best to consult a professional.
A professional home inspector or structural engineer can give you some much needed insight into whether smaller issues like cracks or damp soil are a sign of a much larger problem and if you need foundation repair.
Homeowners insurance often covers structural repairs, so if you already bought a home with structural integrity issues, don’t forget to give your insurance agent a call to see what financial assistance you qualify for.
Related: What makes a building condemned?
It may feel sudden when a house collapses, but generally houses don’t collapse suddenly. It can take years for major foundation problems to develop, which is why it’s so helpful to catch the warning signs of collapse sooner rather than later.
You can tell if a floor will collapse by looking at the floors for foundation damage (cracks, uneven floors, bowing, etc.), but the warning signs can also appear as cracks in walls or window frames. A slight shift in the foundation can lead to issues like struggling to open or close a door or window, which can also be a sign a floor is at risk of caving in. Take all warning signs of foundation issues seriously since they can lead to major damage.
Sagging roof, loud creaking or popping noises, and cracks to the exterior wall to the building are all signs of a potential roof collapse. Weather damage can also cause issues so look out for roof leaks after excessive snow or heavy rains.
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