You’re seeing some signs around your home that might point to a foundation issue, but you are not totally sure. There are thin cracks on the floor of your garage, tile and grout cracking in your entryway, and some cracks above both sides of your garage door. Are these things signaling a foundation problem and need for repair or are you just cracking up?
You have heard that foundation repair can be a major investment so you want to be sure you actually have a problem. Are there any false signs that might be tricking you? If only you knew what was a real “red flag” or not something to worry about.
Anchor Foundation Repair has assessed and repaired thousands of homes in the Brazos Valley. With 35+ years in the business, we understand like no other company how the soil in our area affects your foundation.
We are in the business of repairing foundations *it’s in our name so it’s kinda hard to hide*. But we will be the first to tell you if there’s a real problem or not.
We have helped many homeowners avoid large and costly foundation repairs by listening to them describe their problem areas and express their concerns. We like to think through a potential issue with homeowners first, instead of rushing out to perform unnecessary repairs.
We know both the true signs of a foundation problem, as well as false signs that homeowners tend to call us out to inspect. In this article, we will outline the common areas where people see signs that they think might be foundation-related but aren’t.
We will go over false signs that you might see in these five areas of your home:
- Seam Breaks and Nail Pops on Interior Walls/Sheetrock/Drywall
- Ceiling Cracks: Large and Small
- Doors Sticking on the Handle Side of the Door Frame
- Exterior Brick: Normal Expansion Joints and Cracks Above a Garage
- Cracks or Flaws in Concrete Surfaces or Floor Tiles and Grout
Let’s go over each of these areas in more detail, so you know what NOT to worry about.
1. Seam Breaks and Nail Pops on Interior Walls/Sheetrock/Drywall
There are certain problems you might see on your walls that are not likely to be foundation-related issues. Here are some common concerns that homeowners have about their walls that turn out NOT to be red-flags for foundation repair needs.
Cracks Along Seams
Drywall and Sheetrock are typically put up in 4-foot by 8-foot sections. The gaps between the sections are “taped” over to make walls appear to be one seamless and continuous surface, but they are not. Instead, they are many smaller sections pieced together.
The tape lines are then smoothed over with a spackle-like compound to create this seamless appearance. In construction lingo, they call this “taping and floating.”
Over time, the tape can dry out, degrade, or some part of the process was not well done and the seam can start to pop and become visible. You will begin to see vertical and/or horizontal lines appear in between the sections of drywall.
Popping drywall seams that run along tape lines are not an absolute indication of a foundation issue. More likely, popping seams are a sign of poor original workmanship, major temperature/moisture level fluctuations, or very old and degrading materials.
Nails Popping Along Seams
The 4-foot by 8-foot sections of drywall can be held in place by nails fastened into the wall studs behind each seam area of your walls both vertically and horizontally. Sometimes, the nails can begin to pop out of the wall or the section of sheetrock causing the nail to protrude and the paint to crack surrounding the nail.
The common practice now is to use drywall screws rather than nails because screws will have gripping power into the stud while nails can begin to slip out of wood that has dried out over time. Also, there are still some drywall installers or a DIY job that might have used nails instead of screws as a personal preference.
If you see “nail pop” in your walls, it is not likely to be a foundation problem but rather a cosmetic and non-structural issue caused by material choice in using nails instead of screws to secure the wallboard to studs. It could happen in older homes where the studs have dried out and the nails used no longer grip into the wood.
2. Ceiling Cracks: Large and Small
The false symptoms seen on your ceiling can be similar to the problems in the walls with seams drying out and/or using nails to secure the drywall. Ceilings also are normally exposed to higher temperatures than the rest of your home
Ceiling Cracks in the Middle of Large Open Rooms
Any large expanse of drywall can be subject to more tendency to crack along seams. If there’s a very large open ceiling space, it’s just a thing that can happen in a home over time due to gravity as well as the drying out of materials up high.
It’s always hotter on your ceiling than it is anywhere else in your house, due to heat rising. Higher heat can cause cracking, and framing issues in ceiling joists can cause cracking too. Large open ceiling framing can sag and then cause a drywall separation.
A crack running along a seam in your ceiling doesn’t automatically mean that a foundation problem is to blame.
Small Cracks in Ceiling
Ceilings have to withstand a lot of forces. The force of gravity pulling down. The temperature differences between the room below and either the room above, an attic space, or the roof. In Texas, attics can be one of the hottest places in a home. The temperature extremes between your hot attic and your air-conditioned interior can cause the paint to chip and crack.
Ceilings are also subject to moisture coming from the attic or other space above, whether that is from condensation due to temperature differences, a water leak in an upstairs room, or a roof leak. Any of these conditions can cause cracks to appear in your ceiling and don’t definitively point to foundation issues.
3. Doors Sticking on the Handle Side of the Door Frame
There are some signs with doors sticking in a home that can signal foundation problems, but your doors can also give you some false indications.
Namely, when your door’s sticking point is on the handle side of the door rather than on the top, bottom, or hinge side. Doors sticking on the handle side can indicate a problem with your door hinges, not your foundation.
See if you can figure out where your door sticks by looking at the open door frame for rubbing points. Also, try stepping back from the closed door to see where the gap between the door and the frame is not consistent and comes closest together.
Another test you can try is to open and close the door several times and see if you can “feel” where the snugness or sticking is coming from. Your arm and body can sometimes sense if the point of contact is coming from higher, lower, left, right, top, or bottom.
If the sticking point is on the handle side, the problem is likely a loose hinge that needs to be tightened or a hinge that is pulling out of the door frame due to a stripped screw or failing door frame material.
The key here is the location of the sticking point, a sticking point on the handle side is not an indicator of foundation settlement.
4. Exterior Brick: Normal Expansion Joints and Cracks Above a Garage
There are two false indicators that a homeowner might see in exterior brickwork. Normal expansion joints in brick and cracking in the area above garage doors in a brick home can look like a foundation issue but are not something to worry about.
Many homeowners are not aware of the expansion joints that are always built into brick homes to help handle expected movement due to normal temperature changes. Expansion joints are purposefully designed to relieve structural stress on building materials caused by thermal expansion and contraction and/or wind forces.
Small expansion joints are regularly spaced and sort of look like the mortar is missing in between the short sides of bricks.
Larger expansion joints tend to appear on long walls of brick and look like a straight vertical line where the bricks all stop their run and start again on the other side of the line. The vertical stopping line can either be filled with mortar, a caulk compound, or even be open with no mortar. This one is hard to explain in words so the pictures here are handy.
Expansion joints can look like brick mortar failure or vertical cracks in the brick. These are normal features of brick homes and are nothing to sound the foundation problem alarms.
Cracks in Brick Above or on Either Side of a Garage Door
Sometimes homeowners might see brick cracking above the center of the opening of the garage. Other times, you might see symmetrical cracks coming off the top corners of the garage door frame.
These two conditions are common in brick homes and have to do with the weight of the brick spanning over the large opening of the garage door. Imagine how heavy the brick is that is elevated above that opening.
Carrying that kind of weight in a straight run over empty horizontal space is an engineering challenge and a special “home part” is used to carry the load. This specialized construction item is called a “lintel.” Brick lintel is a specialized piece of angle iron that brick rests on, over a window, door, or other large opening like a garage.
If the lintel is not working properly, either from rust intrusion or inadequate strength for the span of brick carried above, a characteristic crack pattern appears in the brick. This cracking is not a red flag for a foundation problem but is a red flag for failing lintel that you might want to look into.
5. Cracks or Flaws in Concrete Surfaces or Floor Tiles and Grout
Strangely enough, foundation issues appear more as symptoms within the vertical surfaces of your home rather than in your horizontal surfaces. Many homeowners will express concern over flaws or cracks in floors or floor treatments. Most of the time, these flaws are false signs of foundation damage.
Hairline Cracks on Concrete Floor or in the Garage
Thin cracks in concrete slabs are very normal and a common occurrence. You normally don’t see these cracks unless you happen to take up your carpet or other flooring treatment during a remodel. People often notice them in their garage, but there is no cause for concern here.
Hairline cracks with no space or unevenness between the sides occur all the time when concrete is poured and cures. Homeowners tend to panic when they see these but it is not an indication of a foundation problem.
Other Cosmetic Concrete Surface Flaws
Minor flaking, spalling, and honeycombing are all concrete surface flaws that do not spell doom for the structure of your foundation. These conditions are not “pretty” but they are also not detrimental to the strength and integrity of your concrete slab.
These cosmetic conditions are caused by temperature/weather conditions at the time of construction or are just workmanship appearance issues.
Flaking, scaling, and spalling are all words to describe a cosmetic condition of concrete that was created using a bit too much water, or not enough air mixed in, or finished improperly with standing water at the time of installation. Spalling can also occur in frequent freeze and thaw weather conditions, but that probably isn’t the case much here in Central Texas.
Honeycombing in concrete has a rocky appearance due to inconsistently mixed materials, improper vibration, and not enough water used during installation. If the steel reinforcements within the concrete get exposed through honeycombing it can cause issues over time, but it is not inherently a foundation problem.
None of these cosmetic surface flaws are nice looking, but they do not immediately signal a definite foundation issue in your home.
Cracks in Floor Tile and Grout Lines
Sometimes homeowners get concerned when they start seeing cracking grout lines in tile floors or in the tiles themselves. Unfortunately, this is the nature particularly of rigid tiles made from ceramic or porcelain, they can break easily with even slight movement, pressure, or natural home settlement that is not to “foundation problem” levels.
Also, the larger the expanse of tile in a home, the more likely some kind of cracking will occur.
Grout lines between floor tiles can be one of the first places you see cracking as it is very sensitive to temperature fluctuations. First drying in heated homes in winter, and then the grout is subjected to the *delightful* humid conditions in the Brazos Valley area the rest of the year.
Grout also is subject to many improper installation and workmanship issues. Too much water, application time, improper or lack of expansion joints, and unskilled labor used for installation are all factors that can impact your grout work quality.
Seeing cracks in grout lines or floor tile alone does not signal foundation problems, but it is certainly one that many homeowners express concern over.
Bonus Material: Corner Pop is a Sign That Could Go Either Way
“Corner pop” is not the name of the new gourmet popcorn store around the corner. Are you suddenly craving something salty and crisp or is it just me?
A condition called “corner pop” appears at the corners of a foundation where brick meets the concrete base near the ground. It looks like a bad problem to homeowners or prospective homeowners, but often it is a false sign of foundation issues.
What happens is that the brick mortar connecting the two surfaces together gets stressed by opposing expansion and contraction forces of the two different materials. This can result in a somewhat alarming large crack at the corner of a home. Most of the time, it is not a red flag of a deficient foundation.
If a corner pop situation is combined with a series of other foundation signals, it can be a symptom that is cause for concern. But if it’s the only piece of evidence freaking you out, it’s probably not something to worry about.
All Homes Experience Normal and Expected Movement
It’s important to remember that all homes experience normal movement and can contribute to bringing these minor cosmetic issues to the surface. But it does not mean that a foundation problem is developing every time.
The issues covered in this article have their root cause in workmanship, age, climate conditions, and normal expected behavior of materials over time. Minor and perfectly normal home settling can combine with these root causes to bring about the visual cues that homeowners start to think are major foundation failures.
A Series of Signs Could be a Signal for Foundation Problems
Each of the “false signs” listed in this article do not raise red flags all by themselves for foundation problems. It is always a combination of symptoms that confirm a foundation issue that needs to be remedied.
So if you are seeing multiple signs or some of these signs combined with other true indicators, then you might need to get things checked out.
A variety of cues acting together that still cause you mental discomfort and worry after reading this article are YOUR sign to bring in a professional.
With decades of experience in the Bryan, College Station, and greater Brazos Valley area, Anchor Foundation Repair has studied foundation movement combined with an understanding of trends in building codes and best home construction practices.
Our professional team can look at a problem from a variety of angles and verify a structural versus a cosmetic issue. We are keenly aware of the true signs that mean foundation trouble and have equal knowledge of the common false signs that tend to cause homeowner worry.
Our Customer Process is designed to get you information and answers as quickly as possible, and includes a free estimate phone call and a paid In-Home Assessment if desired.
If the red flags continue waving in your mind after reading this article, reach out to us. Be sure to include some pictures and tell us about the signs and symptoms that are popping up around your home so that we can help put your mind at ease.