You think you have a foundation problem (but really hoping you don’t) because you are seeing this or that symptom around your home. You’re not totally sure though and are looking for some information that might help you figure out if what you see are true signs of foundation problems or if your mind is playing tricks on you.
At Anchor Foundation Repair, we have been inspecting and repairing Brazos Valley foundations since 1985. We know the true signs of foundation problems and have also heard and seen every problem under the sun that homeowners often ask about that is not a true sign but a false one.
This article will review and describe 9 signs that often confuse homeowners into thinking they have a foundation issue when they don’t. We will also explain why these signs are misleading.
The 9 Misleading Signs of Foundation Problems
Homeowners ask us all the time about a particular home scenario and they want to know if they are signs of a foundation problem or not. Here are the most frequently “asked about” symptoms that turn out to not be definitive signs.
The good news here is that if you are seeing things like the following home symptoms (especially all by themselves), it’s probably not a foundation issue. I mean, it’s probably *something* . . . just not something that signals a foundation problem.
- Seam Breaks
- Nail Pops
- Ceiling Cracks: Large and Small
- Doors Sticking on the Handle Side of the Door Frame
- Brick Expansion Joints
- Cracks Above a Garage
- Hairline Cracks in Concrete Floors
- Flaws in Concrete Surfaces
- Cracks in Floor Tiles and Grout
These signs are common ones that we get asked about during In-Home Assessments (aka foundation inspections) that don’t *test positive* for foundation issues every time. They are listed in no particular order and usually have more to do with craftsmanship, home age, or just normal wear and tear. We will go into more detail next on each one.
1. Are Seam Breaks a Foundation Issue?
Seam breaks are flaws between separate pieces of drywall and result in visible, cracking, or flaking of the paint and tape at the seams of the joint between pieces of sheetrock. You will typically see seam breaks on interior walls showing in straight vertical or horizontal patterns near studs or on edges, corners, or anywhere that two wallboards come together.
These seam break problems are often an “age of home” or workmanship issue in a home but do not typically signify a foundation problem by themselves. Not that you will never, ever see seam breaks in a home with foundation problems, you might. But if this is the only sign you have, then it’s likely a problem with another source that is not foundation-related. You might just need a drywall contractor.
2. Are Nail Pops a Sign of Foundation Problems?
Nail pops look like circular raised bumps protruding out of your wall. You might see one or several in a straight row on interior walls. Nail pops will often appear in straight vertical or horizontal patterns near studs or on edges where two pieces of drywall come together.
Nail pop might mean home aging or poor material/method choices in a home but it does not usually signify a foundation problem by itself. Foundation problems always present themselves with more than one sign. But if all you have is nail pops, then you likely have another problem with your walls.
3. Can Large or Small Ceiling Cracks Signal Foundation Settlement?
Let’s say you see large cracks along seams in your ceiling and some small cracks too. This could be on a very large expanse of open and unsupported ceiling or small cracks and flaking anywhere above you.
Believe it or not, most foundation problems tend to present themselves on vertical surfaces like walls and doors, and not so much on ceilings. Ceiling cracks are more likely caused by temperature extremes, age, roof leaks, or framing and sheetrock workmanship issues than by a foundation problem.
So if you only have ceiling cracks and nothing else, it’s probably one of the other issues listed above rather than a foundation problem.
4. Do Doors Sticking Mean I Have a Foundation Problem?
If you have rubbing points, no gap, or sticking between door and frame on the handle side of a door frame, it’s not for sure that you have a foundation issue. A more likely cause is that a screw is loose in the hinge or a hinge is falling out of a failing or degrading wooden door frame.
Door problems can be tricky to interpret. But if this is the only sign worrying you around your home, it definitely could be something else and not a *for sure* foundation issue.
5. Do Brick Expansion Joints Show Foundation Issues?
Brick expansion joints are planned vertical breaks in the brick pattern that allows for large expanses of a brick wall to . . . well, expand. Sometimes they look like a wider vertical grout line in the brick, or they might be filled with stretchable putty-like material like caulk, or filled with no grout and it’s just a narrow space.
Brick expansion joints are a normal part of the construction and are in place to allow for thermal expansion and wind forces. Not everyone has seen these before so if you are new to brick homes it could look funny to you, but you should not be concerned about a foundation problem.
6. Are Cracks Above a Garage a Foundation Problem Sign?
Normally a stair-step pattern of cracks in brick can mean a foundation issue. But if it’s directly over a garage opening, then it’s not. You might see cracks running along grout lines over the center of the garage opening or symmetrical cracks on both sides of a garage door opening.
Cracks like this above a garage opening are not a foundation problem but a construction issue due to failing support angle iron (aka brick lintel). The supporting lintel over the garage door could be decaying by rust or water intrusion or compromised due to the weight of bricks over the open area.
You see, bricks are heavy and when you have an expanse of bricks basically suspended over a large cased opening, you need more support to hold it up. So there is a piece of iron specifically made for this job. If it is failing, it can look like a foundation problem, but it’s an issue with the brick lintel, not your foundation.
7. Do Cracks in Concrete Floors Mean My Foundation Is Bad?
This happens all. the. time. Someone takes up their carpet and they see hairline cracks in concrete floors and they worry that it is a foundation problem. These cracks have no gap or level difference between sides but are just fine, hairline cracks running throughout your bare slab.
People don’t know it’s there under the flooring or carpet until it is exposed. But you might see the cracks if they are on the garage floor where concrete is exposed.
A good rule of thumb here is that if you didn’t think you had a foundation problem before you picked up the carpet, then don’t think you have a foundation problem after you pick it up and see a few cracks either.
8. I Have Flaws in Concrete Surfaces, Is My Foundation a Problem?
Concrete can flake or have spalling, or honeycombing appearances. Some of these concrete flaws can be really unattractive flaws on floors or other exposed concrete surfaces, but they are typically cosmetic and not an automatic reason to worry.
Cosmetic concrete conditions are usually a sign of workmanship issues or conditions at the time of installation. Cosmetic concrete flaws do not equal a foundation problem.
9. Do Cracks in Floor Tiles or Grout Mean I Need Foundation Repair?
If you have cracked tiles or failing grout in floors, kitchens, or bath/wet areas you don’t have a foundation issue for sure. Any tile expanses (especially larger areas of tile) are more susceptible to cracking or even minor expansion, contraction, or movement.
Rigid tilework is susceptible to even the slightest or normal/expected shifting of a home. Grout cracking is more likely a workmanship or material use issue that is not related to a foundation problem. Slab foundation problems tend to show themselves on vertical surfaces and also tend to present several signs and not just one.
For More Details On The False Signs Of Foundation Problems
The biggest thing to remember: If you are only seeing one sign, it likely does not mean you have a foundation problem. If you have a real foundation issue, you will see multiple true signs of foundation problems happening at the same time.
False signs of foundation problems still cause homeowners to worry though. You could also be seeing some signs that are more indicative of foundation issues and some that are falling in this “not to worry so much” category and start to feel some doubt.
To gain a bit more understanding of why and how some of these symptoms are not “sure signs” of foundation problems, check out “Do I Need Foundation Repair? 5 False Signs Not to Worry About.” This article can give you a deeper understanding of the reasons why you might be seeing these signs, and why they are not necessarily foundation-related concerns.
Just to be clear on these false signs, we’re not saying that these are things you don’t want to do something about or still repair. We’re just saying that the root cause of these problems more likely has a “non-foundation-issue” explanation.
What About Cracks in My Slab? Are Those a Foundation Issue?
In many instances, cracks in your slab-on-grade foundation are also false indicators of foundation problems. We didn’t talk about slab cracks a lot in this article as a false sign, but we have more to say about them and it warrants a separate article to cover it all.
At Anchor Foundation Repair, we have been inspecting and repairing home foundations for 35+ years in Bryan, College Station, and other Brazos Valley communities like Navasota and Caldwell. We’ve seen our fair share of cracked slabs and have a thing or two to say about them.
Sometimes slab cracks are a reason to worry but many times they are not. Check out this article to see if it is more of a true or false sign of foundation issues in your home: Should I Worry (& What To Do) About Cracks in My Foundation? 7 Types.