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Five Tips to Quickly Recognize Serious Structural Problems – Home Inspection Tips for Denver-Boulder

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Five Tips to Quickly Recognize Serious Structural Problems – Home Inspection Tips for Denver-Boulder

Serious structural problems in houses are not very common, but when they occur they can be difficult & costly to repair. Recognizing the symptoms of structural movement and displacement is the key to understanding the extent of the concern. When searching for a new home, or simply observing aging and changes in your own home, there are several key tips for areas to watch. These tips won’t turn you into a home inspector, but it will give you some of the common indicators of structural concerns. In these cases, a structural engineer should be called out to investigate further and provide a professional opinion.

Tip 1 – Leaning House
Take a macro-look at the home from across the street – is the house obviously tilting or leaning, or one edge of the home separating? Often most symptoms of problems can be observed at a macro, or big picture level. Before getting deep into the details of an area, take a broader view of the whole house and look for general problem symptoms.

Tip 2 – Exterior Walls & Entries
Look for areas of wall separation greater than ½” in size. Also, a combination of smaller cracks all running in the same direction could be an indication of settlement in one area. Some minor settlement cracks are always possible, but larger cracks that continue to expand over time are indicators of more serious movement.

Check the Chimney area well – is the chimney separating from the home? Often the chimney can move on its own, but many times this can be a good indicator that overall settlement or heaving is occurring.

Tip 3 – Doors & Windows
Do doors and windows open freely? Look for cracks around the edges of windows and doors, and for sagging lintels on brick homes. Openings in the home are often the first area to show signs of overall movement. Sticking doors and tough-to-open windows can be a good indicator that movement is occurring. Once discovered, look at windows and doors above this area, and look closely at the foundation below this area.

Tip 4 -Floors & Walls
Are there drywall cracks greater than ¼” in size? Are there uneven floors near corners? Diagonal cracking of the drywall around openings, as well as movement of the flooring, can both be indicators of localized settlement or heaving. Again, investigate above and below these areas, to search for further clues of settlement.

Tip 5 – Basement Foundation Crack
Look for significant cracks both inside and outside on the foundation, particularly near corners, around windows, and any cracks that run the full length vertically or a considerable length horizontally. Unfinished basements can provide the best opportunity to observe and inspect settlement issues. Use a flashlight and inspect along the basement walls, both inside and out, for cracking and movement.

Tip1 – Is the house obviously leaning?
Tip 2 – Are there large external cracks?
Tip 3 – Are doors & windows sticking?
Tip 4 – Are walls cracked or floors uneven?
Tip 5 – Are there basement cracks present?

Any of these may indicate a structural issue that should be inspected or reviewed by a structural engineer. Structural concerns when selling or purchasing a home are the most costly items you can be faced with. Look closely at these areas, or ask you home inspector to focus on these areas in a separate walk through of the home. If you aren’t sure about something you see, have a structural engineer look at it. The cost of an inspection will be well worth the peace of mind in knowing the severity and extent of the concern. Using simple observational analysis and visual inspections can be the difference between solving a problem early on, and being faced with extensive, costly structural repairs.

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