The structural system of the house may be referred to as "the bones" by an ASHI home inspector. And "the bones" begin at the foundation. Whether the foundation is poured concrete, block or stone, it is imperative for a house to have a solid foundation on which to build.
Common Foundation Materials
Today, the most common foundations in North America are built using poured concrete. If poured correctly and on firm footings, a concrete foundation should last a lifetime. However, even concrete is susceptible to the forces of nature with water erosion being the number one cause of failure. If too much water accumulates around the foundation, the land under the foundation can be washed away, causing the foundation to move. Although it is not unusual for concrete foundations to have small cracks, be wary of new cracks or older ones that have gotten bigger. Keep in mind that water seeping into the house around the foundation is a sign that water may be starting to compromise the foundation. On the other hand, an excessively long drought may cause the foundation to "settle". Water management is essential for the preservation of your foundation's integrity.
Block foundations are a close second in popularity to poured concrete in North America. The same conditions apply to block foundations; however, they are somewhat more susceptible to water intrusion than concrete. Block is also susceptible to lateral pressure. For example, if a driveway runs along the side of the house, heavy construction equipment such as a cement truck used to pour concrete for a new garage, may cause the foundation to develop horizontal cracks, which may be signs of a structural failure.
The foundation is just the start of the structural system. From there, the walls, floor and roof framing are all connected directly or indirectly to the foundation. Typically, in North America wood framing is used for those components. While wood is an excellent building material because of its cost, availability and workability, it is susceptible to water and insect damage. Unfortunately for the homeowner, it's difficult if not impossible to see the framing. But outward signs of problems could show up as drywall cracks or sags or sloping in the floor.
The structure system, if properly maintained, should last the lifetime of the house. But if the structure is not periodically inspected and damage results, repairs can be very costly. Homeowners can help keep water away from the foundation by cleaning the gutters, extending the downspouts and making sure the ground around the foundation slopes away from the house.
Schedule a Home Inspection
Periodic inspection of the entire home is recommended every few years. Find an ASHI home inspector in your area to schedule a home inspection and improve your home maintenance.