What are Signs of Foundation Failure? We'll Give You 13

September 18, 2023

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A home's foundation supports the entire structure and keeps everything level and stable. But foundations can develop problems over time. Knowing the most common signs of foundation failure can help homeowners identify issues in the early stages before they become serious. 

What are signs of foundation failure? Common signs of a failing foundation include cracks in walls, floors, and ceilings; doors and windows sticking or not closing properly; gaps between walls and ceilings; buckling or uneven floors; exterior concrete cracks; bowing walls; moisture issues and mold growth; and noticeable sinking of sections. Any of these warnings indicate the foundation needs inspection and repairs to prevent further structural damage.

We outline 13 key signs to be aware of.

1. Cracks in Walls and Ceilings

One of the most apparent indicators of foundation issues is cracks in walls and ceilings. As the foundation settles, shifts, or heaves, it places stress on structural elements, causing drywall, concrete, bricks, and mortar to crack.

Cracks are often visible where walls and ceilings meet, above doors and windows, or in masonry fireplaces and chimneys. Diagonal cracks signal the most severe foundation problems, but any new cracks warrant inspection.

what are signs of foundation failure

2. Doors and Windows Sticking

Doors that no longer open or close properly and windows that stick and resist opening likely indicate a foundation issue. Settling soil outside causes the foundation to compress downward, throwing doors and windows out of plumb.

As the foundation drops, it literally changes the dimensions and angles of doorframes and window openings. This misalignment causes friction that prevents smooth operation and the ability to latch properly.

doors not closing properly

3. Gap Between Wall and Ceiling

A new gap between the wall and ceiling inside your home is a red flag. As the foundation sinks, support walls settle while ceilings remain attached to the still intact upper portion of framing. This separates walls from ceilings, leaving an obvious gap.

The gap may be severe enough to see attic insulation or allow light into the wall space. Such drastic sinking requires immediate foundation repairs to bring the structure back to level.

Illinois foundation issues

4. What are Signs of Foundation Failure?  Cracked or Buckling Floors are a Major Indication

Settling, expanding, or shifting foundation movement under concrete slabs and subflooring can cause cracked, separating, and buckling floors throughout the home. This may start as hairline fractures but expand over time.

Hardwood flooring will pop and lift away from the subfloor. Tile or stone will crack. Vinyl, laminate, and carpet will ripple or peak. Uneven floors make walking hazardous and signal unstable support beneath.

what are signs of foundation failure

5. Leaning Chimney

Many homeowners don’t realize that chimneys are dependent on the foundation for support. As the foundation shifts, the portion of brick chimney above the roofline can begin noticeably leaning or tilting.

This indicates the sunken foundation is pulling the chimney out of plumb. Left unchecked, it may topple completely in severe cases. Chimney inspection and foundation repairs are needed.

chimney separating from house

6. Cracks in Driveway, Sidewalk or Patio

Cracks in concrete driveways, sidewalks, porches, and patios occur for the same reasons as indoor floor cracks – movement below ground distorting the flat slab. Identical foundation forces are at work underneath.

Subsidence will cause exterior concrete to sink, just like floors inside the home. This often results in widening cracks, tripping hazards, and segments noticeably sinking lower than others.

7. Decaying Wooden Sections

Any portions of the home constructed from wood, like decks, porches, and exterior stairs, can show signs of foundation damage. As support beneath these structures shifts, the nail-fastened wooden pieces become loose and unstable.

This leads to warping, separating, decaying, and collapsing in exterior wooden structures. Homeowners may notice boards seeming rotten for no apparent reason other than a deficient foundation.

uneven foundation

8. Wall Bowing

Brick, stucco, siding, or other exterior wall surfaces that begin bowing outward at the base signal foundation problems. The sunk foundation tilts the ground toward the structure, creating an unnatural curve in walls.

Inside, framing separation causes inward curving walls as the center drops. Both inward and outward bowing require foundation repairs, or walls will eventually crack under the deformation.

cracked walls

9. Uneven Floors

Similar to cracked floors, foundations that settle unevenly across an area lead to a noticeable slant or slope in certain rooms and entire wings. One section may be inches lower compared to the rest. This makes floors feel disjointed.

The downward tilt occurs because one portion of the underlying foundation has sunk more than other areas. A leveling technician can map unevenness and recommend targeted foundation repairs.

uneven flooring

10. Gaps at Joints

Gaps suddenly appearing where walls meet exterior siding, where countertops meet walls, or where stair stringers meet walls also indicate shifting. As settling occurs, it moves wall endpoints and creates separation at joints.

Previously, tight seams with intact caulk or filler remain sealed but have a new gap a few inches from the junction. This presents an access point for air, moisture, and pests until sealing repairs are made.

foundation repair needed

11. Mold or Mildew

Foundation failures often lead to moisture intrusion as groundwater seeps through new cracks or openings. Excess humidity inside the home can then cause mold and mildew growth on interior walls, ceiling tiles, basements, and crawlspaces.

Musty smells, water stains, peeling paint, or patches of black or green growth require immediate leak investigation and foundation repair to address the underlying cause.

what are signs of foundation failure

12. Pest Infestation

Ants, termites, cockroaches, and other pests can exploit vulnerabilities created by a failing foundation. Cracks allow them inside, and gaps between wood and concrete provide ideal hidden passageways and nesting spots.

A sudden pest takeover without an obvious entry point may mean they accessed the inner structure through foundation defects. Sealing fissures help control populations.

contractor completing a foundation inspection for a house

13. Exterior Landscape Changes

Finally, take note of changes in the surrounding landscape that could signal foundation shifts underground. Sunken walkways, stoops or porches, pooling water against the structure, or new slopes in the yard may all indicate subsidence.

The soil supporting the foundation is settling lower, causing exterior features to decline as well.

Landscaping repairs can help, but the foundation itself needs inspection and corrections.

why is my house foundation flaking

Analyzing Your Foundation Cracks

Hairline Cracks

Hairline cracks are very thin cracks that appear on walls and ceilings. They are less than 1/32 of an inch wide. Hairline cracks are common and typically caused by normal settlement or shrinkage of building materials like wood, plaster, and concrete. Minor temperature and humidity changes can also lead to hairline cracks as materials expand and contract. While hairline cracks are usually cosmetic and not a structural concern, they should be monitored for any growth in size, which may indicate a more serious issue with your foundation.

Stair Step Cracks

Stairstep or stairway pattern cracks occur when horizontal cracks in walls or ceilings appear to line up, forming a stair-step pattern. These cracks develop as structural materials like concrete and masonry shrink at different rates. Stair step cracks that run parallel with the floor joists or trusses are most often caused by deflection and differential movement in the framing. This can happen if floor joists sag over time. Stair step cracks are usually wider than hairline cracks. While not inherently dangerous, stair-step cracks should be repaired and monitored since they may be a sign of foundation or structural issues.

Horizontal Cracks

Horizontal cracks run parallel to the ceiling or floor. They typically appear at the joints of drywall panels or between masonry blocks. Horizontal cracks are often caused by minor shrinkage and expansion but can signal foundation settling if they are wider than 1⁄4 inch. Long horizontal cracks that span larger areas frequently occur when buildings settle unevenly. This differential foundation movement places stress on walls and ceilings. Horizontal cracks near windows and doors may point to movement around the framing.

*Horizontal cracks wider than 1⁄4 inch should be evaluated by a structural engineer.

Diagonal Cracks

Diagonal cracks run at an angle and are often referred to as raking cracks or slip cracks. They form when one part of a wall or ceiling moves differently than the surrounding area. This is commonly caused by uneven foundation settling, seismic activity, and damaged framing components. Diagonal cracks are more likely to represent a structural problem compared to horizontal or stair step cracks. Even small diagonal cracks should be examined to check if wall stability is compromised, especially if the cracks intersect. Repairs may involve sealing cracks and installing supports to stabilize the affected areas.

Final Thoughts…

In summary, issues like indoor cracks, sticking doors/windows, exterior concrete damage, wall bowing, sloped floors, moisture intrusion, pest access, and more can all signify foundation deficiencies that require prompt attention. The sooner homeowners notice the signs and take action, the better the outcome.

About Peoria Foundation Repair & Waterproofing Pros

Whether it's brick crack repairs, steel piling reinforcements, drainage improvements, or state-of-the-art carbon fiber wall stabilization, Peoria Foundation Repair & Waterproofing Pros has the cutting-edge tools and expertise to stabilize foundations and prevent further damage. For a prompt evaluation and quote on foundation repairs, call (309) 322-6979 today.


What is considered serious foundation problems?

Major cracks wider than 1/4 inch, severe floor unevenness making walking difficult, major bowing of foundation walls, and signs of potential collapse like large indoor cracks allowing light in all indicate severe foundation issues. These serious problems require immediate attention from foundation repair specialists before attempting to inhabit the home.

What happens when a house has foundation problems?

Foundation problems lead to a range of structural issues that worsen over time. Cracks form in walls and ceilings as the foundation shifts and settles unevenly. Doors and windows become difficult to open or close properly due to the structure shifting out of square. Uneven floors and separations between walls and surfaces occur as sections of the house settle at different rates. Ultimately, without repairs to stabilize and level the foundation, the structural integrity of the home will continue to decline.

What is the number one reason a foundation fails?

The number one reason for foundation failure is improper installation or inadequate preparation of the soil underneath, which leads to shifting, settling, or unstable support over time.

When should you walk away from a house with foundation problems?

You should walk away from a house with foundation problems if:

  • The cost of repairs is more than the seller is willing to take off the price of the home.
  • The repairs will take longer than you're willing to wait to move into the house.
  • The area is known for unstable soil, making the issue likely to occur again.
  • The property has drainage issues that you might not be able to resolve.

Foundation problems can be serious and expensive to fix, so it's important to weigh all of the factors before making a decision about whether to buy a house with these problems.

When should I worry about my foundation?

You should worry about your foundation if you see any of the following signs:

  • Cracks in the foundation walls or floors, especially if they are large, horizontal, or diagonal.
  • Doors and windows that are sticking or difficult to open or close.

These signs may indicate that your foundation is shifting or settling, which can lead to serious structural problems. If you notice any of these signs, it is important to have your foundation inspected by a qualified professional immediately.

Can a house collapse from foundation issues?

Yes, a house can collapse from foundation issues. However, this is rare and usually takes many years to occur. Most foundation problems are minor and can be repaired before they cause any serious damage.

What state has the most foundation issues?

Texas has the most foundation issues in the United States.

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