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How To Read Foundation Cracks for Real Estate Professionals

foundation cracks kansas city

Live from the KC Property Guys and KC Pier Studio in beautiful Kansas City. Home to over 200 fountains and more barbecue restaurants per capita than anywhere in the nation. It’s the Kansas City Real Estate Industry Leader Show. A show about industry leaders from the local Kansas City metro market, for Kansas City real estate related professionals and enthusiasts like you. And now, here’s your host, Eric Scheele to discuss foundation cracks.

Foundation Issues from a Real Estate Perspective

Hello, and welcome to the Kansas City Real Estate Industry Leaders podcast. I’m your host, John Lindquist, and your host, Eric Scheele here. We are joined today by, Eric Lancaster. Today we are going to be talking about foundation issues and how to identify them from the point of a real estate professional. Eric, I guess we’ll start with you.

Absolutely. I appreciate it. We have Eric Lancaster in, structural consultant with KC Pier, and he’s used to this. John, the backstory for you is Eric’s used to this because he has the job, and I tag along with them sometimes too, where we actually go out to real estate offices in the winter and speak directly to realtors and educate them on reading foundations. We talk about this from a KC Property Guy’s perspective, that the two biggest things that run people away from houses as buyers, and concerns from sellers, is foundation and mold. Foundation, when buyers or sellers walk down to the basement, and realtors for that matter, and see extensive cracks or cracking or water in a basement, depending on how that realtor reacts, can really determine ultimately what that buyer is thinking.

We talk, Eric specifically, goes to real estate offices around the Kansas City area and speaks to them to try to build a professional education perspective on how to read simple things like foundation cracks in the house and interpret what they’re telling them, to help build, not only professional confidence, but also give their buyer and their seller a lot of confidence. We’re excited to be in the studio today. We have, Eric, we captured him for the afternoon, and this episode is specifically for realtors.

We’re basically going to interpret, and this is a couple episodes of content that we’re going to be talking about, but this is the first one of most likely two specifically, where we’re going to be speaking to realtors and give you an idea, as a realtor, some of the things that we see, that we can give you as an education and information, to build that professional confidence and bring that buyer’s confidence so you are not, as a realtor, are not necessarily scared of the foundation cracks or the water and you can pass on information to your buyers. Solutions, they’re all resolvable, correct?

Absolutely.

We’re going to address that and talk about it from a general level down to the specific. You guys, you ready to jump in?

Let’s do it.

Let’s go.

All right. I’m going to pick Eric’s brain, and I basically know a lot of these answers, but we want to hear from him because he is definitely in the field much more than I, he’s speaking to people every single day, he’s working with realtors on a week to week basis, as well as homeowners. Let’s start from the perspective of what’s causing the issue in the first place? Kansas City is an area which has extensive foundation issues throughout, you got rock foundations, block foundations, poured concrete and slab. All of them potentially have foundation or slab issues, but what’s causing that issue in the first place?

Here in good old, mid Missouri, we have clay. Clay is very expansive and contractive based on how much water or lack of water it has. From clay, with excessive amounts of water, you’re going to get swelling. You’re going to get pressure laterally on foundation walls, and also from the bottom, hydrostatic pressure, where water is also involved, that’s going to be where your slab gets the pressure. Conversely, when we go through a drought or something, the clay actually recedes. Foundations, what are they sitting on? The clay. When the clay recedes, what’s the foundation naturally going to tend to do? Sink. The clay is the root problem. That’s why we see all these issues here.

We have a bunch of clay, a high content of clay in our soils, it’s expanding and contracting, the house has to react to mother nature one way or the other. What are we seeing in the house? Realtors can understand this, but let’s bring it to the forefront, what types of things are homeowners, realtor seeing in the homes that say, “Hey, potentially there’s a foundation issue.”

You’re seeing foundation cracks. Foundation cracks tell the story. You’re going to see foundation cracks in areas that are not as strong as a solid wall, in other words, doors and windows. You’re going to see areas like that that are going to typically have diagonal cracks coming off of them. You’re also going to notice those doors and windows not shutting or are operating properly. Then of course, that’s what you’re going to see as a realtor or as a homeowner when you’re in your house. What I see a lot, I’m in the basement, so those same foundation cracks you’re going to see upstairs are going to also be translated downstairs. You’re going to see diagonal, vertical, horizontal, several different types of cracks. That’s going to be your indicator that you got something going on.

Those foundation cracks. You mentioned one point, which I’d like to bring to the forefront, from a construction perspective for real estate professionals, is any time you have an opening, you basically have a compromise in a wall. Whether it’d be a window, a door, anything that’s open is compromising the structure, so the cracks tend to show up where the wall tends to be compromised. You can look for those types of things in the door jams, around the windows, in the basement you’ll see the little hopper windows, and they tend to show out there. Also, something that we should maybe talk about, in terms of when you’re looking at a wall, from left to right, let’s say it’s a 20, 30 foot wall, what’s the weakest part of the wall where that crack tends to show up first? Can you speak on that in terms of where cracks begin and how that’s reacting to the soil?

It’s going to depend. You brought up earlier, you have rock, block, poured concrete, so they’re all going to react differently. With block and with stone, a lot of times the weakest part is in the center of that wall. It gets a lot of pressure and it doesn’t have a lot of strength up and down or side to side. You’re going to see a lot of bowing happen in the center of those walls. Poured concrete can be all sorts of different ways. Honestly, you can see tons of different types of cracks in poured concrete. Especially like you brought up, if you’re looking straight down a wall, you’re going to notice that heaving or that bowing of a wall pretty easily.

We call it bellying in, bellying out. It tends to happen in the middle, because we also talk about it like an elbow. If you bend your elbow in front of you, it’s strongest right at the elbow, try to push your elbow in to your shoulder. It’s hard to do. But then push it from your wrist and your wrist will give in first. The wall’s the same way. The middle will tend to give in first, because it doesn’t have the corners or “the elbows” to hold it and stabilize it. Exactly. You can look from the middle out, generally speaking, from walls to find your issues. Now, jumping back to the foundation cracks. This is where we really jump into a lot of these seminars with realtors.

By the way, if you ever want KC Pier or us to come out and talk to you as a real estate office in one of your Tuesday or Thursday meetings, we’re happy to do so. We do them at lunches, we call them lunch and learns. We just do them, it’s a five minute introduction. We can do it multiple ways, but we have content of which we help realtors read specifically, these types of things. Cracks are always one of them because it’s one of the most seen things to the buyer. It’s obvious to them. You mentioned earlier, we got stair stepping cracks, we got horizontal foundation cracks across a wall, we have diagonal cracks, and large cracks that open up, some are rather small. But let’s maybe break down each of those individually?

For sure.

What do you think?

Types of Foundation Cracks

You’re going to see a lot of different types, so it is important to be able to read them. Something that a lot of people will see is just a vertical crack. Sometimes you and I talk about, “Hey, cracks are not necessarily good, but not all of them are bad.” If you see a vertical crack, that’s probably one of the least likely cracks to see any structural damage or issues from. You’re likely to see water from a crack like that. When these poured concrete basements are formed, you have where those forms meet up. That’s a natural part. People sometimes even think that’s a crack. It’s not. It’s just where there’s a seam of two forms that came together, but that’s likely to crack. Vertical cracks, most of the times, see that, you’re probably going to be dealing with water. We can do that in many different ways, crack injection, membrane patch, several different types of ways. That’s a vertical crack.

So vertical cracks are typically your easiest to maintain and manage, right?

Correct.

A lot of times it’s water, it’s not really a structural issue that comes into play. But water can come into play those. The fix, the resolution for those are rather easy also. Those are easy to maintain.

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Let’s talk about these diagonal foundation cracks, ones that start at the bottom and go to the top, start at the top, go to the bottom, come out of a window well, but they’re all moving in diagonal direction.

Diagonal foundation cracks are the ones you really want to watch out for. Those are usually your troublemakers. It depends on what kind of season we’re in. If we’re in a season where it’s really wet, like we came out of earlier this year, you’re going to get a lot of lateral pressure. A lot of pressure from that expansive clay pushing on something. When it pushes on something, you talked about it, how any cutout is a weak point. That’s why, when it pushes on that like that, most basements talk about a back wall, you’re going to have window, window and then a long stretch in the center. Probably going to break on this window, you’re going to see the mirror image on the other side, it’s going to break off of that window, and then your wall is going to start coming in in the center. There are ways we deal with that. Everything from braces, earth anchors, all the way up to a full excavation. We can come out there and we can measure that for you and decide what’s necessary.

That’s a real common fix for contract resolutions.

It is, braces.

Because diagonal foundation cracks are very common. Crack injections for water to treat that, and ultimately, bracing, it will help support that crack, that movement of that wall, so those tend to be your two most common resolution pieces for realtors. Also, something to mention about the diagonal crack though, is they’re talking to people. We talk about this with realtors as well. What is a diagonal crack ultimately telling a person? It’s pointing in a specific direction, correct?

It is. You can read those and you can tell exactly what’s coming in, where it’s coming in and you can get a great idea of that. We’re speaking to realtors today, so when realtors send me inspection reports or engineer’s reports or things like that, usually from the pictures and from the descriptions, I can tell exactly what’s going on without even being there. I can usually give you guys a great idea of what we might be looking at, what kind of resolution we can use there.

Which by the way, for realtors, there is a KC Pier app that you can download on your iPhone or Android. Basically, you just take a bunch of pictures, fill it out, it goes directly to Eric, direct to, our other structural consultant, and they’ll get back to you within a day to give you an idea of what’s going on specifically from the pictures that you’ve sent. The cracks are talking to you, they’re pointing at the direction and saying, “Hey, I need help,” and they’re pointing in that direction. When you see a crack coming out of a window well, or coming out of a door frame, take a look at the direction that it’s pointing, because it’s pointing towards the issue. Which could be a fall or a settle or something to that point that’s caused by the clay ultimately, but it’s telling you and indicating where that issue is.

That’s correct. That brings us to settlement, which is the other thing that a diagonal crack can be reading. Conversely, if we’re not in the wet season, we’re in the dry season or we go through a drought like we did a few years ago, you’re going to get the same types of cracks, but instead of lateral pressure, it’s going to be up and down. It’s going to be down. Because the clay is receding, it’s dry, it’s cracking, so your foundation, a lot of times, is going to do the same thing. Again, like you said, that’s going to point you in the direction that the house is leaning. It can be very indicative of what’s going on.

You bet. The last one, I know this is the mantra in the real estate world, is that horizontal crack tends to be the one that you just want to run from. I’ve heard that verbatim from many realtors is, “Hey, all the cracks can be handled, but the horizontal one is the one you really got to watch out for.” What’s the horizontal crack telling a realtor or a buyer or a homeowner when they see it? Ultimately, how can that be resolved?

It’s that belly. It’s that pressure. It’s that lateral pressure from the clay that we mainly see in the wet season. You’re going to see it a lot more in stone and also in block. Block, you can just look across it and you got those straight grout lines. That thing tends to belly out a lot. When we have to excavate them and physically push them back, we’ve excavated them and pushed them back a foot, a foot and a half before. It can be scary when you look at something like that. You’re mainly going to see it in those. Poured concrete, not so much, but it still happens. Point is, yes, it can look scary. Point is it’s fixable.

It is fixable.

We can help you guys through that.

It tends to be a bit more expensive if it’s reached a point at which you can’t just simply brace it.

Correct.

That’s why it has the rumor or it has that notion that it’s a serious crack, because once it reaches past certain tolerances, you ultimately have to excavate the exterior and then push it back and then brace it. You have some expense obviously, for the labor to excavate that outside. But at the end of the day, it’s still solvable.

Absolutely.

Again, it’s that clay pressure that’s just sitting there. When that clay expands like a sponge and pushes against that wall, and it doesn’t dry out, that pressure, is hydrostatic pressure, just sits on that wall. Eventually, what’s going to give? Either the earth behind it or the house in front of it. It’s a 100% chance that the wall in front of it’s going to give. That’s what we’re seeing. That’s why we always basically talk to realtors and homeowners about an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You hear that mantra of going out and watering your foundation, because those cracks, when they begin to form on the soil side, that foundation is losing its support and it can ultimately affect that foundation inside.

There’s lots of different ways that we can talk to realtors and homeowners by reading those cracks, and that’s just one example of more than a few of the different types of seminars and the lunch and learns that we can offer, that we’re happy to do with real estate offices during their meetings. Just keep that in mind. I think today, that’s a really good introduction. Let’s stop with the cracks. Our next one’s going to be more about settling. Specifically focused on the dry season. You mentioned that some of these cracks can be dry season cracks, but a lot of them are indicators of water in the wet season. I appreciate you coming in and spending the time with us-

Absolutely. Happy to be here.

… and starting this. If you’re a real estate office, and again, you want us to come out and talk to you, you’re more than happy just to call into the office and go to kcpier.com, fill out a form and we’ll set up a time. Most of those times we do it during the slower season, so it’s over our wintertime. We stay busy, but we also cut out time specifically to talk to realtors because we just do so much work with contracted work. We have a crew specifically dedicated to contract resolutions so we can meet those deadlines and short timelines for realtors, which we’re happy to do. It’s all part of who we are and who we were made to be in the first place.

Absolutely.

Again, appreciate you coming in. John, you want to wrap us up?

I think you did a pretty good job of wrapping us up. You hit all the points there.

You usually give all your plugs and the social things, so I figured you got to sign this off officially.

Well, if you do want to talk to us, you can comment below if you’re on YouTube or subscribe, we’d love to hear from you. If you’re listening to the podcast, please subscribe. If you can, give us a rating. Ratings help out a lot as well. Of course, you already mentioned the way that most people will get in contact with us is through our phone number or through our website. That’s pretty much all that I’ve got to plug.

All right, well until next time guys, we’ll see you next one.

Thank you. Bye bye.

Take care.

Thanks for joining us this week on the Kansas City Real Estate Industry Leader Show. Please support all things local to Kansas City. Hey, be sure to subscribe and share our podcast on Facebook and LinkedIn. This has been a KC Property Guys production. kcpropertyguys.com. Contact us today.