Structural Home Inspection

Structural Home Inspection

One of the most important activities of the home inspection involves taking a look at the structural elements. The Structure is actually the skeleton, which ensures the overall safety and stability of a building.

My structural home inspection is performed both inside and out, in combination with other systems.

During a typical home inspection, not all structural imperfections may be discovered due to patching, exterior & interior finishes and past renovations. The building’s structure is both complex and at times challenging to investigate. The easiest way to inspect the structure is before all of the finishing has been completed or by looking at unfinished areas like basements, garages, crawl spaces, attics, storage areas and under stairs…to name a few.

For strata buildings, I take a look at the underground garage to see the foundation wall, ceiling and columns. Inside the unit, I investigate any unfinished areas including all visible columns, beams, floors and walls. Of course I look at the foundation wall from the outside as well.

Some examples of problems that I encounter during the structural home inspection include the following:

Foundation cracks – As discussed during the exterior home inspection, I take a good look at as much of the foundation wall as I can see. It is not unusual however, for much of this area to be covered by vegetation or storage items. Cracks 1/4 of an inch or larger, in several locations on the wall or shearing out in a “V” pattern could be problematic and should be looked at by structural engineer. Sometimes tree roots contribute to foundation cracks. It is always a good building practice to have appropriate waterproofing and drainage installed around the perimeter of the foundation wall. This will help protect the building from leakage issues.

Bowing/ leaning columns or studsThese issues can usually be found in the crawl spaces or up in the attic areas. There are a number of reasons why this happens, but usually it is due to movement, settlement, incorrect design or poor installation. It may look like the vertical component is bending due to excessive force, or as seen in the photo an improper structural member leaning. Again, these issues must be rectified quickly as each failing component will affect other nearby structural areas of the home.

Exterior wall cracks/bowing – The key to looking at a home from the outside is to view at it from a distance and up close, as many clues can be revealed about the structure. Up close I can see if the exterior wall is straight or bowing out. From a distance, I can determine if the properly is level or if there are any wide or long cracks extending down- and what patters are visible. Diagnosing why these problems exist depends on several factors. However, knowing which specialists to help you better understand and solve these issues is what a good home inspector will do. Some of these problems can be fixed inexpensively while other issues will be cost prohibitive.

Chimney cracks – I see a lot of chimney cracks, frequently at the chimney wall connection point. Cracks can also be seen on the broad side. Small cracks can easily be re-pointed. Larger cracks, especially those extending in a “stair step” pattern many require extensive work. A seriously compromised chimney can be a safety problem if the issue is not addressed quickly.

Walkway / driveway cracks – These cracks can create trip hazards, so be careful when you are walking around a property. When we notice cracks right against the foundation wall, revealing a gap, this condition may be serious as water will drain or seep into the basement, crawl space or foundation area. If the property is visibly sinking in one or more areas, the best course of action is to call in a Geo technical engineer.

Column or beam cracks – With wood structures, especially those supporting decks, it is not uncommon to see “checking” or long cracks within the wood structure itself. Small checks are not usually a concern, but if they extend out and widen then pay attention. For all wood decks, stairs and railings, it is ideal to use pressure treated products, especially the supporting beams, columns and stringers. With concrete columns, look at the bottom and top to ensure that these areas are in tact. If you see the bottom crumbling or rusted metal then repairs should be considered a priority.

Cut joists & beams – When I look at the structures revealed in unfinished basements, or crawl spaces, I often see important structural members like joists or beams cut. They are usually compromised to make way for HVAC ducts or plumbing components. This is serious. These structural components are designed to take on significant weight loads and need to be secure. I will definitely recommend repairs or in some cases further investigation by an structural engineer when I come across this.

Over spanned beams or joists – Sometimes beams and joists are over spanned, which can severely limit the structural integrity of the area these members support. This type of condition can cause floors to squeak or dip. “Cantilevered balconies” or (balconies that are only supported at one end) cannot be over spanned or they can cause a bump in the floor inside. They can also be at risk of failure in extreme situations, which we look for.

Although not a typical issue, I have encountered compromised trusses in the odd attic. Trusses are engineered structures that have been factory made, and specially designed to carry specific weight loads. They cannot not altered in any way without first consulting a structural engineer. When they have been cut they can have negative impact the roof structure they support. In the photo to the right, you can see an example of a truss member that was deliberately cut for some unknown reason.

Inside the home it is not uncommon to have squeaking floors and stairs, especially in older homes…but some new homes as well. These areas are not entirely level or do not have the proper reinforcement with double joists, for example, under the area.

After a few years it is not in common to see cracks develop in the ceilings, above and below doors and/or windows. These areas are essentially stress points where openings have been made. To counter this and hopefully develop fewer cracks, all areas above doors and windows should have lintels or header boards to carry the loads around the openings. We always check to see if doors and windows function properly. If they don’t it could be due to structural issues.

As you can imagine, there are entire textbooks dedicated to this topic…but hopefully this article have given you a bit more insight on what we look for during a structural home inspection. For additional information about structures from a home inspector point of view, send an email or call me and I’ll help you out.

Also, take a look at some of the other topics relating to home inspection.