Is that crack serious? Foundation problems 101

Home foundations aren't typically a hot news topic, but an ongoing severe drought in Texas has left many homeowners there and elsewhere wondering how stable their homes really are.

The drought that some are comparing to the Dust Bowl has homes rockin' and rollin' as the parched ground beneath them cracks and settles. Homeowners are watering their foundations — to keep their abode in place — and forgetting about their grass.

But you don't have to live in the Lone Star State to have foundation issues. So how do you know if you're on solid ground? Here is a primer:


Know your foundation
Foundations crack. That's why a foundation is usually composed of steel in concrete — to hold it together when it does. The key is knowing whether that crack means anything. "A lot of people will see cracks and they'll panic a little bit," home-improvement expert Danny Lipford says. "But not all cracks are the same."

Before we talk about cracks, though, it helps to know what kind of foundation your home rests upon. It's likely one of these types:

  • Homes in warm, dry climates frequently have a "slab on grade" foundation, which is a layer of concrete poured down on smoothed soil.
  • Another popular home foundation is "pier and grade beam"; a perimeter concrete beam supports the outer frame of the house, and piers in a crawl space support the middle section of the house.
  • Yet another type of foundation uses only piers drilled perhaps 20 feet deep, and the house rests atop them.

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