As houses settle, homeowners often find cracks in basement foundation walls. Though these can be unsightly, most cracks are not a sign of serious damage. Both concrete and cinder block foundation walls in the basement can suffer these problems. A look at the causes and the symptoms can give homeowners some idea of when to worry about these problems.
Causes of Basement Wall Cracks
In concrete foundations of new homes, the material experiences initial shrinkage that can continue for several years after it is set. In addition, natural soil expansion and contraction can put pressure on foundation structures that causes the material to crack in places along the wall. These cracks can deepen and even show separation. Small cracks are nothing to worry about, though you may wish to fill them with one of the various patch materials on the market, for appearance's sake. Large cracks should be monitored carefully over a period of time to ensure that the damage is not increasing to a point where professional repair is needed. Wall cracks that are wider at the top than at the bottom indicate settling of the foundation, according to the MyFoundationRepairs site. Some cracks occur during backfilling of soil when the heavy equipment gets too close to the wall. Improper jointing can also cause cracking of basement walls.
Concrete Wall Cracks
Concrete often develops vertical cracks in wall structures. If you run your finger along the cracks and find that both sides are even, the crack is generally due to settling of the foundation. If there is unevenness on the two sides of the crack, it may be due to poor backfilling when the foundation was constructed. Any crack that widens measurably over a short time or appears to be from movement of materials should be evaluated by a professional contractor.
Cinder Block Wall Cracks
Cinder block walls generally perform well, but they can exhibit cracking as concrete walls do. Stairstep-type cracks are typical and are not generally a cause for concern. They occur due to settling of the foundation walls and shifting of soil. A long horizontal crack, however, should be monitored carefully. Horizontal cracks can compromise the structural integrity of the whole wall. If a dime fits into the crack, you should call a structural engineer to evaluate the problem, according to writer Gerry Aubrey at the HomeInspectionsUSA website.
When to Worry About Basement Wall Cracks
Though cracks are common on basement walls and are generally repaired with surface treatments, some cracks can signal a serious problem. If the crack is quite large or visibly increasing over a short period of time, you should consult with a foundation contractor for options. If doors or windows won't open or close properly, this problem could mean a serious shifting in the foundation, according to the BasementSystems website. Changing soil conditions around your home can cause these problems and can lead to radical shifting of the foundation structure.