Structural vs Non-structural Foundation Cracks

What's the Difference?

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When the foundation in your home starts cracking, it’s natural to be concerned about what could happen next. A lot of questions will swirl through your mind. Will the cracks widen and let in water? Will my house tumble down? What should I do next? Unless you get the right answers, you’ll never have a peaceful night’s rest.

Fortunately, not all cracks are dangerous enough to warrant the attention of a foundation repair contractor. As long as the foundation crack doesn’t threaten the structural integrity of your home, you have little to worry about. In the next section, we will delve deeper into structural cracks and non-structural cracks. You’ll get to know what causes them and how they’re fixed.

Non-structural Cracks (Good)

After a year of building your new home, you may notice thin lines on the interior of the basement walls, most likely near the doors or windows of the basement. They’re usually no more than 3 mm wide. Don’t sweat it. These are hairline cracks, which are harmless and inexpensive to fix. And they often appear when concrete shrinks and settles.

Cracks of these types don’t pose an immediate threat to the structural integrity of your home. They often occur when concrete slab experiences internally induced stress. A good example is shrinkage cracks, resulting from hardening concrete. As concrete hardens, it loses water and becomes more rigid, resisting shrinkage. This causes internal stress to build up, and the outcome is small cracks usually less than 1/8 inch in width.

Cracks tend to radiate from the corners of rectangular holes or embedded pipes and drains, stop at one point, then resurface a few meters away. Some of the factors that cause them include temperature fluctuations, weather changes and moisture buildup. It’s advisable to monitor these cracks. Why? What starts as a cosmetic issue can rapidly turn into a structural crack as water seeps into the foundation and erodes the concrete.

Luckily, most cracks of these types are easily repaired using epoxy injection, a flexible resin that seals the crack and protects the foundation from future leaks.

Structural Cracks (Bad)

On the other hand, cracks that are wider than 1/8” inch or 3mm are considered structural cracks. Such cracks can show up at various points in the home’s foundation. They mostly manifest as horizontal cracks, diagonal cracks, and stair-step cracks. Often they have a near symmetrical pattern. In other words, if one corner is cracked, the other end is likely too, contributing to the continuous movement of the wall, starting from the top and dipping into the basement space.

Cracks accompanied by a bulge in the foundation is a sign of a structural problem. Common causes include waterlogged soil after a heavy downpour, poor construction sites, design mistakes and soil movement. Soil shrinking during prolonged droughts also triggers this type of cracks. When these cracks occur, they can make it difficult to close windows or doors. You may also notice your floors start sloping.

Structural problems can make your home less hospitable. Aside from lowering structural integrity, cracks can lower the quality of indoor air, set the stage for mold, and create openings for pests and crawling insects to invade your home.

Best Fixes for Foundation Cracks

The moment you spot cracks in the foundation, call your basement or foundation repair contractor to inspect them as soon as possible. That’s the only way you’ll know what types of cracks you’re dealing with. Afterward, your contractor will recommend the best solution to fix it.

Repairing non-structural or hairline cracks is a simple and straightforward exercise. Many contractors use epoxy injection to seal off cracks and prevent them from worsening. Sealing also prevents water from seeping through to your basement floor.

Structural cracks, on the other hand, are a tough job. Depending on the extent of the damage and the depth of the foundation, your contractor will likely recommend one or more of the following foundation repair solutions.

  • Helical piers
  • Push piers
  • Slab piers
  • Wall anchors
  • Carbon Fiber wall reinforcement system
  • IntelliBrace­™ wall repair system
  • Concrete lifting
  • IntelliJack™

While large cracks may turn out to be harmless, it’s good to have a basement and foundation repair professional look at it and advise you. Horizontal cracks are more of a risk than vertical or diagonal cracks.

If you have a crack that’s bigger than 1/2-inch, schedule a free foundation crack inspection with your local contractor.

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