Home Foundation Inspection (Hiring Structural Engineer, Costs)

If you want to learn all about foundation inspections, you are in the right place!

In this guide, you'll learn:

  • The cost of foundation engineer inspections
  • The four main home pros who do structural inspections
  • Signs of serious foundation problems
  • And more!
foundation inspection

As a licensed home inspector, I have inspected hundreds of problematic foundations such as basement wall bowing, long horizontal cracks, improper column installations, footer settlement, and other issues.

Foundations need to support the ‘dead load’ of the house as well as the 'live load' of home furnishings and the occupants.

Sometimes a foundation problem can come from something simple like poor grading and defective downspouts channeling water towards the foundation.

Other times the home may have problematic soils like marine clay that expands and contracts putting pressure on the foundation — this is known as hydrostatic pressure.

Structural Engineer Foundation Inspections Are The Go-To For Serious Defects

Structural engineers are the most common professionals who inspect foundations.

They are trained in diagnosing residential and commercial foundation problems (and other structural issues) as well as the design of repairs.

Structural engineers can prepare the plans and load calculations that are required for building permits for foundation repairs.

Even when home inspectors find foundation problems, they are not allowed to give a final say on the issue. Only structural engineers can give the final approval on a foundation defect or foundation repair.

Read Also >> What Fixes Are Required After A Home Inspection?

Geotechnical Engineers Are Foundation Experts When Caused By Soil Problems

Geotechnical engineers specialize in soil and foundation problems caused by soil issues.

A geotechnical foundation inspector will know how to diagnose expansive clay or silty soils that cause foundation problems.

If you believe that your foundation problems are a result of your lot or soil, then a geotechnical engineer is your guy.

Home Inspectors Can Give A Preliminary Foundation Inspection

Home inspectors always inspect foundations during standard home inspections.

However, home inspectors are not engineers and cannot officially diagnose or offer repair solutions for foundation problems.

Home inspectors are good at finding hidden foundation problems and an overall sense of the issue, but serious foundation repairs will need to be addressed by a structural engineer.

Foundation Repair Companies Sometimes Inspect For Free

Foundation repair companies specialize in repairing serious foundation problems and can also be called-in to do a foundation inspection.

Most of these companies won't charge a fee in the hope that you will use them to fix the foundation problem.

The foundation inspection will likely be accompanied by a quote to fix the foundation issue.

Homeowners should always get at least 3 quotes on the foundation repair and should expect that a repair solution will be offered if warranted.

Read Also >> How Long Does A Home Inspection Take?

Foundation Inspection Cost Ranges From $400 to $700

Homeowners can have their foundation immediately evaluated by a structural engineer or geotechnical engineer.

How much a foundation inspection costs will depend on the ease of access (excavating dirt), the complexity, and experience of the engineer.

Structural engineers typically charge between $400 to $700 for a foundation inspection and report. 

Foundation experts can give their stamp of approval on a suspicious foundation or repair that can literally save the day on a home sale.

Foundation Repair Companies May Charge A Small Fee (Or No Cost)

Foundation repair companies can also inspect foundations for a small fee ($50 to $100) or even for free. Since these companies are for-profit, you will have to expect that they will likely sell you their repair solutions.

Foundation repairs can be very costly, and homeowners should always get at least three quotes from foundation repair contractors.

Home Inspectors Will Charge In The $200 to $500 Range

Home inspectors inspect foundations as a normal part of our home inspections, but sometimes we get asked to do specialty inspections for only foundation issues.

For a home inspector to only inspect a foundation, we will likely charge anywhere between $200 to $500 depending on the time involved, access, and length of report.

This includes the on-site inspection, as well as a report with pictures. Though you will have to expect that we will recommend further evaluation by a structural engineer if we deem any of the issues potentially serious.

Read Also >> What Defects Will Fail A Home Inspection?

Serious Foundation Problems Can Make A Home Unlivable Or Unsellable

stair step crack in foundation wall that is larger on one end

A home foundation inspection will be needed if you believe you may have a serious structural problem that needs evaluation.

A defective basement wall, column, pier, footing, or slab can cause massive damage to a home if left unrepaired. The next storm or earthquake may make the home unlivable if the foundation issue isn't addressed.

Here are a few potentially significant foundation problems...

  • Foundation Cracks Wider On The End: If there is a vertical, horizontal, or step-wise wall crack that is wider on the end, this is a potentially big problem. If the crack at the narrowest point is larger than a 1/4-inch, you may want to call in a structural engineer. Hairline vertical cracks are common and not a structural concern. 
  • Wall Has Moved Off Foundation: If you notice that any part of your wall isn't properly secured over your foundation, get it professionally inspected. An earthquake, hurricane, or other sudden event can move walls off the foundation.
  • Wall Had Bowed Inwards: Water pushing on the foundation can cause it to bow or lean inwards towards the home. If the wall is bulging an inch or more or has cracks greater than 1/4-inch, call in a home pro.
  • Cracked, Moved, Or Damaged Footings: Footings are important structural components and if you believe the footing has been uplifted, settled, or cracked, then please get a house foundation inspection. Footings can also be improperly sized, such as in the case of converting an outdoor patio into finished living space.
  • Damaged/Moved Piers Or Columns: If you noticed any damage to a column, or if the pier or column has rotated or moved, then this can be a big structural issue.
  • Water Leaking Or Stains: If there is water intrusion in the basement or if there are water stains on the wall, this means that water may be damaging the foundation and should be addressed. Improper rainwater drainage or grading is the usual culprit.

Read Also >> How Do Mold Inspections Work?

horizontal crack in cmu foundation wall

Minor Foundation Defects Don't Typically Present A Hazard

Small foundation defects don't typically present a structural problem and won't usually result in an unlivable or unsafe home. Here are a few of the less significant foundation issues that you may run across:

  • Hairline Shrinkage Cracks: These tiny foundation cracks are usually the result of concrete setting and curing and don't present a structural concern. These cracks have a uniform thickness and are less than 1/8-inch thick.
  • Cold Joints: A noticeable line in the concrete wall is the result of the lower portion of the concrete setting and then additional concrete is poured above it.
  • Spalling: Spalling is when some of the surface concrete pops off the foundation wall. This isn't usually a structural concern unless large pieces come off.
  • Small Voids And Pockets: If there are any voids or pockets in the foundation wall, this isn't usually a structural concern.

Structural Foundation Repairs After Inspection

Foundation inspectors may recommend a foundation repair after analyzing your home.

Repairs to a foundation wall, footer, column, or slab should always be performed by a licensed contractor. A permit for most foundation repairs will need to be pulled from the city. 

A city or county building inspector will likely need to approve the finished repair as well. Here are a few of the most common structural foundation repairs:

  • Sistering Foundation Walls: A second foundation wall is poured or laid next to a problematic foundation wall. The second wall can be poured concrete or CMU blocks.
  • Tieback Anchors: Tiebacks or horizontal anchors are a type of cable that goes through the foundation wall and is secured to the outside with a helical anchor. Metal rods or cables are typically used. These anchors try to prevent further wall movement or to correct existing bowing.
  • Carbon Fiber Repairs: Carbon fiber mats are sometimes used to stop future movement of a foundation and are laid down as vertical strips. These carbon fiber mats are adhered to the wall with epoxy. Carbon fiber isn't used when wall damage is extensive.
  • Foundation Buttress: A buttress is an addition to a foundation that is installed perpendicular to the existing wall. A buttress can prevent further bowing or movement, but it isn't meant to move a wall to a previous position.

Minor Repairs

Here are a few foundation repairs that are done for minor defects...

  • Epoxy Injections: Epoxy is inserted into small cracks or crevices to stop water leaks. Epoxy is flexible and can withstand small foundation movements.
  • Waterproof Coatings: Waterproof coatings are sometimes applied to the interior of a foundation wall. Improvement of soil grading and roof drainage should also be done.
  • Polyurethane Foam Repairs: Polyurethane injection is commonly used for larger foundation cracks and dries quickly.

Read Also >> What Are The Top Questions To Ask A Home Inspector?

Frequently Asked Questions

Who Should I Call If A Foundation Defect Is Found During A Home Inspection?

Home inspectors will recommend either a structural engineer or a geotechnical engineer if there is a foundation problem. Structural engineers can assess the current problem and strategize for solutions. A geotechnical engineer will be able to analyze soil conditions that may be causing the foundation problem. 

What Will A Foundation Inspection Cost?

A foundation expert will charge anywhere from $300 to $700 on average. The cost will depend on the type of professional hired to inspect the foundation. Structural and geotechnical engineers are usually the most expensive. A highly complex foundation defect may require more money depending on severity, access, and other factors.

What Kind of Foundation Problems Do Home Inspectors Find?

Inspectors look for cracks in the foundation, bulging walls, damaged or inadequate footers, problematic soils, water drainage issues, improperly installed piers or columns, and many other defects.

When Should I Call A Professional?

Calling in a structural engineer is usually reserved for potentially serious problems and can get expensive. Homeowners should make it a habit to inspect the foundation at least every few months for any bulging, cracking, or water drainage problems. A simple walk around the home with a keen eye (especially during rain) can alert you to problems before it becomes uncontrollable.

What are some common signs of foundation issues?

The first signs of foundation problems may be simple things like sticking doors, sticking windows, and sloping floors. And the first signs in the actual foundation can be widening cracks, wall bulges, water intrusion in the basement, or a rotated pier.

A Home Foundation Inspection May Save The Day

Whether you hire a home inspector, an engineer, or a foundation repair company to evaluate your foundation, it may be well worth the money. If a foundation problem gets out of control, it can literally cost a fortune to repair.

However, homeowners should keep in mind that most foundation problems are caused by very simple issues such as poor grading and bad drainage.

But once in a while, problematic soils like expansive clays or silt can cause serious foundation movement and settlement.

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