Minor vs. Major Cracks: When to Wait, When to Worry

Outdoor walkway in need of repairs due to foundation cracks

Nobody wants to find a crack in the structure of their home. Even a small crack that can be easily hidden with a piece of furniture or art can be a cause for concern, especially if you’re unsure of the cause. Understanding what causes cracks, what they’re telling you about your home’s foundation and how to repair foundation cracks is knowledge every homeowner should have.

What causes cracks in the foundation?

There are a number of natural and man-made factors that can impact a building’s foundation. Here in Texas, it’s not uncommon to see cracked foundations due to weather. Both dry summer heat and excessive rain can have a significant impact on the strength of your home’s foundation. Soil swells when it’s wet and constricts when it dries, making it common for foundations to shift and move unevenly. If you’re noticing an excess of cracks around your house, think about what kind of weather you’ve been seeing recently.

Another common source of foundation problems is poor drainage around your home. This issue can be exacerbated if you have a lot of plants and trees around your home, as landscaping requires extra attention to soil grading and drainage in order to avoid foundational damage caused by root systems and excess moisture.

While foundation cracks are a natural occurrence that it is nearly impossible to avoid, not all cracks are cause for major concern. Identifying the size and risk factor of various cracks can help you determine when and how to repair foundation cracks before they get worse.

What are the different types of foundation cracks?

While a crack of any size is never aesthetically pleasing or comforting to find, the size and location of the crack can tell you a lot about where it came from and how quickly you need to have it repaired. There are five common foundation cracks you should know about:

Hairline cracks

A minor type of foundation crack, hairline cracks occur in the mortar between bricks or concrete blocks. Think of these cracks like wrinkles on your skin – you may not love to find them, but they occur naturally over time and aren’t a sign of decay or demise. Foundations begin to slowly shrink from the time they’re built, and that shrinkage doesn’t always happen evenly, resulting in hairline cracks.

L-shaped cracks

While less benign than hairline cracks, L-shaped cracks aren’t always a cause for immediate concern. You may be less likely to find these cracks if your home is situated on a flat plane, as they typically occur in places where the foundation slants down a hillside or other incline and starts to shrink.

These cracks aren’t structurally dangerous, but you should consider having them filled at some point to avoid letting water or moisture into your foundation.

Interior cracks

Finding a crack on the interior wall of your house isn’t always a sign of a foundation issue – sometimes these cracks can occur if a piece of wall art is improperly hung or if a heavy piece of furniture is pushed against it.

However, finding multiple interior cracks can indicate an issue with your foundation, depending on where they are. Gaps in the crown molding, for instance, aren’t typically cause for concern, but corner cracks above door and window frames may be.

Pay attention to how these cracks change (or don’t change) as the humidity in the air varies. If they get smaller as the humidity level rises, they’re normal. If not, you should have your foundation checked out soon.

Stair-step cracks

These cracks are usually more serious and should encourage you to schedule a foundation consultation as soon as possible – especially if the crack is wider than ¼ inch or if the wall around it is bulging. They’re usually found in the home’s mortar and are typically shaped like stair steps.
These cracks are a sign that something, like a plugged gutter or excess moisture, is putting pressure on your foundation. The longer you wait to get these cracks repaired, the more damaged your foundation will become.

Vertical cracks

Vertical cracks in your wall may get wider at the top or bottom – but either way, take them as a sign that it’s time for a foundation repair. You still have a bit of time before it gets serious, but don’t hold off too long, as you may risk it turning into a horizontal crack.

Horizontal cracks

Horizontal cracks in your home’s foundation are indicative of a serious problem. These are usually signs of a foundation that is beginning to experience upward movement, caused by heaving clay soils. Horizontal cracks can impact the load-bearing ability of the wall, or structure, and may indicate that the structure is no longer able to handle the pressure. Regardless of how small these horizontal cracks are, seek professional consultation as soon as possible.

What if I’m not sure if the cracks I’m seeing are a cause for concern?

If you see any of these cracks around your home, it may be time to schedule a foundation repair and inspection just to be safe. Perma-Pier is here to help you catch your foundational issues before they cause long-term damage. We’re also here to help guide you in landscaping around your foundation so that you can safely carry out yard renovations without worrying about harming your foundation.

We know how to repair foundation cracks to keep your house’s structure strong year-round. Schedule a no-charge evaluation and one of our foundation experts will inspect your home for potential foundation problems.

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