Exterior Wall Cracks

The most common and obvious sign of a sinking foundation is cracking bricks in a zigzag pattern following mortar joints. Not all homes, however, are constructed with brick, so it’s important to watch for cracks in all types of exterior walls, whether block, stucco, vinyl, or wood.

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cracks in exterior foundation walls

How to Detect Cracks in Foundation Walls

Keep an eye out for the following warning signs:

  • Cracking brick typically follows a zigzag pattern along mortar joints, but not always. You may see cracks run through the middle of some bricks. Look especially around windows and corners of the home. Cracks typically occur gradually and grow more obvious over time. You’ll also typically see gaps wider at the top than the bottom.
  • Cracks in concrete blocks are similar, in that cracks often follow mortar joints. However, many homes may have block on the bottom layer, with another surface such as vinyl above.
  • Cracks in stucco or other surfaces such as wood may take any number of shapes or forms. One commonality, though, is that cracks typically are wider at the top of any exterior wall than they are towards the bottom.
  • Bent or twisted vinyl siding may also indicate foundation problems.
  • Extra mortar or patching of cracks usually indicates a foundation problem previously existed and the homeowner or repair person used some sort of filler (mortar, foam, or caulk usually) to address the cosmetic issue instead of the root cause.

Foundation cracks

How to Address Foundation and Exterior Wall Cracks

While many may suggest simple cosmetic fixes, it’s important to address the root cause of wall cracks: foundation settlement. You need to permanently stabilize the exterior wall by supporting its foundation with durable, strong materials. Steel piers are the only tried and true fix for this issue. Important steps in addressing the issue include:

  1. Do your own evaluation, looking for the warning signs above.
  2. Be sure to especially look out for previous repairs if you’re not the original owner of the home.
  3. Find a reputable foundation repair company who offers free evaluations and set up an appointment.
  4. Ask the foundation expert about the repair method used by his/her company.

When an expert explains the process, you want to listen for key indicators of best practices such as:

  • Use of steel piers and strong steel brackets
  • Driving steel to adequate depth or torque (depending on the type of pier used)
  • Application of pressure within a safe range with the goal of stabilizing the foundation wall
  • Believe it or not, you want to ensure the contractor does not promise to “close the crack” – the goal is stabilization, attempting to close the crack if possible, but when maximum uplift pressure is applied, adding more can damage the foundation and wall
  • Good reviews / references / case histories
  • Absence of high-pressure sales techniques
  • Written estimate / contract offered if repairs are needed
  • Warranty offered on repair

Why You Shouldn’t Wait

It’s important to address wall cracks sooner than later. They typically get worse over time and may cause damage to the interior structure of your home as well. It’s not uncommon for foundation settlement to crack sheetrock, bow wood floors, warp wood in the crawlspace or elsewhere, and to cause other issues.

You should also keep in mind that most real estate transactions require disclosure of issues you’ve detected, as well as requiring a home inspection where these issues will be quickly pointed out, usually requiring a fix. Real estate transactions are time sensitive, and it can be nearly impossible to find a reputable company that isn’t booked out several weeks.