There is a common misconception that once the dust of construction settles, a home is solid and stable for the long haul. However, this isn’t always the case. Whether it’s the result of poor workmanship, materials, negligence, or simply old age, homes can suffer structural damage long after their construction is complete. If you’re a homeowner, it’s essential to identify the warning signs of structural damage so that you can address the underlying cause before it becomes expensive or irreparable.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss the eight most common warning signs of structural damage and how to identify them. Although many of these signs can seem inconspicuous, knowing when to engage a professional building inspector can be instrumental in preserving the value and stability of your home.
What is structural damage?
Structural damage is any damage that compromises the integrity of a home’s construction. Australian Standard AS 4349. 1-2007 (Australian Standard for the Inspection of Buildings) defines a structural defect as a ‘fault or deviation from the intended structural performance of a building element’. While it’s normal for homes to settle over time and show signs of wear and tear, significant structural damage is usually the unfortunate result of one, or more, of the following:
While the Australian Standards account for slight shifts within the home’s structure, anything more severe can cause concern. Consequently, homeowners should monitor new defects closely, no matter how small. Not sure where to start? Here are eight of the most common warning signs of structural damage.
1. Cracks in the foundation
Your home’s foundation is one of its essential structural elements. The foundation supports the weight of your entire house, so any cracks or movement can pose a severe problem. In Australia, a contractor must lay a home’s foundation according to Australian Standard AS 2870-2011 (Residential Slabs and Footings Standard). This legislation outlines the minimum requirements for designing and constructing footings such as stumps, strip footing, concrete slabs, and suspended concrete slabs. Several factors can cause faults within your home’s foundation. Some of these include:
Figure 1. Australian Standards take into account the potential placement of trees in relation to the reactivity of the soil and the location of the building’s foundation.
If you have located any cracks in your home’s foundation, it’s crucial to determine whether or not they pose a threat to the structural integrity of your home. Although hairline cracks and cracks less than 12 to 13 mm in width are not usually a cause for concern, it is critical to have them inspected by a professional. A qualified building inspector will be able to determine whether the damage is cosmetic or if there’s a more severe issue at play.
2. Sagging or uneven floors
Not all homes have easy access to view their foundation. Another sign of structural damage is sagging or uneven floors. This can be caused by a variety of factors, including;
If you notice that your floors are starting to sag or become uneven, it’s vital to have them inspected by a professional as soon as possible. Unaddressed, sagging floors can lead to several problems, such as mould and mildew, increased structural instability, and even injury.
3. Doors and windows that stick
You know how frustrating it can be if you’ve ever had a problematic door or window to open or close. But did you know that this can also signify structural damage? When doors and windows start sticking, it’s usually because the frame has shifted and is no longer level. This misalignment can be caused by factors that include:
Left unaddressed, sticking doors and windows can lead to several problems. When doors and windows don’t fit properly, they can allow drafts to enter your home. This can make it challenging to keep your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Similarly, if water can seep through the cracks around doors and windows, it can cause further damage to the surrounding area.
4. Cracking, bowing, rotating, or leaning walls
Another sign of structural damage is a wall that starts to crack, rotate, bow or lean. Commonly, significant changes in your home’s walls result from movements in the foundation. Cracks can be grouped into two categories; internal and external. Internal cracks are usually not a cause for concern, as they are often purely cosmetic and the result of your home settling. However, if you notice popping nails, large cracks, horizontal cracks, or cracks that run from the top of your wall to the bottom, it’s vital to have them inspected by a professional. External and internal cracks on walls are usually caused by:
5. Damp Sub Floor
The subfloor is the area of your home that is beneath the ground level. If this area becomes damp, it can signify structural damage. Dampness in the subfloor can be caused by factors, such as;
If you notice that your subfloor is damp, it’s essential to have it inspected by a professional as soon as possible. Left unaddressed, dampness in the subfloor can lead to moisture-related problems, including mould, mildew and structural wood rot.
For more information on identifying the signs of dampness, be sure to read our informative article; What are the signs of rising dampness?
6. Damp ceilings or walls
Another sign of potential structural damage is dampness on your ceilings or walls. Most commonly, moisture appears as discolouration and dark patches and can be caused by factors such as;
If you notice wet patches on your ceilings or walls, it’s essential to have them inspected by a professional as soon as possible. This is especially important if there is a chance for water to gather around your roof’s construction. Unaddressed moisture can seep into the roof’s timber construction, leading to wood rot and severe structural damage.
7. Warped skirtings or damp walls around windows
Skirtings are the boards that run along the bottom of your walls. If you notice that your skirtings or the area around your window is damp or distorted, then it may indicate one of the following issues:
If you notice that your skirtings or walls are warped, it’s vital to have them inspected by a professional as soon as possible.
8. Mould, musty smell or damaged walls in wet areas
One of the most common causes of structural damage is improper waterproofing to wet areas. Waterproofing is a process that prevents water from seeping into the structure of your home. This can be the result of one or more of the following:
If you notice that your bathroom or laundry is leaking, it’s essential to have it inspected by a professional as soon as possible. Prolonged exposure to water can lead to mould, mildew and structural damage.
Figure 2. Waterproofing completed in the bathroom before tile installation.
What should I do if I suspect my home has structural damage?
It’s always wise to be proactive about the condition of your home. If you suspect that your home has structural damage, the best course of action is to have it inspected by a professional. A qualified building inspector will be able to assess the condition of your home and advise you on the best course of action. While repairing structural damage can be an expensive endeavour, it’s always best to address the problem as soon as possible. Leaving it unaddressed can lead to further damage, which can be much more costly to repair. Everything in your home is interconnected. If structural defects become sufficient over time, they can even render your home uninhabitable.
These are just a few of the most common warning signs of structural damage. If you notice any of these red flags in your home, it’s vital to have them inspected by a professional as soon as possible. If you’re not sure what to look for when hiring a building inspector, check out our guides; ‘4 Dangers of Hiring an Inexperienced Building Inspector: Why You Need a Qualified Professional’ and ‘Five things to check before engaging a Building Inspector’. Remember that prevention is the best cure when it comes to your home. By being proactive and taking action early, you can avoid the costly repairs accompanying significant structural damage. If you have any concerns about the condition of your home, we encourage you to contact a qualified building inspector today.