As years pass, a home’s foundation is likely to shift.

While some change is acceptable and normal, drastic shifting or settling over short periods of time may indicate a problem. The best way to identify problems is through regular walkthroughs in and around your home.

If you’re considering purchasing a home, take a close look at the home’s foundation before buying. An undisclosed structural foundation repair could leave you facing a price tag of $20,000 or more. Here are some tips on how to detect foundation issues on your own and when to call in a professional:

1. Check the grade around the home. 

The soil around the perimeter of a home should be sloped away from the home. This diverts water from your home’s foundation. If the grade of the land around a home is too flat, and you notice flooding or ponding near your home, consider the drainage outside of your home.

2. Examine foundation walls. 

A telltale sign of foundation damage is cracks in foundation walls and brickwork. Do you notice a leaning or tilting chimney? Check for signs of shifting and settling. These may look like long vertical cracks. Horizontal cracks are typically indicative of lateral settlement. Do doors or windows stick when opening/shutting? That is another classic sign of foundation damage.

3. Look for cracks in the home. 

Settling and shifting in the home can also cause cracks to develop along walls and door frames. Cracks that seem to appear suddenly out of nowhere, or cracks associated with malfunctioning doors and windows, indicate problems with your crawlspace or foundation. Also investigate the driveway and garage door as well as concrete patios.

4. Check for plumbing damage. 

Moisture is the biggest threat to the health and stability of a foundation. Does it smell like mold or mildew? A foundation leak could be the cause. Have a plumbing professional check for leaks or loose pipe fittings to ensure no excess moisture is damaging the foundation.

5. Roof leaks. 

Have a roofing contractor regularly inspect your roof for leaks or other problems that may trap or release an excessive amount of moisture into your structure.

6. Use a laser level. 

For residential construction, foundations are designed to be perfectly level to ensure even, slow settling. However, if a home is experiencing foundation problems, it may settle unevenly. To determine how level a home’s foundation is, use a laser level in the basement or crawlspace. If different points in the basement are extremely uneven, then there are definitely foundation issues in the home.

If you suspect any issues, be sure to have a licensed home inspector do a thorough inspection of the foundation. If you’re ready to make a move to a new home, fill out our free mortgage application online or talk with a Starion mortgage banker.