10 Structural Issues To Look For During Home Inspections


home inspection

When it comes to home inspections, the structural integrity of a property is undoubtedly one of the most vital factors for determining its safety and overall value. If the structure is weak or unstable, then the rest of the home’s features become obsolete. With that being said, what type of structural issues do home inspectors report when conducting a home inspection?

Home inspectors provide a visual inspection of the home’s structure looking for structural issues. When structural issues are discovered the home inspector should document the issues and recommend an examination by a licensed contractor or structural engineer.

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Before we begin, It’s extremely important to understand the difference between a home inspection and a structural inspection. Home inspectors must compile a detailed report of the home while conducting a complete and thorough check that is in accordance with the guidelines set out by their State licensing board, ASHI and NACHI Standards of Practice.  

Home inspectors that follow the ASHI or NACHI guidelines “cannot report on the adequacy of any structural system or component.” They can only observe and inspect the structural elements without providing detailed analysis.

However, if they believe that there are considerable structural defects they will suggest for you to hire a licensed contractor or a structural engineer to conduct a thorough assessment. Nevertheless, the devil is in the details. Almost every part of the building reveals a clue as to what is going on with the structure to some extent and this is precisely what home inspectors report on. 

It’s important to note that, while some home inspectors are also licensed contractors or structural engineers, most are not. A home inspection is very subjective and is an observation of the buildings structure based on the inspectors knowledge and experience.

A full structural inspection requires load-bearing calculations which can only be performed by a structural engineer.

In this article, we will highlight nine of the common structural home inspection issues that you might find on a home inspector report. Let’s jump into it.

Negative Drainage Issues

Typically, when home inspectors first arrive at the property, they will survey the land to determine the topography. This gives inspectors a clue as to what they might find when they look inside the property itself and whether or not the home could be susceptible to water damage at a foundational level.

The home inspector will take note of whether the property is situated on a negative or positive gradient slope. If your home has negative gradient slopes running towards the foundation, then this will direct storm water, or any other type of water for that matter, towards the foundation.

If the negative grading is considerable, then the subsequent water penetration could damage the foundation of your home over time, causing it to become unsafe. Over 95% of water penetration problems arise due to surface water not being managed properly, resulting from a negative gradient. 

Furthermore, if your home is located on a steep gradient, this suggests it could be subject to structural issues caused by erosion of the land and its movements.

Ideally, you want stormwater runoff to flow away from the house. When this is simply not an option, a french drainage system may be needed to collect stormwater runoff and direct it away from the foundation.

Trees Close to the Foundation

When the inspector is checking the exterior of the property, they will take some time to inspect the surrounding vegetation. If the inspector observed any trees that are overhanging or are too close to the property, then this will be noted as a defect in the home report. 

According to the NACHI, all trees should be at least 10 feet away from the house so that they are not in contact with the property and their roots will not cause any structural damage or moisture issues. Plants that are growing next to the house could also raise the soil level too high against the foundation, which could cause problems.

If a tree is too close to the foundation, removing the tree will be recommended, however, depending on the size of the tree removal needs to be handled with care.

Large trees close to a home’s foundation should be cut close to the ground and the stumps ground instead of uprooted. Uprooting a mature tree close to a foundation can cause more harm than good.

Visible Cracks 

old house

One of the most obvious things that home inspectors look for when conducting a property survey is for any evidence of cracks, particularly those that are present in the foundations. 

Some of the cracks that you may find around your property could be indicators of serious structural failure, while others may just be purely cosmetic and present no cause for concern. The home inspectors’ job is to determine the severity of these cracks and whether or not they are indicative of serious structural issues within the home. 

Here are some of the most common types of cracks you will find around your home and what they indicate:

Horizontal cracks – The presence of horizontal cracks may or may not be an indication of a structural problem. When horizontal cracks can occur from concrete shrinkage as it cures. This is commonly found in concrete slabs. However, when horizontal cracks are present and shifting or separation occurs that’s a sign that the foundation is settling causing stress on the home. 

Diagonal cracks – Diagonal cracks that are growing in width also indicate possible settlement, especially ones that are wider at the bottom than they are the top. 

Brick/Mortar joint cracks – Zig Zag cracks that follow the mortar line in your property’s brick walls could indicate serious structural defects in your home. If a crack becomes so wide that you can see through it or the brick can be wiggled, this would go down on the home report as a condition that needs further examination.

Window/door cracks – Windows and doors are typically the weakest part of the structure and the first place a problem will manifest itself. This makes them one of the first places to show signs of structural problems in the home. Home inspectors will keep a close eye on windows and doors around the property for this reason.

It’s important to note that a home inspector (nor anyone else for that matter) can fully determine the rate of movement from one site visit. This typically takes multiple trips over a period of time.

Structural Framing Defects

During the construction of a house, after the foundation has been constructed, the next item is the framing. Often after the home is framed, plumbers will alter the framing to install the plumbing.

Routinely, we find notched floor joists or some that are just completely cut out to make room for the piping. HVAC contractors are bad about cutting things like engineered trusses to install heating systems and ductwork.

These alterations create defects that need to be corrected by the building contractor that often are not. This happens during both new construction homes and especially during existing home renovations. This also holds true for contractors repairing wood damage.

Sistering Damaged Floor Joists

Often when a floor joists are damaged by moisture or termites, the contractor will “sister” the joist which involves running a new floor joist alongside a defective one.

This practice is fine provided the new floor joist runs the recommended 3 feet past the problem area on each side to allow the new joist to be securely nailed in place. It is best practice to run the new joist the full length it possible. The repaired area should be properly supported to carry to the additional weight of the new joist.

Notching

Notching is the practice of cutting away a portion of a wood member to allow for plumbing or electrical to be installed. Good planning minimizes the amount of notching that is needed.The maximum depth of a notch at the end of a joist (where it rests on a wall or beam) can’t exceed one-quarter of the joist depth.

The maximum notch depth in the outer third of a joist is 1/6 of the joist depth. You should limit the length of a notch to 1/3 of the joist depth and no notching should be done in the middle third of a joist.

If part of a floor joist is removed, good building practice is to double the joist on either side and add a double joist between the two to carry the load of the altered joist. Joist hangers are needed on all connections.

Engineered Trusses and I-beams

Engineered wood products such as trusses and I-beams are calculated to carry the weight specifically for the structure. All alterations require the approval of a structural engineer. If you don’t have one, you need to call a structural engineer to perform an inspection to approve the work performed.

For more information on framing repairs and alterations, there is an article at FamilyHandyMan.com which illustrates these principals.

Uneven Floors

When buying an old house, you’ll likely experience some unevenness in the floor structure. Most sloping floors are caused by the natural bending of wooden joists that make up the floor structure. A small amount of bending in the flooring support is not a cause for major concern and would not need to be reported by the home inspector.

However, uneven floors can sometimes be the result of improper construction or a settling foundation beneath the property. This poses much more of a risk and should be assessed depending on its severity and cause of the sloping.

Sloping floors become more common the older your home is. A sloping floor in a 90-year-old home is often less of a concern than any smaller visible slope in a newly constructed building. 

Commonly, when settlement occurs in older homes, contractors will resist jacking the floor structure to an even level because doing so can cause more damage than good. They opt to stabilize the structure to resist further movement.

Uneven Walls

A home inspector will report any glaringly obvious defects that are present on the walls of the property. The most common being uneven and bowing walls caused by movements in the foundation. Most of the time, the uneven walls are accompanied by wall cracking, which indicates potential structural issues in the home.

If these issues are left unchecked for a long time, they can cause significant damage to the property. In some cases, the wall will eventually cave under the pressure, causing failure and subsequent collapse. Failure is often sudden and poses considerable safety risks to those inside the home.

Sagging Roof

The roof is one of the biggest deal breakers when it comes to buying a new property. It’s what protects the house from the elements, keeps moisture at bay, and provides insulation during the winter months. If the roof is inadequate and needs replacing, more often than not, it’s not going to be cost-effective for the buyer to repair it.

In general, a well-maintained roof should last upwards of 30 years, but of course, that is not always the case. A sagging roof is a big indication of structural inadequacies in either the roof or the foundations. The causes for this can vary, but some of the most common are water-induced damage to the foundation which subsequently causes movement/shifting, and the removal of load-bearing walls.

In general, home inspectors will take note of sagging rafters, sagging roof sheathing between rafters, roof spreading, as well as any signs of roof leaking. Signs of noticeable roof leaks will go down as a defect on the home inspection report as the water can easily cause significant damage to internal structures, which can cause a myriad of problems within the property.

For more information on how home inspectors inspect roofs read our article How Home Inspectors Examine Roofs – Methods & Safety Concerns.

Foundation Problems

Your home’s foundation is the load-bearing portion of the structure. It typically includes footers that are consist of poured concrete built below ground, and its main purpose is to support the property that is above and keep out any moisture, usually in the form of groundwater. 

Foundation installations vary based on location, age of house, etc. Footers should be poured below the frost line to prevent groundwater freezing and affecting the foundation. Frost lines in the northern states is much deeper that those in the southern states. Which is why most homes in northern states have basements, while homes in southern states do not.

Depending on where the house was built, the foundation can be made of a number of materials, including stone, brick, concrete block, or poured concrete. Problems with the foundation of the house can cause significant structural failure as most of the structural elements of the home are lineal.

This means that any problems that are present in the foundation are likely to manifest themselves throughout the rest of the house. These manifestations are typically in the form of the defects mentioned above, such as cracks, bowing walls, and warped ceilings. 

One of the most common causes of structural defects of a property’s foundation is due to water damage. It is located below the ground and is highly susceptible to becoming contaminated with groundwater and subsequently weakening due to years of water exposure. Any significant damage to the foundations of a home will be reported as a defect by the home inspector.

Wood Destroying Insect Infestations

Pest infestations can cause considerable damage to your home’s structure if they are left unattended for a considerable amount of time. According to Orkin.com, each year termites and similar pests cause an estimated $30 billion in damage to crops and man-made structures in the USA alone. A homeowner who discovers termite damage will spend an average of $3,000 to repair the damage.

Termites are commonly referred to as the “silent destroyers.” These tiny pests may seem innocent at first sight, but given enough time, they will chew through your wood supports, framing, flooring, and just about anything else made from wood to give them the chance to feast on. 

Some common areas where these pests are located are basements, crawl spaces, and attics. These insects are particularly hard to see with the naked eye and can be quite easy to miss, even for the home inspector. This is why it’s important to pay close attention to things like timber rot, and other signs of infestation so that they can be dealt with before they do too much damage. 

Moisture Related Damage 

According to ASHI, approximately 90% of all structural building failures are caused by the presence of moisture. That’s a pretty shocking statistic, and it highlights just how important it is to keep water away from home as much as possible.

Any level of water penetration, wherever it is in the house, will almost always cause some form of damage if it is not able to drain away sufficiently. The key structural aspects of a home include the foundation, floor, walls, and roof. Water can penetrate through any of these spaces with ease, which is why home inspectors take the extra time to inspect these areas methodically. 

Home inspectors are typically looking out for any evidence of water intrusion, such as staining and dark areas on wood. In addition to this, mold and water stains are usually an indication of long term moisture damage that could connote serious structural issues. 

Causes for water penetration could be moisture intrusion from exterior walls, improper ventilation inside the property, leaking roofs, negative gradients of the landscape leading up to the property, and excess interior condensation.

Excess water is the number one enemy of any home, no matter what age, style, or location. The longer that this moisture and dampness is left unattended, the more damage it causes, and the more costly it becomes to repair.

The Cost to Repair Structural Issues

Now that you know all of the main structural home inspection issues that you would find on a home inspectors report, let’s take a look at how much it would cost to get these issues fixed should the situation ever arise. Many of these numbers are sourced from data collected by HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List.

Structural Repair Average Cost
Foundational repair $1,948 – $6,923
New roof $4,900 to $14,100
Tree removal $150 – $2,000
Moisture damage $1,142 – $4,732
Uneven floor correction $40 to $60 per square foot

These costs are based upon national averages. In some cases, the repair costs are much cheaper than those quoted above, while others may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair, depending on the circumstances.

For more information on major concerns that arise during a home inspection, check out our article 7 Major Home Inspection Issues Home Inspectors Report

Why Would I Need a Home Inspection?

home inspection

Assessing the structure is one of the most important aspects of a home inspection. Its purpose is to determine the strength and durability of the building structure. This assessment is necessary for ascertaining the building’s safety for living purposes or any renovation projects that the homeowner wishes to carry out, such as:

  • Installing solar panels
  • Building an extension 
  • Attic conversions
  • The removal or modification of internal walls
  • The removal of chimney breasts
  • Basement remodeling

Home inspections are also carried out by potential buyers of the property who wish to ensure that they aren’t buying a house that will need a considerable outlay for repairs to its structure in the near future.

In our article 21 Reasons Why You Should Have a Home Inspection we take a more in depth look at the reasons why a home inspection is important.

How to Prepare for a Home Inspection?

If you are selling your home, you may want to make sure that you are as prepared as possible for a home inspection so that you can give yourself the best chance passing the home inspectors report criteria. 

Let’s take a look at some of the things you can do to get your home up to scratch for its inspection:

  • Cut back plants and trees from the property – Take some time to clear out any trees that are within 10 m of the property. If you don’t, this will be noted as a defect in the home inspection report. Furthermore, you should clear out any plants or vegetation that are encroaching on your home too.
  • Repair any leaks – Leaks are a huge red flag on a structural home inspection. Do your best to get these attended to before the inspection occurs, even if they are only minor. However, if you have just recently repaired a major leak, you should inform the inspector of this.
  • Clear out the gutters – Give your roof a good clean down and remove any debris that is up there. Take some time to clear the gutters and make sure that they are functioning how they should be.
  • Make sure the crawl space is empty and clear from debris – Crawl spaces are one of the most dangerous places to navigate for home inspectors. Make sure these areas are completely clear of water, debris, and they are well ventilated. 
  • Keep your home as easy and as safe to navigate as possible – The predominant thing that you should be doing when preparing for a structural home inspection is to make it as safe as possible for the inspector. Ensure your home is as easy as possible to navigate by clearing any debris, trash, and furniture that may be in the way when inspection time comes around. 

We have written a full list of 35 Seller Tips to Prepare for Home Inspection Day. These tips will help any seller prepare for an upcoming inspection.

Summary

Structural home inspection issues consist of anything that can cause a problem to one of the four main structures in your home. These structures are the foundation, floor, walls, and roof. Some of these issues are more damaging than others, such as water penetration and foundation shifting.

The repairs for these issues can get quite expensive, so it’s usually within your best interest to deal with them as quickly as possible. What starts off as a small problem can often snowball into something that is considerably worse for both your home’s structure and your bank balance. 

HomeInspectionInsider.com is owned and operated by Hubert Miles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. HomeInspectionInsider.com also participates in affiliate programs with other affiliate sites. Hubert Miles is compensated for referring traffic and business to these companies.

Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started HomeInspectionInsider.com to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.

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