A House with Cracks

April 29, 2009 by  
Filed under Foundation Issues & Maintenance

You look up at the ceiling and there’s a crack. You walk to another room, and another crack maps its way around the doorframe. Then you see up and down cracks, and cracks that are sideways. Your first thought is foundation problems. Then you instantly think the correction is piers. But cracks can indicate much more, such as a slab leak. Or, it can be less – a simple settling crack. And better yet, simple yard maintenance might correct some of the foundation issues.

Before you jump to conclusions, first notify your insurance provider. “It’s amazing how many homeowners call a foundation company before the insurance company,” says Todd Stephens, vice president of JS Engineering. “There’re necessary steps to take in evaluating a problem before deciding that the foundation needs repairing.”

After an insurance claim is filed, the insurance company will send an adjuster to photograph and look at the damage. According to the information on the report, then the insurance provider will decided what licensed professionals to send to the home. If there is a plumbing leak suspected, then a leak locating service will test and isolate any suspected leaks. If no leaks are found, the claim is ended at this point, and the homeowner can do what he feels necessary.

In many states, insurance companies investigate foundation concerns due to an “accidental discharge of water.” This includes water leaking from the sewer system, water system, bathtub and shower drains, and the sprinkler lines next to the house. All of these will be tested as part of the forensic investigation at no cost to the homeowner.

If there is a leak indicated during the plumbing test, the insurance company contacts an engineering firm to perform further testing. There is a misconception that the engineering firm works directly for the insurance company. This is incorrect. The company is employed by the insurance provider and acts as an unbiased third party. “We record data and base our opinions on the data and on the statements by the homeowner solely,” says Stephens. “We do not get involved on the insurance coverage side of the investigation – that is between the homeowner and the insurance company. We do our job, and the end result doesn’t effect the engineering firm.”

During the structural investigation the house is measured and drawn to scale. Then floor elevations are measured. An interior and exterior site inspection is performed with photographs. A crack inventory is made and the residential history is discussed with the homeowner. “These are the pieces of the puzzle that help us determine whether or not the plumbing leak caused any structural damage,” says Stephens.

After the investigation is complete and a report is submitted to the insurance company, the insurance adjuster will typically meet with the homeowner and discuss the findings.
This entire process usually takes 30 to 45 days from start to finish. The homeowner receives the original copy of the report for his records.
The report includes recommendations on how to correct and stabilize the foundation, whether it is from foundation repair from the insurance company or a lawn maintenance program – such as sprinkler system or root barriers.

Many homeowners are surprised at the extent of the investigations performed at no cost. The only cost incurred by the homeowner is the deductible that is often paid during the plumbing repairs, following the completion of the structural inspection.

Homeowners need to be aware of the time needed for inspections and repairs. Therefore, if you are considering listing your home for sale, these issues need to be tended to before putting the home on the market. Give yourself at least 60 to 90 days to check foundation or plumbing issues in your home.

So the next time you see sheetrock cracks, get prepared. Structural cracks are a good indication that there’s possibly a problem with your home.

Helena Hill is a Dallas real estate broker and a contributor to the Flower Mound Homes Weblog.

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