Answers to 3 Important Questions about Home Structural Inspections

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Whether you're selling or buying real estate, the feeling you get just before a home inspection is akin to waiting for test results from a hospital. What you don't usually consider is that your inspector gets the same feeling too! Think about it; they're also putting themselves on the line when they give you that report about your home. This article discusses three important points about structural inspections.

1. Should I get an engineer or a structural repair contractor?

Structural engineers charged a fixed inspection fee; structural repair contractors will often give free estimates. The downside is this: because the latter depends on the repairs he recommends to make a living, they will probably suggest some expensive repairs.

Conversely, a structural engineer won't be involved in making the repairs. He/she charges the inspection fee which remains the same regardless of the outcome of the report. Based on their knowledge and experience (and because they are liable if they lie), they can give an unbiased assessment of the state of your home. You should also request, if the report is qualified, that they give you a repair plan of necessary work, and then you can use this plan to assess quotations from different contractors.

2. What should a complete engineering inspection include?

Because the engineer stakes their reputation on the line with the inspection, they are more likely to carry out a thorough inspection of the property before making their recommendations. This typically includes:

  • Mapping interior floor plans for every level
  • Floor level surveys
  • Attic and crawl-space inspection
  • Assessment of interior load-bearing walls
  • Foundation mapping
  • Understanding and factoring in regional geological objects
  • Crack inspection
  • Checking alignment of floor plans for each level
  • Determination of load transfer pathways from the roof to the foundation

All this information gives a clear picture of the structural integrity of a home (or lack thereof) and is also helpful to give a specific repair plan to correct any flaws.

3. Are all cracks dangerous and indicative of foundational damage?

You're probably ordering a structural inspection because you've seen some worrisome cracking on the home. Nine out of ten times, repair contractors will recommend foundation underpinning for most cracks they notice on a house. The real truth is, however, most cracks are a harmless result of settlement and expansion/contraction cycles.

This is especially true of houses finished with brick veneers – an extremely brittle material. Proper practice is to include expansion joints in the veneer finish, but most builders ignore this, resulting in the cracks you see after some time. It is also common for houses to develop settlement cracks – as the name suggests, they form as the home "settles" over time.

Major structural problems, unless occurring in hidden areas, are visible even to the untrained eye: the roof/ceiling/floor sagging enough for you to notice, large interior cracks, particularly around door and window frames, significant sloping on once-even floors, etc. Exterior cracks will become a point of concern if there's a complementary internal crack; otherwise, they are often harmless.

If you're worried about cracks, you need a trained and unbiased assessment, which could save you're the thousands of dollars you might throw into unnecessary repairs – all because you wanted a free estimate. For more information, contact a company like Jeffrey Hills and Associates.