Getting ready to finish your basement? Better check for foundation cracks before putting up that drywall!
Any home repair project involves looking into the future—you can picture the finished product, say a carpeted basement with a TV set or maybe a bedroom for your teenage son. Looking far ahead is great, but it’s important to switch focus, looking into the distant future but also into the immediate future. The latter is where you’ll find some things you have to do to prepare.
If you plan to finish your basement, putting in a finishing wall and some sort of flooring, you have to make sure the foundation is in good condition first. An approach similar to turning up the radio when your car is making a noise simply will not work—don’t carpet over floor cracks that could potentially leak water or put up walls over foundation wall cracks thinking that out of sight is out of mind. You’ll be setting yourself far back by hiding increasing damage.
We repair hundreds of basement a year here in Toronto and some of the hardest, more so for the homeowner watching their drywall get stripped away, are basements that have already been finished.
First, The Symptoms
If you have spotted cracks in your foundation—or perhaps the water that has seeped in as a result—the first thing is to shore up the damage. You may use caulking or other home-repair methods to take care of the crack itself. Keep in mind, though, that sealing from the inside won’t be enough—in a minute we’ll discuss structural damage of which cracks are a symptom. You will need to dig to access the outside of your basement wall or floor and seal from the outside—this is where an experienced waterproofing company comes in..
It’s extremely important to realize that a crack in your basement is not some isolated event or happenstance. It is a symptom of a larger disease. There’s no way you can have a crack in your foundation without it being a sign of a larger problem.
Cracks are often caused by your foundation settling—or sinking—into the soil. This is also referred to as floating, which means your foundation is actually moving around slightly with the soil, which is what causes cracking. This might require piering of your foundation—definitely a job for a contractor—or might be remedied by adding rebar or fiber to the concrete to improve its strength. The point is that merely filling a crack and then spending the money to finish your basement instead of fixing the settling does not make sense. You have to fix the disease, not the symptom.
Horizontal cracks are likely caused by water drained from your roof. The water from your downspouts may be directed too close to the ground surrounding your basement. This pushes too much water into the ground, which then freezes. In addition to fixing the actual cracks, then, consult an expert and make sure you have your gutters and downspouts working and aligned properly to not cause further cracking.
Bowed Foundation Walls
If the walls of your basement have been subjected to so much pressure that they are actually slightly caving in, or bowed, you have a larger problem. This situation calls for a contractor to either do some piering referred to above or to use carbon fiber strips to properly support the wall.
Give your basement a good inspection before you start
The best thing you can do is thoroughly inspect your basement before a renovation. If you have issues such as doors not closing properly, water seepage, or sloping floors, you almost certainly have a problem that must be fixed. It will of course be extremely hard to fix an issue once you’ve finished the basement, so do yourself a huge favor and fix it first.
Have questions about cracks in your foundation? Before you start your basement renovations, feel free to contact us for a free in-home inspection of your foundation.
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