The largest, and by far the most important part of a building’s structure, is its foundation.  As with any building, residential or commercial, if there’s a problem with the foundation and it is not addressed in a timely manner, it could be a very costly repair.  And even more so with a commercial building as it tends to be much larger in area than a single family dwelling.

What are the key signs of foundation problems?

EXTERIOR

Cracked or Crumbling Foundation

Cracks and separations in the exterior masonry can signal a shifting foundation. Look for step cracks in the mortar between bricks as well as cracking of the bricks themselves, and separations or gaps where two walls meet. This is especially relevant with the tilt wall construction common among manufacturing facilities and warehouses. The sooner you act on this type of damage, the more you’ll save in repair costs later.

Another cause of foundation cracks is the soil that is against the wall. Too much water or not enough water in the soil can cause a problem for foundation walls. Too much water and the soil can exert hydrostatic pressure, causing the wall to lean in or bow into the basement. Too little water and the soil will contract, leaving little support for the foundation wall.

Fascia Gaps
Visible gaps in the fascia – the material that connects the roof to the exterior walls – can tell you a lot about the foundation’s health. These gaps could be the property settling or reacting to humidity, but they could also be signs of a more serious foundation problem.

Multi-story buildings such as multi-family apartment complexes and condominiums are particularly prone to this type of separation if the foundation has shifted.

crumbling foundation
step crack

INTERIOR

Water Damage

If there is water damage in the walls or a leak in the basement, that is a big sign that there is probably some type of structural damage going on.  A water leak should be addressed as soon as it’s discovered because there may be a lot happening behind the scenes. It might just be caused by a misplaced downspout or it could be something more serious like a leaking pipe or cracked foundation.

water damage

Warping and Sagging Floors

Cracked ceramic tiles, linoleum that has separated or bunched up, wooden floors that have warped or buckled, and sagging floors are all signs that something has changed since the installation of the floor.  If you have a sealed concrete floor (basically the foundation with some waterproofing and dye), you should look for new cracks, which will have a lighter appearance from the thinner “cosmetic” cracks that were present when your floor was sealed. Your flooring sits directly on top of your foundation, so any sign that the floor is suffering should be seen as a sign of a possible foundation problem.

cracked tiles

Cracked Walls

Cracks in the drywall, separation between walls and moldings, and cracks that emanate from door frames and window frames are all signs that things might not be totally square with your commercial property.  If the crack is vertical and begins where the ceiling and wall meet, it is most likely caused by normal settling.  However, if the crack is horizontal or at a 45-degree angle, it can be a sign that your foundation is shifting.

In high-traffic properties such as a retail store or restaurant, this could be simply from use. But as always, it is better to check these signs out early before the underlying cause graduates from a minor problem to a major one.

For more information on the different types of interior building cracks, click here.

Doors & Windows Not Opening or Closing
Doors and windows that are not closing properly, or require more effort than before, can be an indication that something is wrong with the foundation. As with fascia gaps, multi-family properties such as apartment complexes and condominiums are prone to this issue because they have so many doors.

If things are starting to go out-of-square with the property, it is likely due to a shifting foundation, which can lead to major wall breaks, separations and foundation failures.

windows

Plumbing Issues
Restaurants and institutional properties are notorious for plumbing issues.  Plumbing can fail for a number of reasons, and when it fails beneath the foundation, the soil supporting the foundation becomes compromised. Equally, a shifting foundation can exert a massive amount of force against existing plumbing, causing pipes to burst, sometimes going unnoticed for days.  While fixing the offending pipe may seem like a final solution, if the foundation isn’t repaired, you’ll simply be repeating this repair in the future.

underground pipes
structure table