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My Home Inspector Found a Crack and Recommended a Structural Engineer. Should I be worried?

Yes. No. I don’t know. No one can reliably formulate an opinion about the house structure based on cracks alone. Small foundation cracks (say 1/32” wide which is the thickness of a credit card) can be present in houses with serious structural issues. Larger foundation cracks (say ¼” or bigger) are often present in house with no structural issues. So how does one know if a crack indicates a big problem or not? In about 30 minutes, a properly trained inspector can collect basic house measurements which can be used to determine how much the house may have moved. And the best metric for a sound a house is a house that hasn’t moved, i.e., a house that is plumb, and level, without any adverse movement.

What is adverse house movement? Typically, adverse movement begins at about 1 ½” of floor settlement, and 1” of lateral (horizontal movement), but there are various factors to consider when determining how much movement is a problem. But in 90% of cases, if your house is less than 1 ½” out of level with no vertical component more than 1” out of vertical you have a sound structure. Conversely, it’s not until you have about 3” of settlement and 2” + of leaning that you have a big concern. And if your house falls between these two cases: between 1 ½” and 3” of settlement and between 1” and 2” of “lean” then although you have a defect, expensive structural repairs probably are not essential, and the conditions can be safely monitored. The numbers provided here are just guidelines, and the best way to understand the house structure is to get detailed house measurements and have it reviewed by an experienced structural engineer. If you’re buying a house, and you want to make sure the structure is sound, you should find an ASA certified home inspector who can collect structural data and have it analyzed by ASA Engineering Group of Germantown, MD.