There are simple truths about building materials and their behavior in construction that any honest and knowledgeable structural engineer knows and this is one of the keys to understand potential foundation problems. For instance, concrete hardens with time. As it hardens, it shrinks and thus cracking appears. Concrete tends to expand and contract with temperatures changes which further causes cracking. This is commonly known as temperature and shrinkage cracks—they have absolutely nothing to do with what everyone associates with foundation problems, which is mainly the foundation shifting, moving up and down, due to expansion or settlement of the soil.

What about cracks in the floor tiles? Tiles are “glued” to the concrete slab so any movement or cracks that occur in the slab will also occur in the tile, including temperature and shrinkage cracks—not because of foundation problems.

Cracks in the corners of doors and windows are very common, usually caused by the material itself, gypsum board, which, by the way, is also a concrete product and it, too, cracks as it ages. As this becomes a turn out, concrete does not like corners since the geometrical formation of any corner may usually create more stress concentration. Many residential and commercial foundations have chipped concrete right in the edges of the corners because this is simply the way concrete behaves, this is just the material properties of concrete. With windows and doors, you do have also wind pushing against the house and even with a good structural engineer designing your house, more than likely you’ll still develop a crack in the corner of windows and doors.

There’s an inside joke among contractors and structural engineers and that is “the only thing we can guarantee is that concrete will crack”. Nothing is really going to be permanent.

If you have doubts about your foundation, just hire a structural engineer who doesn’t offer repair services. He’ll do a foundation inspection and will let you know what problems, if any, your foundation has. Also, make sure you check with your local board of professional engineers to ensure that the engineer you hire is in fact licensed to practice structural engineering.

We’re certainly not suggesting that nobody has foundation problems, but we are stating that most of the problems homeowners think of as foundation problems are, in fact, not foundation problems. No foundation problems mean no structural problems. The fix for such nonstructural foundation problems is patching and sometimes there’s no fix such as in the case of temperature or shrinkage cracks in the foundation.

Therefore, it’s important to choose an experienced structural engineer, but, most importantly, a structural engineer that doesn’t offer foundation repair services. A structural engineer who works for a company that provides foundation repairs has an enormous and inherent conflict of interest. Our experience is that, many times, these structural engineers treat everything as foundation problems and this may end up costing you several thousands of dollars with the result that your foundation will not be any better than it originally was after foundation repair.

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