What I'm Seeing Now

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When Concrete Stairs Move, The Foundation Can't Be Far Behind

Heavy things must be founded well.  When they are not, over time, they will settle.

Stoops and stairs are mostly made of strong, heavy materials, like concrete.  And when concrete stairs move, the foundation can't be far behind.

Generally you want stairs such as this to angle slightly away from the house.

That is so water is encouraged away and does not get behind, against the foundation.

These stairs have moved more than it appears from this photo.

They have actually moved quite a bit.

These stairs have moved about 1" away from the house.

But think of the shape of the concrete.  The straight backside against the house is about 3.5' from top to bottom.

As the front of the stairs settles into the soil, and the top of that backside pulls away from the house, the bottom of that same backside is pushing AGAINST the house.

That concrete staircase is very heavy.

It is hard and strong.  It is harder than the concrete block foundation wall, and can push very hard as it settles.

 

The result is a horizontal crack, outlined in red.  This crack appears just where the bottom of that staircase would hit the house.

This crack begins under the one side of the porch and continues behind the wall on the right.

Foundations of concrete block will be subject to outside forces, including water/soil pressure, tree roots or other weight.  In this case the outside pressure is created by a heavy, concrete monolith - a staircase which was not founded well.  It has settled over time, putting pressure in the opposite direction of the settlement.

Try it yourself!  Stand straight, bend at the waist as you put your head forward.  Which direction does your backside go?  It has to to maintain balance.  This staircase stays balanced too. 

Hard to see in the photo, but this crack is 1/4" wide.

That is a lot of foundation movement.

My recommendation:  staircases such as these are subject to the forces of gravity.  They will move if given opportunity.  In this case we could see what was happening to the foundation wall.  Had we not been able to see it I would have suspected this movement you see here.  Look around for yourself if you suspect this too.  You might just see what we saw!

 

 

 

Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560

www.jaymarinspect.com


Comment balloon 71 commentsJay Markanich • November 20 2011 04:47AM

Comments

Good morning, Jay. I agree but I also disagree. I see this quite often in this area. Rarely do I attribute this to foundation related issues. But then, this is your post and my 2¢'s worth...

Posted by Michael Thornton, Nashville Area - Photography & Videography (RadnorLake Video) over 7 years ago

In Wisconsin we have "foundation issues" all the time...some major, some not so much...some inspectors who just wisely say...contact an expert....and some unwisely who just recently said any repair was tens of thousands of dollars...oh not...

Posted by Sally K. & David L. Hanson, WI Realtors - Luxury - Divorce (EXP Realty 414-525-0563) over 7 years ago

Up to you Michael!  What else would be putting the pressure?  If it isn't foundation related, what else would it be?  And both front corners had step cracking, down from the corner and then back up toward the center of the house.  There was a different reason for all of that cracking.

S&D - this one wasn't leaking.  But certainly, I ALWAYS suggest an engineer to look at it!  Push is a four letter word.  And I NEVER suggest how much it might cost!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Good morning, Jay. Horizontal cracking is attributed to hydraulic pressure being applied to foundation walls. Just settling steps with no foundation movement is another story. The point I was making is that the two are not typically synonymous with each other. But then we all have opinions based on our experiences. As a generalist, it is our responsibility to raise the "red flag"...

Posted by TeamCHI - Complete Home Inspections, Inc., Home Inspectons - Nashville, TN area - 615.661.029 (Complete Home Inspections, Inc.) over 7 years ago

This does not look good, regardless of the source of thei issue. I'm guessing it's not so easy to fix.

Posted by Debbie Gartner, The Flooring Girl & Blog Stylist -Dynamo Marketers (The Flooring Girl) over 7 years ago

For sure Michael.  But in this case, the front downspout was buried and sent the water 10' from the house.  And the house is on a slope front to back.  Inside the crack begins right where the side of the stoop meets the foundation wall and continues from there.  Does water pressure contribute to it?  Probably, but there is no moisture or soil intrusion through that crack over time, and the wall was painted a long time ago (no paint inside the crack).  So my diagnosis it that this is mostly stoop related.  No matter, an engineer will diagnose!  I just put up the comment on the report!  And I mentioned BOTH potential sources of movement on the report. 

The stoop can be picked up Debbie.  As to the foundation, that is hard to put back.  Fortunately, though, there is no leaking.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

I love Hilton Head John!  We vacationed there many years ago and I did not want to leave.

Your slabs likely aren't too influenced by stuff like this, but there are probably houses with this potential.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Jay, this was a very informative post. Keep 'em coming!

Posted by Donald Reich (Prudential Centennial) over 7 years ago

good morning Jay. Good to see two of my favorite inspectors sharing viewpoints. When I first bought my home years ago the front steps were cracking the foundation. We tore them out, fixed the wall and put on a deck. Problem solved. Ours was caused by water from a eave too.

Posted by Randy Ostrander, Real Estate Broker, Serving Big Rapids and West Central MI (Lake and Lodge Realty LLC ) over 7 years ago

Good demonstration and analysis. Dont see much of this in florida. More commonly here is settlement and you do not see it early on unless brick or concrete block.   

Posted by Ellen Dittman, #1 Stop for NE FLA-JAX/OP 904.535.1199 (TEXT OK) r (Watson Realty Corp.) over 7 years ago

Sounds like a structural engineer is going to get a call lickety split!

Posted by Cheryl Ritchie, Southern Maryland 301-980-7566 (RE/MAX Leading Edge www.GoldenResults.com) over 7 years ago

Very good information.

 

 

Posted by Keith Lawrence, ABR, CDPE, SFR, 203K Specialist (RE/MAX Properties) over 7 years ago

The post contains Data that is submitted and to then be explored. This is what I would expect from any professional...good one Jay....Jay "the stairway" Markanich

Posted by Richie Alan Naggar, agent & author (people first...then business Ran Right Realty ) over 7 years ago

Interesting. Most everything here is just one big old slab of concrete, no basements, etc.  You can see from this comment my buyers always have a qualified home inspector check things out! Thanks for another educational post!

Posted by Gary L. Waters Broker Associate, Bucci Realty, Fifteen Years Experience in Brevard County (Bucci Realty, Inc.) over 7 years ago

Jay, the stairs are sinking for a reason and it is always good to explore if it is causing any other damage.

Posted by Michael Setunsky, Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA over 7 years ago

Ouch!  I have seen that before, and on one occasion removed the landing and stairs.  That was a job, whew!  Good info, and a good reminder to look for that kind of result when showing a house!!

Posted by Mike Cooper, GRI, Your Neighborhood Real Estate Sales Pro (Cornerstone Business Group Inc) over 7 years ago

Good post to help make Agents better educated on reasons to involve a specialist!

I'm curious, how would something like this show on the inside of a poured concrete foundation?

Posted by Nate Gerard, CDPE, East Metro Twin Cities Realtor (Keller Williams Premier) over 7 years ago
Bookmarking to reblog later. With tge major drought we have been seeing all kinds of foundation issues! Thanks for the education!
Posted by Joni Bailey, Your Huntsville / Lake Livingston Area REALTOR® (101 Main St. Realty) over 7 years ago

I've seen that before.  It's not cheap to have to replace a set of concrete stairs and do a bit of foundation repair.  I hope everything went ok on this one.

Posted by Justin Dibbs, REALTOR® - Ashburn Virginia Homes for Sale (Pearson Smith Realty) over 7 years ago

Congrats on being featured! Happy to see one from a fellow inspector. Great info to share, Alot of posts seem to get to page 3 within a minute of posting, never to see the light of day. LOL! You then sit and wonder why take the time to write them. But I try to use keywords so folks can find the info some day when they need it. Maybe it will help them with a question. Great job on sharing valuable insight on movement.

Posted by Cheryl Dickson, Retired Realtor, GRI / Retired Home Inspector (Wichita Falls Association of Realtors - Staff) over 7 years ago

Jay...Very interesting description of the relationship between the concrete stair structure and the foundation.  We suspect that this is not an unusual problem.

Posted by Howard and Susan Meyers (The Hudson Company Winnetka and North Shore) over 7 years ago

Jay, I have seen stairs pulling away or sinking if you will but I never actually thought about the bottom in rule.

Thanks for shedding light on a not so glamorous subject.

Enjoy the day

Posted by Don MacLean, Realtor - Homes For Sale - Franklin MA (Simolari & MacLean REMAX EXECUTIVE REALTY) over 7 years ago

Jay - Once again thanks for explaining things that most of us are pretty clueless about!

Posted by Barbara-Jo Roberts Berberi, MA, PSA, TRC - Greater Clearwater Florida Residential Real Estate Professional, Palm Harbor, Dunedin, Clearwater, Safety Harbor (Charles Rutenberg Realty) over 7 years ago

Thank you Donald, and I intend to!

Randy - this house had this movement, a front corner entirely influenced by a tree 1' from the house (!!) and a rear corner influenced by a downspout dropping its water straight down.  Each as its own influence and the engineer will likely agree with my conclusions.  Of course, water is always the culprit, but sometimes it takes the back seat.

Ellen - not too many basements there.  But here this is a common problem.

Cheryl - I hope so.  There were a few foundation problems - see my comment to Randy above.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Thanks Keith.  Cause and effect, it seemed to me!

Richie - that is pretty much what the report does.  This data included photos!

Gary - we have our slab homes too.  And every now and then a corner is breaking off!

Michael - the reason is always how the stairs are founded.  And they are influencing how the house is founded!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Mike - I usually see this with the front stoop, which is usually bigger than this small staircase.  But this was heavy enough to get in there backwards!

Nate - a pour concrete foundation would be stronger, but they can be influenced just the same by a heavy source of pressure.

Joni - during a drought soil pulls away from the house.  Then that void gets filled with water, and pressure, when it rains.

We'll see what the engineer says Justin.  I expect the fix will be a lot and the seller will not want to do it.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Thanks Cheryl.  When I see posts by inspectors, I usually suggest them.  I think our information should be out there!

It is NOT unusual H&S, you are right.  I do see it a lot.

Don - it depends on their positioning, but usually when one end goes one way, the other end the opposite.

Barbara-Jo - thanks.  That's the idea, again!  When I see it I try to turn it into a lesson.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Sounds like a job for a jackhammer! Woo hoo!

Posted by Tim Bradley, Commercial Real Estate Expert in Jackson Hole, WY (Contour Investment Properties) over 7 years ago

Jay, I am so glad that CMU's are a rare occurrence out here---legos would actually perform better :)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 7 years ago

I think your analysis of this situation is spot on as well.  it is very easy for dirt to put up more resistance than a CMU wall.  If the heavy stoop settles unevently the weakest link could easily be the CMU wall.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 7 years ago
Great info, Arizona has some different issues
Posted by Jack O'Neal (Conway Real Estate) over 7 years ago

Tim - how about this guy?    http://activerain.com/blogsview/1619184/it-s-not-a-bird-it-s-not-a-plane-it-s-hammerman-

Charlie - we saw a huge Legos Sea Monster at Downtown Disney.  About 60' long!  In and out of the water.  Pretty large beast!

I usually see this with front stoops, not side stairs.  But in this case, the wall was visible, so analysis was easy.  I thought it a good lesson to share.

Jack - I have heard!  You slab people, you.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Jay - Stoop settling is far too common and yet easily addressed during construction. The weight of most stoops which often falls upon uncompacted fill almost guarantees settlement. And yet, proper preparation can guarantee that the stoop experiences no settling. Just another area where a lack of proper understanding/supervision can create long-term problems.

Posted by John Mulkey, Housing Guru (TheHousingGuru.com) over 7 years ago

You are right John, about uncompacted soil.  That is the real problem.  But an extra bit of preparation can go a long way.  I see whole neighborhoods where the front stoops are all doing the same thing.  It's ridiculous, but really common place.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Jay:

I hope I never see what you saw.  But if I do, I will call it to the home owner's attention and request an inspection be done to see the extent of the damage to the foundation.  Thanks for the heads up.

Posted by Evelyn Kennedy, Alameda, Real Estate, Alameda, CA (Alain Pinel Realtors) over 7 years ago

Thaanks for the post Jay. Your photos and explanations have informed and educated me.

Posted by George Bennett, Inactive Principal Broker, GRI (Inactive) over 7 years ago

I just subscribed to you! I learn so much from you! Common sense for an inspector but I wouldn't have thought  twice until now! :)

Posted by Rosalie Evans, The Evans Group, Sioux Falls, SD Homes For Sale (Meritus Group Real Estate) over 7 years ago

Sooner or later Evelyn, you just might!  I find this more with front stoops than with stairs, but they are all heavy.

You are welcome George.  That's the idea here - to inform and educate!

Rosalie - thank you!  Stop by anytime.  We try, we really try!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Hammerman indeed! By the way, if you see him hanging out, I've got an abandoned concrete stoop on the side of my house where there used to be a door. That thing's heavy!

Posted by Tim Bradley, Commercial Real Estate Expert in Jackson Hole, WY (Contour Investment Properties) over 7 years ago

Always good to identify areas of concern and have an professional evaluate them. Great post! Very informative, thank you!

Posted by Sylvie Stuart, Home Buying, Home Selling and Investment - Flagsta (Realty One Group Mountain Desert 928-600-2765) over 7 years ago

Every home inspection gives me new insight into what to watch for.....we have earthquakes out here, so things do move. I like to have understanding as to what is OK, and what is a real problem

Posted by Karen Fiddler, Broker/Owner, Orange County & Lake Arrowhead, CA (949)510-2395 (Karen Parsons-Fiddler, Broker 949-510-2395) over 7 years ago

Timely post!  I have this issue going on with a listing now.  AND now that I think about it the stoop is right at the corner of one side of the line.  Structural engineer coming tomorrow.  Thanks for the great insight.

Posted by Jayne Williamson, REALTOR, Broker, GRI (Keller Williams Realty Mountain Partners, Hendersonville, NC) over 7 years ago

Tim - I see that guy everywhere!  Maybe he is an ancestor of Thor!

Sylvie - glad you liked it!  Certainly a structural engineer should be involved anytime there is serious movement.

Karen - that's good news!  I learn a lot too.  It is amazing how often I run into something I have never seen before.  In this case, I have seen this kind of thing many times before.

Jayne - good move.  And the idea of these posts is insight!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Jay,

Great post (as usual). Like Charlie BullFrog up there a yonder I do not see many CMU foundations, a few rubble ones though ; )

Sometimes people do not fully understand the pressures being exerted on foundations. Especially from water. Many times I will not be able to see the foundation wall in relationship to the stoops/steps.

 

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Jay I have often seen movement in exterior concrete fixtures, without even thinking of possible stress or damage to foundation.  Thanks for the lesson.

Posted by Chris Smith, South Simcoe, Caledon, King, Orangeville Real Esta (Re/Max Chay Realty Inc., Brokerage) over 7 years ago

The listing agent called me just today Don, to ask my recommendations.  I told him to contact an engineer!

Chris - movement happens!  I have seen the bumper stickers.  Usually I see this with front porch stoops, but when such heavy structures move downward pressure against the house is common.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

I had to remind myself what part of the country you are from. In Oakland we have a number of houses from the 1920's and earlier and this is more of a common occurrence. As always, love the title, love the post;)

Posted by Elisa Uribe Realtor #01427070, California Homes for Sale in the East Bay (Golden Gate Sotheby's International) over 7 years ago

Thanks Elisa.  This is pretty common here, on older properties.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Jay -- it will be interesting to find out what the engineer has to say on this one.  It is nice that it has not caused a leak yet, and I am sure, with your recent heavy rains, that it would have shown some moisture if it were leaking at all.

Posted by Steven Cook (No Longer Processing Mortgages.) over 7 years ago

I think this has been a long, slow process Steven.  The house was built in the early 60s, so this movement has not happened overnight.  But it is movement nonetheless.  The buyers have asked simply that it be "repaired," I heard today.  I wonder whether or not the seller is likely to go that route.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Good find.  I don't know why, but I've never seen a stoop create a crack in a foundation wall like that.   I would be interested to hear what the engineer has to say about it.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

Jay, I wish you worked in the NYC market!

Posted by Kate Akerly, Manhattan Beach Residential Sales (Kaminsky Group) over 7 years ago

Good catch!

Posted by Marshall Brown, BSEE, CHI (Mid America Inspection Services, LLC) over 7 years ago

It is amazing that you saw that.  I don't know how many inspectors would have noticed the potential for foundation damaage.

 

Posted by Karen Steed, Associate Broker Haralson Realty (Tallapoosa, Bremen, Waco, Buchanan, Temple, Carrollton) over 7 years ago

Interesting illustration and observation. It's always something to learn about in AR. Thanks for sharing .

Posted by Kimo Jarrett, Pro Lifestyle Solutions (WikiWiki Realty) over 7 years ago

I see it a lot Reuben, but most often it is the front stoop.

Thank you Mike and Kate, but I doubt I could afford it!

You'd have caught it too Marshall.  I saw the sinking outside, and mentioned it, but obviously we couldn't diagnose it until we got indoors.

Karen - this is where experience comes in.  Physics are physics and pressure is pressure!

And I'm glad you're learning Kimo!  We all are.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Interesting.  I often see cracked or shifting stairs on an entry or walk way.  They do not always push up against the foundation.  

Posted by Gene Riemenschneider, Turning Houses into Homes (Home Point Real Estate) over 7 years ago

Conditions have to be right for it to push Gene, but they can push very hard!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Wow, thanks for the heads up. I would not have known to look for that!

Posted by Liane Thomas -Top Listing Agent, Bringing you Home! (BROKER Allison James Estates & Homes BRE 01885684) over 7 years ago

A moving post. There are a good many CMU foundations up here in CT, but haven't seen this...yet. 

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 7 years ago

Hi Jay,  I have to respectfully disagree on this one.  Many a stair was installed unattached and without foundation and may more away from foundation while foundation is still sound. 

Posted by Bob Miller, The Ocala Dream Team (Keller Williams Cornerstone Realty) over 7 years ago

Hi Jay,  So what is the prognosis of a home that this has happened to.  Will there be further damage and is it a bad idea to buy?

Posted by Amy Robinson, Realtor, Scottsdale Arizona Homes For Sale (London Pierce Real Estate) over 7 years ago

I see it a lot Liane.  But mostly front porch stoops.

I don't see the stairs very often Jim, but now and then!

Bob - move away yes.  Move into is the problem.  And the engineer respectfully disagreed with you.   ;>)

Amy - every engineer will have his own way - lifting it up, pushing the wall back, destroying the stairs and starting again.  This engineer wanted the stairs removed and replaced with something wood and not pushing into the wall.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

My own 2 cents?   I think it is a very broad generalization to suggests that the steps are an indication of weakness in the foundation.  They are generally done at different times during the initial construction phase, and the materials (concrete itself), rebar, forms etc, perhaps done by different persons, etc. and the soils and preparation underneath the steps, different than at the base of the foundation.

HOWEVER,   I absolutely would rely on my professional inspector determine if (in a certain instance), that it might be in the homeowners interest to repair or replace steps, as a prevenative maintenance item.

We rely heavily on the expertise of our inspectors and I strongly appreciate the value of my inspector partner.   Our Value as realtors is often related to the professionals we surround ourselves with.

Thanks for this post!

 

Posted by Gloria Matthews, MAKING CLARK COUNTY HOME (Principal Property Brokers) over 7 years ago

Gloria - the stairs are not an indication of the weakness of the foundation.  The foundation is as strong as it can be.  But the weight of the stairs pushed into the foundation at its weakest point, pushing it inward.  This was confirmed by the engineer.

This is a concrete block foundation (some people call them cinder block), so there would be no rebar.  The graphic shows what happened here, and uses concrete block as is present in this foundation.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Well written post Jay!

Posted by Walt Fish, Upper Michigan's Most Experienced Home Inspector (Bay Area Home Inspection, LLC) over 2 years ago

An oldie but a goodie, Walt.  Thanks!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 2 years ago

This is an older post but still great information. Sharing!

Posted by Nathan Gesner, Broker / Property Manager (American West Realty and Management) over 1 year ago

Thank you Nathan, and again for reblogging this!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 1 year ago

Moving concrete is never a good thing...and something with the shift in temperatures in our area we see a great deal.

Posted by Sally K. & David L. Hanson, WI Realtors - Luxury - Divorce (EXP Realty 414-525-0563) over 1 year ago

You have different depth codes up there, S&D, for everything.  Your freeze line is much different than ours.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 1 year ago

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