Signs of structural damage to a house

Whether you’re preparing to view a potential investment property or are inspecting your current rental, you should be on the lookout for structural damage. Even small structural issues can escalate, leading to eye-watering repair bills. We’ll show you signs of structural damage to a house so you can stop further damage in its tracks.

What is structural damage to a house?

Structural damage to a house refers to problems that compromise the stability of the building. They can arise internally and externally, including the roof, walls, floors, foundations and frames. Structural damage can affect both new builds and older properties, so it’s important to be aware of the signs to look out for and spot damage quickly to prevent a costly fix.

Exterior signs of structural damage

We suggest that you inspect the outside first before looking inside the property. Make a note of any imperfections and take plenty of photos. You may be surprised to learn that aesthetic issues can actually be a sign of structural damage to a house, so don’t ignore even the tiniest of cracks.

Cracks in the brickwork

Cracks in the brickwork are one of the most telltale signs of structural damage to a house. The cracks occur because the property is settling more on one side. Over time, this settling applies so much force to the structure that cracks begin to show.

Cracks in the brickwork come in all sorts of shapes, but a typical pattern is the stair-step crack. As you’d expect, this looks just like a set of stairs. You may notice horizontal or vertical cracks too. These can be just as troublesome since they can lead to further foundation problems.

Crumbling concrete

This next sign is much less common as it involves a chemical reaction. When concrete comes into contact with chemicals such as salts and chlorides, it can erode. The erosion normally takes place in the lower sections of concrete below the waterproofing membrane of the house. As a result of the reaction, the concrete will crumble - impacting the structural integrity of the building in the process.

Dry mud tubes on the foundation

Living creatures can cause structural damage to a house too. And termites create a lot of trouble. These critters scurry around underground to travel from their nest in the soil to your house. Once they reach their destination, they chew away at your walls. 

On their journey to your interior, they build mud tubes on the foundation so they remain sheltered. Not only do the tubes indicate a termite infestation, but they compromise the structural reliability of a house. If you spot any dry mud tubes, call pest control straight away. Unfortunately, structural damage may just be the start of your problems.

Sagging roof

A standard roof should last 20-30 years before it’s time to replace it, so if you see the following signs before you reach that milestone, you may have some structural damage on your hands. Firstly, a sagging roof should be pretty obvious to the naked eye. You may see the roof timbers shift outwards, and the roof will be unsightly - it will literally dip in the middle. 

A sagging roof can be dangerous as it could collapse at any moment, so tenants must not occupy the property. This type of structural damage can be caused by incorrect framing timbers, prolonged overloading, or the removal of load-bearing walls. Keep this in mind if you plan to renovate your property and have planned to knock down walls.

Cracked leaning chimney

Most new builds don’t feature chimneys, so you won’t need to worry about this sign of structural damage to a house. But for those that have invested in a character property, you should take a look at your chimney every season. Keep an eye out for cracks and see if the chimney is pulling away from the house, as this can imply foundation settlement.

Since the chimney isn’t as stable as the rest of the building, to begin with, it can be one of the first areas to display signs of structural damage. It doesn’t take long to inspect this element, so be sure to add it to your checklist.

Porch pulling away from the house

It’s easy to disregard problems with the porch. We can all fall into the trap of believing it’s not really part of the house and end up living with what we view as minor aesthetic issues. If you see the porch, patio or front stairs pull away from the rest of the property, you may have some settling issues. This means that the house’s foundation is settling in the opposite direction to the porch. As time goes on, a large crack can form between the two elements.

Gaps in the window and door frames

If you look closely at your windows and doors, you may notice gaps in the seams. This warping could indicate foundation settling issues as well as early signs of wall damage. In particular, walls with windows and doors are vulnerable to pressure due to the holes cut into them. 

You can perform a series of tests like opening and closing doors/windows. Your property likely has structural damage if you notice the following:

  • Doors and windows won’t open or close smoothly
  • Doors and windows won’t lock properly
  • Doors and windows are separating from the wall
  • Doors won’t stay closed
  • Uneven gaps around doors

Window glass is cracked

Cracks in windows can happen for all kinds of reasons. If you can rule out accidental/malicious damage by your tenant, the crack could have been caused by a structural shifting creating pressure on the glass. 

A pressure crack will display as a single crack running from one edge of the window to another. When this break in the glass appears, you should examine the interior and exterior walls for additional cracks and call in a structural engineer to assess the situation.

Interior signs of structural damage

Now that you’ve checked your property’s exterior, we’ll talk you through the interior signs of structural damage to a house.

Slow drainage in all parts of the house

Every landlord will have to deal with the odd blocked sink at some point. But if your tenant reports slow drainage in all areas of the property, from the kitchen sink to the shower, the main sewer line may be clogged. It can be caused by a build-up of fat, oil and grease, so it’s a good idea to encourage tenants to dispose of these substances via the waste bin rather than the sink. This should be treated as an emergency and a plumber should fix the issue as soon as possible.

Bulging or leaning walls

A bulging or leaning wall is one of the more subtle signs of structural damage to a house. Over time, you may notice a more obvious curve inwards. A wall should be straight and anything less than perfect could uncover either a structural problem with the wall or foundations.

Uneven floors

Uneven floors, whether on the ground floor or first floor, will need some attention. Not only are uneven floors structurally unfit, but they are also an accident waiting to happen. It can be easy to trip and injure yourself, or even worse - your tenant may injure themselves. The go-to explanation would be a settling foundation although, uneven floors can be caused by dry/wet rot and cracked floor joists. It’s best to get a professional in to carry out an assessment.

Get more advice on property damage

After our rundown of the telltale signs of structural damage to a house, we hope you feel more prepared to inspect your rental property. If you’d like more guidance on damaged property, visit our advice centre. At CIA Landlord Insurance, we give our tips on topics such as finances, property occupants, pets and more.

Whilst you’re getting your rental property in order, have you considered landlord insurance? Policies can protect you in the event of perils such as fire, lightning and explosions and more. Get a quote with us or request a callback today.