The foundation of a house is by far its most important component. It provides the base that keeps the house safe, and any damage to it–even minor–can have negative effects throughout the entire structure. These ripple effects spark fear in most homeowners–not just because of safety issues, but also the high costs of repairing a foundation and any other damaged parts of the home.
When dealing with foundation damage, homeowners often look to their home insurance policy to help cover the costs.
While a foundation may seem like the type of thing that’s automatically covered under a home insurance policy, in many circumstances, it’s not.
Here’s what you need to know about foundation damage and how your home insurance policy can help.
What causes foundation damage?
- Changes in moisture levels – If the soil surrounding the home undergoes extreme fluctuations in moisture levels, it puts the foundation at risk for cracking and bulging.
- Tree roots – Some roots systems are very strong and have the ability to penetrate home foundations. The problem is common with houses that are built to close to older, healthy trees.
- Shifting ground – Soil erosion due to heavy rains or seismic events like earthquake affect how a foundation sits in the ground.
Common signs of foundation damage
Before calling your insurance company in a panic, be sure that the problems with your home are in fact the result of foundation damage. Here’s what to look for:
- Indoor cracks – Look for cracks in the walls–especially at the point where the wall meets the ceiling. If you have concrete floors anywhere in your home, look for cracks there, too.
- Foundation cracks – This is not necessarily a smoking gun of foundation damage, as some cracking is normal. Abnormal cracks include those that are larger than a quarter-inch, those which appear suddenly, and cracks that don’t close or become smaller in different seasons.
- Door and window problems – When there is foundation damage, doors and windows that were once easy to open and close often seem stuck.
- Sinking – This is a more extreme problem that needs to be dealt with immediately. Early signs of sinking include porches or stoops that suddenly look lower.
Will my home insurance policy cover the damage?
Homeowners insurance does not automatically cover foundation repairs.
As with any other claim, the insurance company will look for the underlying reason for the damage. Here are some common reasons and how insurance companies react:
- Damaged from another covered risk – Burst pipes and fires are examples of incidents that can cause foundation damage and are also covered under a typical homeowners insurance policy. Insurance carriers will usually cover foundation repair under the umbrella of repairs for the overall incident.
- Natural disasters – Floods and earthquakes can damage your foundation. However, these hazards are rarely covered under homeowners insurance policies. If you have special insurance for these types of events, you will need to file claims with those carriers.
- Neglect – Insurance companies expect you to maintain your foundation just like you would any other part of your house. If your carrier believes that you could have prevented the need for major repairs, they will reject your claim. This also includes damage from tree roots, as they need to be monitored like other parts of your property.
- Subpar construction – Insurance companies will also not cover foundation damage that is the result of shoddy workmanship. While there’s not much you can do if you already own a home, if you are shopping for a new house, pay special attention to foundation quality. Repair may be something you can negotiate during the buying process.
Although your insurance company may not cover foundation damage, they will often direct you to pre-vetted contractors who can do the repairs. This work often comes with warranties which is useful for future maintenance. If you’re not sure where to turn, you can ask your insurance company for recommendations and guidance even if they won’t cover your claim.
Preventing foundation damage
If you’ve had to deal with foundation damage in the past, you know you want to avoid that headache and expense in the future. Here’s what you can do keep your home and foundation healthy:
- Don’t ignore cracking – As we mentioned earlier, interior and exterior cracks are common signs of damage. If you see them, contact a structural engineer or home building expert who can perform a professional inspection.
- Maintain consistent moisture around the foundation – Make sure that water drains far enough away from the exterior of the house so there is no standing water. During drier parts of the year, consider watering the soil to prevent it from completely drying out.
- Keep trees in check – If you are unsure of the growth patterns of the trees on your property, hire a specialist to teach you more about them and provide guidance about possibly cutting some down. Also, make sure that the trees are properly watered so their roots don’t need to bore deeper into the ground.
- Maintain consistent home temperature – This can prevent the concrete slab under the home from expanding and contracting too much.