How to Check the Structural Integrity of a House

If you’re considering buying a house or just moving into a new one, it’s important to ensure that the structural integrity of your home is sound.

This means your home’s structure is built correctly and can withstand environmental conditions and other structural elements over time.

Here are the steps you’ll need to take to assess the structural integrity of your house:

Step 1: This weekend, do a walk-through of your home and take note of anything that seems off.

Are there any cracks in the walls or ceilings? Is the flooring uneven in any spots, or is there water damage?

Doors and windows that don’t close properly could also indicate structural problems. If you notice anything that seems out of the ordinary, make a note and bring it up with your structural engineer or home inspector.

Step 2: Hire a Professional Structural Engineer to come to your house and look at what you found.

You may want to learn more about your region’s soil history. If necessary, the engineer will recommend that you obtain a soil sample to discover what is causing the problem.

The small expense of engaging an experienced Structural Engineer is far less than the cost of repairing your structure if it is damaged (please do not go cheap here).

Step 3: After getting recommendations from the Engineer, you should act accordingly.

This may be anything from, “Everything looks fine, you can relax moving forward knowing your home is healthy” to “the foundation is cracking due to the soil below. Let’s get soil samples to see the best action plan.”

Avoid Catastrophic Failure

Soil profile

The power of soil is generally underrated and misunderstood. The foundation below your house can significantly impact its structural soundness and, in turn, the entire structural integrity of your home or building.

If you lived in Colorado in 2013, you are no stranger to the severity of the 2013 flooding, which caused $3.9 billion worth of damage and necessitated the evacuation of more than 100,000 residents from 19 counties.

This triggered several adjustments on the ground beneath us that is still ongoing today.

What Comes Up, Must Come Down

After this flood, the soil expanded and rose to the surface. Now, the soil is finally retreating to lower levels causing foundational issues and structural failure in houses throughout the Colorado Front Range.

In the video above, this particular client’s property has a seam of clay soil inconsistent about 15 feet below the surface of the driveway pavement. A noticeable drop-off of about a foot or two runs diagonally through the entire house. This caused the garage (left side of the house) to raise about a foot and shift into the rest of the house, causing severe structural issues.

This process happens slowly and can take years before becoming noticeable to the homeowner. This leads to most people not taking action until it’s too late.


What is Structural Integrity?

“Structural integrity” refers to a structure’s ability to support its weight and resist external forces.

The load-bearing components of a building, such as the external walls, floors, and beams, must be strong enough to bear the weight of the structure without collapsing.

In addition, the structure must withstand wind, earthquakes, and other external forces without toppling over or breaking apart. To ensure structural integrity, the structural engineer must carefully calculate the loads a building will be subjected to and design its components accordingly.

In some cases, an additional measure may be taken that helps ensure and reinforce the structure, such as adding bracing or anchoring it to the ground.

By ensuring that your home’s foundation or buildings have adequate structural integrity, engineers can help to protect it from severe damage and prevent it from posing a danger to occupants.

writing down

What Are Some Signs of a Structurally Unsound House?

Several signs indicate that a house is unsound or has some structural issues.

If you notice any of these red flags, it’s crucial to have a structural engineer assess the house as soon as possible:

Cracks in the foundation or walls

Small cracks are usually not a cause for concern. However, if you notice any more cracks that are wider than a quarter of an inch, it’s critical to have them checked out.

Leaning chimneys

If the chimney is leaning more than a few inches, it could signify that the foundation is shifting.

Sagging floors

Weak or rotted floor joists usually cause sagging floors. This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed immediately.

Sloping floors

If the floors are sloping more than a few inches, it could be a sign of foundation issues or settlement. 

Cracks in the ceilings or walls

Ceiling and wall cracks can be caused by various issues, from settling foundations to weak framing.

Doors or windows that stick

If you notice that doors or windows are sticking, it could signify foundation settlement or shifting.

Gaps between the wall and ceiling

If you see gaps between the wall and ceiling, it could signify foundation settlement.

Cracks in the mortar or Cracks in the driveway

If you notice cracks in the mortar between bricks or stones, it could be a sign of foundation settlement.

If you notice any of these warning signs, it’s crucial to have a professional engineer assess the property as soon as possible. They will be able to determine the cause of the issue and recommend the best course of action.

What Can I Expect After the Structural Inspection?

After a structural inspection, the engineer will provide you with a report that details their findings.

The report will include information on the cause of any problems and recommendations for repairing them.

If the engineer finds that the house is structurally unsound, they may recommend that you have it repaired or demolished. In some cases, they may recommend that you have the house assessed by a licensed contractor before taking further action.

However, if the structural engineer finds that the house is structurally sound, they will provide you with a certificate of occupancy. This certificate indicates that the building is safe to live in and does not pose any risks to your health or safety.

The certificate of occupancy is an important document you will need if you plan on selling or renting the property. Most insurance companies also require it.

Don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions about the report or the engineer’s findings. They should be able to provide you with more information and answer any questions you may have.

What’s the Difference Between a Structural Inspection and a Home Inspection?

A professional structural engineer conducts a structural inspection to assess the strength and stability of the home’s foundation and framing.

On the other hand, a home inspection is a regular inspection of the property’s condition. It covers everything from the roof and walls to the appliances, plumbing fixtures, and other concerns.

A home inspector will look for signs of water damage, pests, and other conditions that may affect the value of your house. However, they are not always qualified to assess the house or building’s structural integrity.

Therefore, hiring a professional engineer to conduct a separate structural inspection is essential, especially if you’re buying an older home.

What Are Some Steps You Can Take to Improve Your Home’s Structural Integrity?

You can take several steps to improve your home’s structural issues.

If you’re concerned about the condition of your house, it’s crucial to have a structural engineer evaluate it. They can identify the cause of the structural damage and recommend the best course of action.

Also, if you’re buying an older home, it’s a good idea to have a separate inspection by a licensed contractor. They will be able to identify any potential problems or structural failure with the building that may not be apparent during a regular home inspection.

Once you have the house inspected, you can take steps to repair any issues that are found. If the problems are minor, you may be able to fix them yourself. However, if the damage is more extensive, you may need to hire a contractor to carry out the repairs.

What if I Don’t Have Enough Money to Repair Major Structural Problems?

If your home requires significant repairs, it can be tempting to put off the work until you have the money saved up.

However, this can be a costly mistake.

Structural problems often get worse over time, and ignoring them can ultimately lead to the collapse of your home, which may lead to a significant monetary loss. A few options are available if you don’t have enough money to pay for the repairs upfront.

You could take out a loan or sell your home and use the proceeds to pay for the repairs. You could also consider renting out part of your home to generate extra income.

Whatever option you choose, it’s important to fix the structural problems as soon as possible to avoid further damage.

Final Thoughts

The importance of a home inspection cannot be overstated.

A home is likely one of the most expensive purchases you will ever make, and it is essential to know that the building is in good condition before making such a significant investment. Checking the structural integrity of a house is a crucial part of any home inspection.

Several critical indicators and signs can help determine whether a home’s structural engineering is sound and safe.

First, look for any cracks in the foundation or walls. These cracks can indicate settlement, foundation issues, or other problems with the house’s structure.

Second, check the eaves and roofline for signs of sagging or unevenness. This can indicate trouble with the trusses or framing of the house.

Third, look closely at doors and windows to see if they are level and plumb. If not, this could indicate warped walls or foundation problems.

Finally, ask the home inspector for their opinion on the house’s overall condition. They may be able to provide additional insight into the home’s structural integrity.

By checking for these key indicators, you can get a good sense of a house’s structural integrity and avoid making a costly mistake.

If you have any concerns about your home’s structural damage or integrity, don’t hesitate to contact us for a professional evaluation. We would be happy to help you ensure that your home is safe and sound.

Picture of Scott Zurn, P.E.

Scott Zurn, P.E.

Founder and CEO of Level Engineering & Level Design Partners. With more than 4 decades of experience, Scott Zurn has contributed to all aspects of the building industry, serving both public and private sectors. He’s achieved tremendous success in commercial and residential markets, held leadership roles such as building official, city engineer, and director for local governments, and accomplished hundreds of millions of dollars in successful commercial building and civil infrastructure as a designer, project manager, and leader. As the Founder of the Level brand, Scott is dedicated to ensuring the entrepreneurial success of design professionals, as well as creating positive environmental impacts through design work. Read Scott’s full bio here.

One Response

  1. I like the idea of having a professional structural engineer come look at your home and assess the situation. I want to lift and move my house to a different state. I’ll hire a structural engineer and have them tell me if that is possible or not.


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