Whether your home is pre-owned or a new build, there’s always a possibility that something could happen to its structure. If you don’t catch structural damage early, it can have serious consequences for your home and anyone in it, so you should learn how to recognise the signs before it’s too late.

The core structure of your home includes the foundation, load-bearing walls, and roof. Any damage that compromises the integrity of these elements could lead to walls and ceilings collapsing. The extent of the damage may not be obvious right away, but there are still things you can look out for.

What causes structural damage?

Structural damage is usually a result of failures at the very start. For example, if the architect missed a flaw in the structural support of their design, or there were no inspections on the load-bearing capability of the foundation soil, the building would be destined for failure from the very beginning.

A common cause of structural damage is simply poor workmanship. If the builders use the wrong materials, follow the wrong procedures, or fail to complete construction elements properly, then structural problems are likely to occur sooner or later. This is why you should have a structural warranty in place to protect yourself against the financial burden of repairing your building.

Exterior signs of structural damage

Some structural defects start on the outside, so you should give the exterior of your building a quick visual inspection at least once a month. Keep an eye out for the following signs of structural failure:

  • Cracks in masonry (bricks, stonework, concrete) from the foundations settling unevenly
  • Migrating front porch/steps due to soil pulling away from the main foundations
  • Gaps around window/door frames from walls warping, typically on one side
  • Cracked or leaning chimney from the structure shifting and putting pressure on the bricks
  • Sagging roofs from deteriorating beams (usually rot from water ingress or termites)
  • Sloping floors due to improper installation of subfloors or foundations

The greater the movement or the size of the cracks or gaps, the more severe the problem is. Hairline cracks tend to be normal and harmless, but large horizontal cracks or vertical ‘stair step’ patterns can be a sign of moisture erosion, weakening the structural element until it eventually crumbles.

Interior signs of structural damage

You’re more likely to notice internal signs of damage, because you’ll constantly see the interior walls, ceilings, and floors in your daily life. Be on the lookout for these signs of structural damage:

  • Bowed walls that curve or bulge inward due to a lack of load-bearing reinforcement
  • Gaps between walls and floors from warping walls and sagging floor joists
  • Cracks in the walls from abnormal settling movement – if the cracks are around window or door frames, this could be a sign that the building is sinking
  • Uneven floors or cabinets swinging open due to tilting on a shifting foundation
  • Doors and windows sticking instead of opening properly due to the floor and/or ceiling settling lower than it should
  • Nails popping out of walls causing cracks and holes in the plaster/drywall

It’s not enough to just fill in or paint over cracks and gaps – this doesn’t address the underlying structural problem, which will only get worse as time goes on. Whether the damage is caused by a failing foundation or moisture inside the walls or roof, you need to find and fix the source itself.

What to do about structural damage to your home

It can take a long time for a building to settle, and a bit of movement is normal. However, you can never know for sure where the structure is in the process of settling. If cracks and other signs like the ones above keep appearing, it’s not worth the risk of ignoring them and letting them get worse.

Don’t put yourself and your loved ones in danger – be safe and book an in-depth structural inspection as soon as possible. An expert should be able to diagnose the structural defect and its cause, as well as working out the best way to rectify it. You can then organise the repair work.

The earlier you catch the problem, the less you should have to spend on fixing it – especially if your structural warranty covers the repair costs. If you’re in the market for a new home, whether it’s a new development or an older building, be sure to check its insurance policies before you buy it.