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Foundation Inspection: Why Hire a Structural Engineer

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Default Author Icon Written by Angela Bunt Updated 03/20/2024

Hiring a licensed structural engineer for a foundation inspection will help you uncover hidden problems before they escalate. Unlike general contractors, who may have a vested interest in recommending unnecessary repairs, engineers can provide an unbiased assessment. They are also best suited to pinpoint the root cause of any foundation problems and offer expert recommendations tailored to your specific type of foundation.

Foundation inspections generally cost around $600, but that’s a small price to pay for peace of mind—or to avoid a bad investment. Let’s dive into what these inspections entail, why they matter, and how to hire a qualified engineer.

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*Unless otherwise noted, cost figures in this article are sourced from contractor estimates used by Angi, as updated in January 2024.


What Is a Foundation Inspection?

A foundation inspection involves checking a home’s foundation for structural issues. The process differs depending on the type of foundation you have. A structural engineer will inspect a concrete slab foundation for notable cracks, signs of water damage, and indications of compromised structural integrity. They’ll also inspect crawl spaces and pier foundations for these issues, plus look for wood rot and pest infestations.

The engineer will document their findings and provide the homeowner or potential homebuyer with a detailed inspection report. The report should explain any structural damage or foundation issues the engineer identified and what, if any, foundation repairs they recommend.

A foundation inspection differs from a home inspection because it only involves the foundation and load-bearing structures. The engineer will not check chimneys, roofs, plumbing, electrical wiring, or home appliances. Like other types of home inspections, foundation inspections typically happen during a home sale, after a natural disaster, or for a real estate appraisal. However, you might also invest in a foundation inspection after noticing cracks, bowed walls, or other signs of a bad foundation.


How Much Does a Structural Engineer Foundation Inspection Cost?

Structural engineer foundation inspections can cost anywhere from $300 to $3,000 or more, but the average price is $600. The final cost depends on several factors:

  • Accessibility: If debris, landscaping, or tight crawl spaces hinder easy access, the additional time and effort will increase labor costs.
  • Experience: Highly experienced structural engineers or those with expertise in specific foundation materials or problem areas might request higher fees.
  • Foundation type: Different foundation types require different inspection approaches. Crawl spaces often take longer to inspect compared to easily accessible slab foundations, while complex pier and beam systems might require specialized expertise.
  • Home size/layout: The larger the foundation, the longer it will take to inspect, and the more you will pay. Features like basements or additions can also add to the complexity.
  • Location: Structural engineer hourly rates vary depending on your geographic location. If you live in a remote area, you might have to pay an extra fee for the longer commute.
  • Materials: Inspecting specific materials like stone might require specialized tools or expertise, impacting the cost. Older materials with known vulnerabilities might warrant more investigation.
Structural engineers often charge an hourly rate of $100–$200, but a foundation inspection does not typically require any materials. However, you may need to pay $100–$400 for a foundation inspection permit, if your municipality requires one.

Keep in mind that the structural engineer’s rate only covers the inspection. You will need to hire a contractor to handle any necessary repairs. After that, you will likely need a structural engineer to inspect and sign off on the repairs. Filling cracks can cost as little as $250–$800, while more extensive foundation repairs could cost you thousands.


What Are the Signs of a Failing Foundation?

The following signs may indicate a failing foundation:

Sagging, squeaking, or cracked floors
Bowing walls or sticking doors
Cabinets or countertops separated from walls
Cracked or warped siding
Drainage problems
Interior or exterior wall cracks
Gaps between exterior windows and walls
Leaning or cracked chimney
Mold or mildew smell
Nails coming out of your drywall
One side of the home is lower than the other
Water pooling around your foundation

A single symptom, such as hairline cracks, may not be cause for concern. However, if you see multiple signs or the problem seems to be getting worse, you should contact a professional for an assessment.


When Do You Need a Foundation Inspection?

Not all cracks are signs that your foundation is in disrepair. You can fix hairline foundation cracks with some do-it-yourself (DIY) know-how.

Foundation inspections are worthwhile if you notice the following issues:

  • Doors and windows not opening and shutting easily
  • Foundation cracks larger than 1/4 inch in width
  • Large interior cracks
  • Signs of excessive moisture, such as moldy smells or water pooling around your home

Foundation shifting is a common cause of many of these problems. Poor drainage or pressure from pooled water or maturing tree roots around your foundation can cause shifting.

A home foundation inspection and structural engineer report is also a solid approach for times when the exact foundation problem isn’t obvious. We especially recommend getting an expert opinion if you have any concerns about an older home. Homeowners and potential buyers can benefit from a thorough, unbiased foundation inspection before committing to a real estate transaction or investing in a major home remodel.


How To Hire a Foundation Inspector

You should verify that your contractor has the appropriate licensing and certifications. Structural engineers must have a professional engineering license issued by their state. Many structural engineers pursue further certification from professional organizations like the American Society for Civil Engineers.

Start your search by asking friends, family members, and neighbors if they have any recommendations. If not, sites like HomeAdvisor have online tools that can help you find top-rated local contractors based on your project’s description and address. You can also search for local contractors with high ratings and hundreds of positive reviews on Google Reviews.


What To Expect During a Foundation Inspection

A foundation inspection typically takes about 90 minutes. You should be present for the inspection in case the engineer has questions or needs to access areas like your crawl space. A structural engineer may ask basic questions about potential damage or changes you’ve noticed recently.

They’ll also check for the following:

  • Bulges in cabinets, doors, and windows
  • Cracks in ceilings and walls 
  • Leaky pipes
  • Mold and mildew in crawl spaces and basements
  • Unstable load-bearing structures

After the inspection, the engineer will explain their findings in person. They will also write a detailed engineering report complete with photographs, a description of what was inspected, an explanation of the root cause of any foundation problems, and recommendations for repair and maintenance.


Our Conclusion

The integrity of your home rests on the quality of your foundation. If you notice any signs of foundation damage in a home you own or plan to buy, hiring a structural engineer to perform a foundation inspection is the first step. The engineer’s report will explain the cause and severity of the problem, as well as what steps you can take to fix it.

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FAQ About Structural Engineer Foundation Inspections

What's the difference between a foundation repair company and a structural engineer?

Both structural engineers and foundation companies deal with foundations, but they do different things. Structural engineers have the expertise to diagnose foundation problems and prescribe solutions. Foundation companies can help you implement those solutions and complete any necessary repairs.

Why is a structural engineer recommended for foundation inspection?

We recommend a structural engineer for a foundation inspection because they’ll be unbiased in diagnosing any potential problems. Unlike a foundation repair company or general contractor, they don’t have a vested financial interest in you repairing your foundation. They specialize in assessing the structural integrity of homes, so they’ll be well-qualified to identify foundation issues.

How can you tell if a structural engineer is a good one?

Consult local third-party reviews for structural engineers as you would for any other contractor. A good structural engineer will be able to provide proof of certification in professional engineering and will ask you questions about the specifics of your home. They’ll also be knowledgeable about local building codes and able to apply their expertise to your specific problem, whether you have a slab or pile foundation.

Do home inspectors check foundations?

Yes, home inspectors do look for foundation cracks, settlement, and other signs of damage as part of a general home inspection. However, we recommend consulting a licensed structural engineer for complex issues or major concerns. A structural engineer can provide a more in-depth analysis, recommend a solution, and likely refer you to a reputable contractor who can complete the repairs.

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