Structural problems are critical issues within a home. This type of damage affects the core of the building. If not address, the situation can turn a residence into an uninhabitable piece of architecture.
In Florida, factors, such as porous land, tropical weather conditions, aging materials, and insects contribute to the uncertainty of a stable house.
Most Floridian homes are the wood frame or concrete block construction. As the “Florida Platform” consists of a porous limestone, building regulations address possible shifting events of the ground. Engineering strategies support the roofs and walls to protect against tropical rains and hurricane-force winds. However, the stress of constant support against the elements can wear material causing them to fail. As most structural issues go unseen, these problems can end up turning into a costly situation after discovery.
From settling, during one to two years after construction, to a shift underground, the foundation may be the first to show signs of stress. Cracks can form as the base struggles to support the entire structure. The house will tell you if there are issues with the foundation through one or more of the following indications:
- Seeping water inside the house or around the perimeter
- Problems with doors or windows lining up to close properly
- Slanted floors or leaning walls
- Gaps along the seams of the walls or ceiling
- Cracks in walls (both exterior and interior)
A good way to check for uneven floors is to try the pencil test. Place a pencil with smooth sides on a table. If the pencil rolls off the table by itself, you may have an issue.
Cracked stucco or loose aluminum exposes the underlying wood. These gaps are perfect for collecting rainwater. As the exterior of the building drys, this water remains to saturate the material around it. Standing water produces mold and weakens the wood. If not addressed, the effects of the water will spread behind the facade. A yearly examination of the siding should reveal any concerns.
These gaps also invite insects. Termites thrive on wood and moisture. Once they find a source, they will move their colony into the area and begin to attack the material. As termites live in the soil, they have no problem leading the herd from the dirt, up the wall, into the crevice. Their activity will gradually create havoc to weaken the structure. Residence should be inspected yearly for infestation.
Floor joists, narrow panels of wood which measure 2” x10” or 2” x 12”, are the primary support for the floor. When wood ages, gets wet or is eaten by termites, it can weaken or rot. The deteriorating wood causes a soft spot that is noticeable when walking on the floor.
The same principle applies to walls. Wall studs measure 2” x 4” or 2” x 5”. Bad studs can result in failed nails causing décor, mounted electronics and lighting to fall.
Other areas to take note of rotted wood:
- window sills
- doors and thresholds
- porches or decks
- roof rafters
- hidden places such as closets, attics and under rugs
Immediate examination of soft materials around the home will eliminate costly surprises.
The most immediate indication of roof damage include:
- stains or drips on the ceiling
- water streaming down walls
- scratching or animal feet running over your head
Wind, trees, wildlife, and material wear all cause issues for the canopy that protects the house.
After Hurricane Irma hit the state of Florida in 2017, an aerial view of many neighborhoods resulted in blue dotted buildings. Blue tarps became temporary replacements for missing shingles and tree damaged homes.
Squirrels and other animals love gnawing on the wood on and around the roof. Once one animal gains access, their friends will eventually follow.
Even small branches brushing against shingles can loosen the panels and allow moisture to seep into the building. It only takes a small drip to initiate the growth of mold and mildew.
A periodic examination of the roof should take place immediately after a weather event, such as a hurricane or tornado. Professional inspections, depending on the type of roof, can take place ever 3-5 years.
With soil based on porous limestone and possible flooding during the tropical rain season, Florida homeowners need to know if their home rests in a flood zone. Flood waters can not only weaken the foundation of a home, but it can also begin an unhealthy mold situation.
FEMA’s website has a Flood Map Service that identifies hazardous areas, explains flood risks and is a public resource for flood hazard products. According to the site, information is updated constantly.
The process of buying a new home must include a home inspection by a licensed professional. They know what to look for and where to find it. Homeowners who educate themselves on this process can practice periodic checks throughout their occupancy.
A fun tool to help homeowners do a thorough examination is a drone with a camera. After learning how to maneuver a drone, it will be easy to scan the highest points of the building. It will also make the process a bit more enjoyable than getting on a ladder to look for situations in need of repair.
When repairs are needed, be sure to hire a reputable contractor who is a licensed as a professional.