New homeowners might not be able to tell the difference between minor and major foundation problems, as some signs – like cracks in the walls – can seem better or worse than the problem that caused them. A damaged foundation can cause problems that many people might not even associate with a home’s foundation – crooked windows, for example. So knowing what to look for can be important in salvaging your home’s foundation.

Collapsed House

Following are five signs that may indicate your foundation is in trouble.

1. Stair-step cracks

A stair-step crack isn’t a crack that occurs on your stairs; it’s actually a term used to describe certain cracks that resemble a flight of stairs. These cracks run in both vertical and horizontal directions on the wall and often form consistent with the grout lines between underlying cinder blocks. The root of the problem is the soil settling underneath or around the foundation. If you see stair-step cracks, hire a foundation repair expert to inspect your home for damage.

2. Bows in walls

When walls begin to bow, they will first appear to be jutting out at an angle. However, after the bowing has been present for some time, a crack will develop. Buckling and bowing walls will need foundation repairs and structural support repairs behind them as well. In cases of severe bowing, correcting the problem can run upwards of $30,000, so if you notice bowing, initiate repairs as soon as possible.

3. Uneven floors

The floor will be one of the first parts of the house to show signs of foundational damage. Uneven floors can often be traced back to poor moisture regulation. For example, an overabundance of rain water can saturate the soil and exert pressure on the foundation, causing blocks to shift, which in turn can cause other problems like warped floors. When soil is too dry, it can contract. As it shrinks away from the foundation, instability may occur. These effects won’t likely happen uniformly across the foundation, which results in uneven flooring.

4. Wide, vertical cracks

A crack exceeding a quarter of an inch is considered wide and is indicative of major settlement problems that require immediate attention. Cracks below this width are considered narrow and are likely caused by minor settlement and insignificant shrinkage. The narrower cracks can be patched up easily with caulk or epoxy putty, while wider cracks will likely require professional foundational repairs.

5. Wall rotation

Rotating walls are as serious as they seem, since this movement is caused by major structural support damage. This movement can present in different ways, including separated molding, split paneling and large cracks. These signs of damage can also each have a different cause, including shrinking soil, expanding soil and support system deterioration.

Since these signs are major foundational problem indicators, they can’t simply be solved by heading down to your local hardware store and picking up a few inexpensive supplies. But the problems are reversible with professional foundation repair. Cable Lock, for example, uses cables, concrete and steel pilings to dig below your foundation and stabilize it.