A home is a complex structure - there are numerous elements that go into a safe and secure property - and while some flaws are obvious, it can be a bit tricky to spot more serious, potentially hidden issues.
The overall structure of a home is essentially the backbone that holds everything in place, and this critical component should never be overlooked before a home gets listed. A home inspection can help identify any structural weaknesses that may not be obvious, and there are multiple causes for a house's frame and roof to weaken, or slip off of the foundation.
How to spot exterior structural damage
Problems can occur in a variety of fashions, from obvious damages caused by natural disasters to nearby construction work and minor fire damage. Therefore, use caution before entering a home that may have some form of structural weakness, even if the extent of the problem is unclear, according to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
It doesn't take a lot of force to make a home unsafe, so even if the weather was relatively minor, it is worth taking every precaution.
For homes damaged from natural disaster elements, such as high winds, flooding or fire - first ensure that the home doesn't display any immediate signs of collapse. Telltale signals include bulging, swaying or leaning walls, and a roof that is sinking or has shifted off of the frame.
Before entering the home, use a level or visual cues to check that exterior walls are still vertically and horizontally correct. This is a great place to start, because if the walls are too damaged, the home may be too risky to enter, LSU AgCenter noted.
In addition, check near the foundation to make sure the home's structure is still properly connected. Regardless of the materials, there can be subtle signs of structural damage. Some wooden floors can push walls outward, and that could be a less-obvious problem. Masonry cracks are also a solid indicator of an issue, UNL stated. These commonly appear near corners of a building, and close to other windows and doors.
A property inspection is advisable, even as a precaution, if any structural damage is spotted in a house.
Looking for damage inside a home
If any potential problems are suspected, make sure to turn off the utilities. In some cases of structural damage, water and gas lines could have broken and the electrical system could be compromised, according to LSU AgCenter.
Once inside, there are several areas to check. The ceilings can often be an obvious indicator that there is a weakness, and bulging or sagging portions might be hazardous. Any additional moisture is also a bad sign, and it could be representative of a water line break of flood damage, UNL stated.
For the less obvious issues, take a walk around the home and try the frequently-used systems. For example, open and close all of the windows and doors to ensure that they still work properly, and if the utilities are on, run the water and other components. Only turn on the electrical, water and gas if it is an absolute certainty that there aren't any problems with these elements.
Even if the roof looks like it is still properly attached from the outside, the roof truss systems need to be closely looked at from the inside, according to UNL. Even a minor broken part could significantly hurt a home's overall safety.
If any structural damages are spotted, there are a few options for how to repair a home prior to selling. Depending on the severity, a licensed contractor should be called in. Minor fixes could be handled by a confident DIY-er, but every state has specific building codes that need to be adhered to. Don't do anything without first having a home inspection completed, to make sure that every problem is addressed.