Inspecting Structure: What Do Home Inspectors Look For?

Date Published: April 29, 2024

One of the most important aspects of a building is its structural integrity. The structural components of a house are what give it its strength, what keep it intact, and what protect its interior components from outside forces. As a home inspection company, we find that many of our clients are very concerned about the structural integrity of their prospective home – especially if it is an older build. So naturally, many want to know what our inspectors look for when inspecting structure.

Inspecting for Structural Integrity

During our standard home inspections, our inspectors will make sure to examine all visible structural components. Keep in mind that, though the inspectors have a wealth of knowledge regarding the structural pieces of a home, they are not structural engineers or specialists. Therefore, they are limited to calling out visible defects and making sure to recommend further evaluation by a structural engineer, when necessary.

What Are We Looking For?

As stated above, it’s our goal to view all of the visible aspects of a house’s foundation and structural components. When inspecting structural components, the best place to start is with a home’s foundation. The main 3 foundation types are basements, crawlspaces, and slab-on-grade.

The foundation is a crucial aspect of a house, as it has “direct contact with the soil, and acts to transfer loads safely from the building to the ground.” It can usually be found as poured concrete, stone, block or brick. The more of the foundation we can see, the more complete the evaluation can be.

All of these foundation types are usually hidden from view, but there are a few places we can see signs of problems:


On most houses, you can examine a small portion of the foundation from the exterior. Our inspectors are looking out for defects such as cracking. Most small cracks are usually the result of the concrete curing process or minor settling in the soil; and they should be monitored over time.

Sometimes, we will come across much more significant cracking. If the cracks are wider than 1/4 inch, this might indicate that significant settling or shifting has occurred. In these instances, we will recommend further evaluation from a structural engineer.

One common defect we come across is stair step cracking. This type of cracking appears on the bricks or concrete blocks on the exterior of a home. As its name implies, it looks like stairs climbing up the wall or foundation. This usually indicates that settling or bowing has occurred and further evaluation is necessary.

inspecting structure - stair step cracking in brick foundation

Basement and Crawlspace

Walking the exterior, a skilled inspector can generally get an idea about the condition of the foundation. However, interior access will always help to provide a more complete assessment of the overall structure. One side of the foundation will always be covered by dirt, but if the home is on a basement or crawlspace, the wall can usually be viewed from the interior.

It’s here where an inspector can see the subterranean components of the foundation. We will be searching for signs of water intrusion such as efflorescence (shown below), a white, powdery substance that indicates the past presence of moisture. Efflorescence doesn’t necessarily mean there are any immediate issues with the foundation. However, we usually recommend evaluating the grading and drainage at the exterior to avoid future water-related foundational issues.

Water is the number one cause of foundation settlement and cracking, so this is a leading indicator.

The next, most obvious, sign of foundation problems is cracking. Cracking comes in many forms and it would be hard to find a foundation without some cracking. Some cracks are smaller and related to shrinking concrete when it dries which are typically benign. Other cracks are larger and are cause for concern.

Vertical cracks are common with older homes and are usually a result of minor movement over time. We always call these out to monitor when visible, but as long as other items look ok, then there isn’t much to do. If the vertical cracks have efflorescence around them, we usually recommend sealing and monitoring.

Inspecting Structure - horizontal foundation cracks

One of the more serious red flags we are on the look out for are horizontal cracks. These usually indicate that hydrostatic pressure has been occurring against the exterior of the foundation. This is often due to poor grading and/ drainage.

Hydrostatic pressure happens when water sits against the exterior of the foundation wall and goes through freeze and thaw cycles. The expanding frozen water will push against the wall forcing it inward.

If the cracking gets really bad, the foundation wall can bow and can cause the house to shift drastically. This is an item that usually warrants immediate evaluation from a structural specialist.

We will also stay vigilant about spalling – the process of “surface patches of concrete breaking up and delaminating.” This is a common defect, and generally not life-threatening to the foundation, but should be addressed and sealed with a water proofing paint.

Inspecting Structure - spalling on a foundational wall

Image sourced from:

Additional Structural Features

When inspecting structure components, it’s not only about foundation. Our inspectors will also be looking at other structural features such as joists, posts, beams, and trusses.


“A joist is a horizontal structural member used in framing to span an open space, often between beams that subsequently transfers loads to vertical members.” These are important because they not only reinforce the structure of the building, but also act as the framework on which the flooring is laid.

Our inspectors will be able to inspect joists (indicated by the green arrows below) with access to crawlspaces or unfinished basements. We will be looking for any visible damage or signs of instability. We also look at how even the floors are, as any significant unevenness could indicate a structural issue.

Inspecting Structure - joists, beam, and post in a crawlspace


Beams (shown by the blue arrow above) are a crucial part of the structure, as “they carry loads perpendicular to their longitudinal direction and transfer the load to vertical load-bearing elements of the structure.” The inspector will pay close attention to the beams, making sure there are no apparent signs of damage, warping or movement.

They will often be looking for signs of “I-beam pops.” This is a defect that occurs when an I-beam shifts and pushes on the foundation wall, causing it to “pop” through and damage the foundation.


Posts (or columns) are the vertical components of the structure that work with the foundation to transfer the load of the building into the ground. So needless to say, these should be in good condition! The inspector will be on the look out for any damage, settling, deterioration, rust, and even makeshift posts that might have questionable strength or integrity. The photo above shows an example of a makeshift post (indicated by the red arrow) that will definitely be called out for further evaluation.

In the photo below, the steal screw jack, which is a type of post, is holding a beam above that has twisted and warped significantly. This is something that we definitely called for evaluation.

Additional Structural Items

There are some additional structural items we look at during a standard inspection. These items don’t necessarily play a part in holding the weight of the house, but they all play an important role in contributing to the overall shape and structure.

Of course, we are going to be up in the attic, when accessible, observing the roof trusses, rafters and joists. These are all components that contribute to the roof’s strength and shape.

Inspecting structure - attic

We inspect other weight bearing components such as walls, deck posts and connections, and even floors and stairs. How are these components attached to the house? Are they structurally sound and free of defects?

The inspector is going to be looking down at the concrete slab, as well. Often cracks in the slab, such as the one below, can indicate that settling has occurred.

inspecting structure - concrete slab crack

Inspecting Structure is Important!

Inspecting the structure components of your future home is nothing to be taken lightly. The last thing you want is to move into your dream home only to be slapped with a costly foundation repair bill right away! That’s why hiring the right home inspection company is important.

Here at Scott Home Inspection, a division of Scott Home Services, we have been conducting home inspections on the CO Front Range for over 18 years! We have a staff of certified professionals that are experts in evaluating all aspects of your home, including its structure!

If you need a Colorado home inspection, it’s time give us a call! Visit us online to learn more about our services, or contact us today.

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About the Author: Chris Kimmel

Chris Kimmel worked as an Associate Home Inspector for two years, handling numerous services including sewer scope inspections, pest inspections, mold air sample testing, radon testing, and water quality testing. Chris now works with Scott Home Inspection as a Content Writing Specialist.

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