How Drought Affects Your Home's Foundation
Summer means more than just warm weather in many parts of the country. During the hot, dry spells of late July and August, the clay soils under our browning lawns begin to shrink and dry out.
The soil beneath our lawns isn't the only thing shrinking. Our homes' soil is also affected by dry periods, especially when they last for months (or even years). As soil shrinks, it creates voids, which allow a home's foundation to settle.
Soil Moisture Depletion:
Drought conditions lead to a severe depletion of soil moisture, which directly affects the stability of foundations. As the soil dries out, it shrinks and loses its ability to provide adequate support to the structure above. This can result in foundation settlement and movement, leading to structural damage.
Soil Shrinkage and Expansion:
During droughts, the soil undergoes significant shrinkage due to the lack of water. This shrinkage can cause cracks and fissures in the ground, undermining the integrity of the foundation. Conversely, when heavy rainfall follows a period of drought, the soil may expand rapidly. This cycle of shrinkage and expansion exerts pressure on the foundation, potentially leading to structural instability.
Drought-induced soil moisture fluctuations often result in differential settlement, where different areas of the foundation sink or settle at different rates. This uneven settling can cause the structure to become unlevel, leading to cracks in walls, floors, and ceilings. Additionally, doors and windows may become misaligned, affecting their functionality.
The long-term impact of drought on foundations can be severe. As the soil continues to shrink and settle, cracks may develop in the foundation walls or floors. These cracks can compromise the structural integrity of the building, allowing water infiltration, pest infestation, and further deterioration.
The repair of cracks, the stabilization of the foundation, and the restoration of structural integrity often require professional assistance. Neglecting these issues can lead to more extensive damage, increasing the overall repair costs.
To protect your foundation from the adverse effects of drought, it is essential to take preventive measures. These include:
- Proper Drainage: Ensure that your property has a well-designed drainage system to direct water away from the foundation during heavy rainfall.
- Foundation Maintenance: Regularly inspect your foundation for signs of cracks or settlement. Promptly address any issues to prevent further damage.
Signs of Foundation Settlement
The signs of a sinking foundation may not always be obvious to the eye. You might not notice a settled foundation just by looking at it from across the street because foundations tend to settle slowly.
- Sticking windows and doors
- Sagging floors
- Floor or ceiling gaps
- Drywall cracks
- Interior cracks near window or door frames
- Separating chimneys
- Stair-step cracks in brick or block walls
Solutions for Foundation Settlement
Physically connecting a home's foundation to stable soil or bedrock is the most effective method to prevent further sinking. The best way to accomplish this is by driving steel piers deep into the ground until they reach bedrock or competent soil, and then connecting them with heavy-duty steel brackets. This will allow the foundation to be raised to its original level.
Steel tubing is mechanically pushed into the soil until it reaches bedrock or stable soil. To achieve the same stability, specialty piers with fins, called helical piers, are driven (literally screwed) into the ground.
(Piercing is a major procedure that should be handled by a company with extensive experience, like Keystone Basement Systems.)
What if I Don’t Fix It?
Since foundations settle slowly, it can be tempting to ignore them. After all, sticking doors and sagging floors can often be chalked up to a home’s “character,” especially if it’s over 50 years old. But as mentioned earlier, foundation problems only worsen with time. But if left unaddressed, they can eventually lead to foundation failure, which can be extremely expensive and disruptive to repair.
So why should it be fixed? Well, because it’s your home, for one thing. It’s where you and your family live. It’s where your memories are made. But it’s also likely your single largest financial investment, so it makes sense to protect it. Plus, if you sell your home, you must disclose any foundation problems it has. And the cost of stabilizing your foundation is often much less than the financial loss you’ll take if you sell it as-is.
The good news is, with modern piering technology, settling foundations can almost always be fixed permanently. But you need to have your home inspected by a reputable company with specific expertise and deep experience in this area — no “general contractors,” please!