Water. Heaven knows we have had plenty of it so far this year, with some amount of rain almost every week throughout the spring, one very dry month this summer and back to the rain this fall. Lawns are lush and green, but what unseen issues are lurking from this excess moisture?
Much of the soil in this area has a high composition of clay, which is termed an expansive soil. Too much water causes the soil to swell, exerting pressure; not enough water causes the soil to shrink as it did last summer, resulting in potential foundation-shifting issues from differential movement due to variations in soil moisture. Cracks appeared where they had not been before or hairline cracks opened up, allowing water to enter your basement as the rains began in the fall. The effects of excess moisture are most evident in houses with block foundations or built on a slab, where heaving can occur. The hydrostatic pressure and soil swelling will lift slabs and bow block walls.
An important step is to maintain the moisture level throughout the dry spells with a watering program that begins well before the cracks from drought appear in the soil. A soaker hose about three feet from the foundation seems to work best at keeping the soil moist all year long.
Another item to consider that impacts the soil moisture is the vegetation around your home. Trees with shallow roots systems remove a lot of water from the soil, so either don’t plant them close to your home, or be prepared to keep the area well-watered.
It is also important to have proper drainage away from your foundation. All gutter downspouts should either be piped underground well away from the house, or if above ground they should discharge at least four feet from the foundation. Also critical is the grade around your foundation. Water should never be allowed to pocket along the foundation, which can create the excess moisture condition. Periodically check after a heavy rainstorm to ensure you do not have standing water.
What are some of the signs to look for that might indicate you have a foundation problem? The obvious ones are gaping cracks in foundation walls, cracks in bricks and mortar, doors that won’t open and close and diagonal cracks projecting from the corners of windows and doors. Other damage such as cracked ceramic floor tiles and plaster cracks can be signs of foundation problems, but could also be just cosmetic damage.
I would recommend involving a structural engineer before determining if it is a foundation problem and how to best resolve the issue. Also, keep in mind that foundation repair and waterproofing are different technologies. The solution to a problem many times is a combination of the two, and determining which to do first is best left to the experts. Using a quality contractor for this kind of work is critical to the outcome. Quality doesn’t mean the most expensive either. Experience and reputation are better qualifiers.
If you need help finding a good structural engineer, foundations repair contractor or waterproofing contractor, let us know. A structural engineer evaluation typically runs in the $200 to 300 range, while foundation repair and waterproofing is usually in the thousands of dollars, so you want to make sure you are attacking the correct problem. HomeServicesLink has several very reputable contractors in this category.
Don’t be scared into signing a contract by some of the bigger name companies in the area. Usually it is a tense period when dealing with basement flooding or large cracks, so be aware of salespeople capitalizing on this anxiety and using “special” discounts to get you to sign on the spot. If you do sign a contract, remember you have three days to cancel it before the work begins if you change your mind. A couple evaluations are usually good with major issues like this. Hopefully you never have to deal with these problems, but if you do, you can contact us for help at firstname.lastname@example.org.