How Do Droughts Affect My Foundation?
Droughts have an obvious effect on the surface of your yard. Your lawn can turn brown, and your outdoor gardens can look starved for moisture. But what might be happening underground? Find out how droughts can affect your home’s foundation.
When the soil around your home dries out, it shrinks, especially if you have a clay-based soil. When the soil shrinks, your home’s foundation settles to fill the vacant space. While a certain amount of settling is natural, as long as the landscaping and soil around your home are uniform, your home’s foundation should settle evenly.
You can prevent soil shrinkage by watering the ground around your foundation. First, dig down into the soil about six inches. If you feel the soil is completely dry, allow water from a soaker hose to moisten the soil. While you don’t want to flood the earth, a gentle soaking will prevent the supporting earth from shrinking away from your home’s foundation.
Certain warning signs can reveal a problem with your home’s foundation. Since home sinking and settling occurs gradually, you should take notes, photograph the foundation, and document specific signs.
The first signs appear in the basement. Take time to study the walls and other areas of your basement and note any gaps or cracks you find. Mark and date them so you can track if and how much they expand. Consider taking a photograph of the space as well; include the time and date on the images so that you can compare them over time.
Cracks in the drywall upstairs and gaps in the trim are also signs of problems. If you discover your home is sinking or settling unevenly, you may find windows and doors difficult to open because the frames are no longer square.
If you think your home is settling unevenly, use the marble test. Place a marble in the middle of a floor and watch how quickly it rolls away. If it moves rapidly toward a wall, start investigating the slope of your floors.
Diagnosis and Solution
What should you do if you notice cracks and other problems described here? Your best approach is to call an expert, such as a structural engineer. A professional inspection can cost between $300 and $800, allowing you to determine the nature and extent of any damage.
If trees near your home are drawing moisture away from the soil around your home’s foundation, you may need to remove or transplant them. If you have a major problem, a technique called piering will be necessary. With piering, also called piling, a specialist drives steel pipes into the ground to support your home’s foundation and prevent further uneven settling into the soil.
Now you know that drought can damage more than your landscaping alone. When rain becomes scarce and your area shows signs of drought stress, watch for problems with your home’s foundation. By staying vigilant, you can avoid major structural problems with your home.