Water damage is a familiar topic; we all know someone who’s impulsively jumped into a pool on a hot day, only to lament the destruction of their cell phone. And homeowners know that water can damage homes; it can crack the foundation, leak into a basement, feed mold in a crawl space… In fact, water damage is such a common occurrence that we have a term for the pressure it exerts on homes: hydrostatic pressure.
But what people often don’t know is that a lack of water can damage your home’s foundation, too.
Acculevel is a family-owned and operated foundation repair company that serves Indiana and parts of the surrounding states. We are very familiar with the extremes of Midwest weather, and want to make sure that people in our community are aware of this drawback to a hot sunny summer.
I’d like to clarify what I mean by using the word “drought.” It doesn’t have to be a once in a generation, dustbowl-level drought to cause problems for you and your home. It can also be what some Hoosiers call a dry spell: three or more weeks with little to no rain and high temperatures in the 90s. A dry spell can be enough of a drought to harm your foundation.
How Drought Can Affect Your Foundation
Drought is the opposite of hydrostatic pressure. If you’d like more information about hydrostatic pressure, we have a detailed discussion of it here. But for this blog, all you need to know about it is this: it’s the force that occurs when water saturates the soil around your foundation. As the ground absorbs water, it swells and pushes against your foundation.
In drought conditions, the lack of water causes the soil to contract and pull away from your foundation. As the soil shrinks away from your house, it leaves a potential “gap” which can be enough to allow your foundation to settle (sink).
When is Drought a Problem for Your Home?
Soil shrinkage is the most problematic if you have clay soil. This is accurate, but I feel like this answer brings up more questions than it answers. So let’s back up a bit. Do you know what type of soil you have? In the Midwest, you normally have one of two soil types: granular soil or clay-dominant.
Granular soil: has more sand or gravel in it, which allows it to stack together like rocks. It doesn’t pack together when it’s wet, and it crumbles easily when it’s dry. These traits mean water moves through it relatively easily, so it’s less likely to be impacted by drought. Generally speaking, if you have granular soil, your biggest problem will be erosion, not drought.
Clay-dominant soil is more susceptible to both hydrostatic pressure and drought. Clay-dominant soil can be molded or shaped when wet, and on dry summer days will crack like a dropped piece of pottery. Clay particles in soil act like sheets of paper, stacking tightly together. Water seeps through it more slowly, because the clay particles have to separate before the water will pass. This separation means water can collect in the soil and expand; it also means it can dissipate over a period of time and contract.
Your Foundation Type is Also a Risk Factor
If you have a “shallower” foundation, soil shrinkage is more of an issue. By shallow, I am referring to the foundations under porches, patios, garages, and crawl spaces. These foundations are only a few feet deep, so when the soil contracts, it pulls away along most (if not all) of the foundation depth. This makes it more likely that the earth under your foundation will be affected.
The reverse is also true. If you have a basement, your foundation probably extends 7-10 feet into the earth. Because the water table keeps the moisture level more consistent at that depth, soil shrinkage is less of an issue.
This photo of a settling porch was taken by an Acculevel project manager during a free estimate appointment.
Water Your Foundation
The best thing you can do for your foundation under drought circumstances is to water it. But this can be a difficult task to do well! You need to water around the foundation enough to keep the clay from shrinking, but not so much that it creates hydrostatic pressure. This is best accomplished by placing soaker hoses around the foundation, and running them for 30-60 minutes a day during the cooler evening hours. The time of day is specific because if you water during the heat of full sun, the water will evaporate more rapidly and accomplish less.
You also need to be aware of any water restrictions imposed in your community. Often, if the drought is bad enough to warrant this method of treatment, you have to make sure you’re not violating local codes.
Signs Your Foundation is Already Settling
These are the major warning signs that your foundation is settling, and this should be addressed promptly:
- Sticking doors and/or windows. When your foundation shifts, it pulls at the structural wood framing of your house. This means the door and window frames start to move off-center, and this is what creates the opening/closing issues that you’re experiencing. It’s referred to as ‘sticking,’ but that can be a misnomer. You may also have doors that won’t latch, or windows that slide shut on their own.
- Cracks in the drywall. Like your door/window frames, as the structure shifts it strains the drywall until it cracks. Cracks above doors and windows are especially telling.
- Cracks in the foundation, or in the exterior of your house. These can be cracks in the block or in a brick facade overlay. As the ground settles, the foundation struggles to support the weight of your house.
If you have any of these symptoms, you should get a professional opinion. Helical piers are the best and safest solution for settling; you can read more about piers and their costs here.
If you are not sure about how to find the best contractor for you, please check out our blog on the Questions to Ask a Contractor. It includes Acculevel’s answers to the questions, and comes with a downloadable blank copy for you to use- at no cost to you. I highly recommend it (yes, I wrote it, but that’s not why!) because it will help you screen for dubious business practices. Like every family, home repair has its share of black sheep; ethical contractors never want to see anyone cheated by a scam artist.
On the other hand… if you have not seen any signs of settling yet, let’s help you keep it that way! We have developed a DIY Foundation Checklist for homeowners, based on Acculevel’s own 21 Point Inspection plan (which costs $500 for 5 years). The DIY checklist is free, and we suggest that you conduct an inspection like it twice per year.
The same porch as above, now with piers installed. This photo was taken by an Acculevel crew member after work was completed.
If You Need a Foundation Contractor
Please look for one that is reputable, insured, and accredited by the Better Business Bureau. If you live in Acculevel’s service area, please contact us! We’ve repaired tens of thousands of homes since our start in 1996, and have an A+ rating with the BBB. For most of us, our homes are our greatest investment. Let us help you preserve yours.