In the Midwest, it’s not unusual to have the air conditioning on at the start of a day, only to switch over to heat at the end of it (or vice versa). A perfect example of this phenomenon happened last week in central Indiana. The day started warm and humid, reaching mid-70s by the afternoon. Then a major thunderstorm rolled through the area, dropping significant rainfall and lowering the temperature by 20 degrees.
Weather extremes can affect more than your HVAC usage, however. If the earth around your foundation dries out during a drought or becomes oversaturated during a rainy spring, this can create major problems for your home’s stability.
Founded in 1996, Acculevel is a family-owned and operated company that specializes in foundation repair and waterproofing. We’ve been helping homeowners preserve and protect their homes since our start in 1996, and we want to do the same for you.
We want you to know the signs to watch for, so that you can detect these issues as soon as they begin to develop. In most cases, the earlier you make repairs, the less expensive those repairs will be.
Drought Can Lead to Foundation Settling
An extended dry spell- a few weeks’ of dry weather- is enough of a drought to create damaging conditions for your foundation.
How it Happens
When the ground around your home dries out, it begins to shrink. The particles of dirt are smaller without water. This allows the dirt to become more compact, shrinking away from your home’s foundation. If the soil shrinks enough, it can shift or “settle” under the foundation.
Your home is at greater risk of this happening, if your foundation is shallow. Most crawl spaces are only a few (2-4) feet deep. Because the soil under a crawl space is closer to the surface, it will erode, dry out, or settle more quickly.
Basements, on the other hand, are usually dug 8-10 feet underground. This means a drought or dry spell has to last quite a while before it can threaten a basement’s foundation. It takes substantially longer for the ground to dry out at that depth.
Can Foundation Settling Be Prevented?
Possibly. If you are experiencing very dry weather, you can try watering your foundation. This is best accomplished using soaker hoses; place these in a perimeter around the house, 2-3 inches away from the actual foundation. Turn them on 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.
A word of caution: you need to make sure conditions are severe enough to warrant this action. Otherwise, you risk over-saturating the soil- which comes with its own hazards. (We discuss flooding a little later in this article.)
Signs Your Foundation is Settling
If you already have signs of settling, you’ll need to schedule an estimate with a qualified foundation repair contractor for assessment.
- 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.
This photo was taken by an Acculevel project manager during a routine free estimate. The cracks around the window indicate the foundation is settling.
How do You Repair a Settling Foundation?
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.
Flooding Can Crack a Foundation
If you live in an area with a high water table, or your area has been inundated with heavy rains, there may be more water in the ground than the soil can absorb.
How it Happens
Water accumulates in the soil and fully saturates the ground. Then, when the next rain comes, there’s nowhere for the water to go. So it starts pushing against your foundation, which is now functioning like a dam to keep the water out.
As the water accumulates, it begins to apply more and more pressure; this is what’s referred to as hydrostatic pressure. It’s the force of the pressure that can crack your foundation. The cracks may let in water, but not always.
Because foundations are made of porous materials (brick, stone, concrete), sometimes water seeps into -and through- the foundation walls before they crack. Or the water seeps in different areas away from the cracks. If you have water in your basement or crawl space but no cracks in the foundation, waterproofing may be the best solution for you.
Can Foundation Cracks Be Prevented?
Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent a foundation wall from cracking. We’re still struggling with accurate weather predictions- we certainly aren’t able to make it start or stop raining!
However, you can reduce the risk of hydrostatic pressure by controlling where some of the rainwater goes. Check your guttering and downspouts for clogs, clear out any debris, and make sure they drain at least 10 feet away from your foundation. If not, you should extend your downspouts.
When Your Foundation Needs Crack Repair
There are generally three types of foundation cracks, and all of them should be repaired. But the urgency of the crack repair depends on the type of crack.
- Hairline cracks are very thin cracks that may (or may not) allow water through the foundation wall. These need to be repaired before they widen, but are not an immediate threat to your home’s stability.
- Stair-step cracks in concrete block walls, or long horizontal cracks in poured concrete walls, are more ominous. These are the warning signs that the wall is beginning to bow.
- If those stair-step/horizontal cracks are widening or actively bowing, take action at once.
This photo was taken by an Acculevel project manager during a routine free estimate. This wall is exhibiting both horizontal and stair-step cracks.
What Should You Do Next?
I encourage you to reference our free comprehensive guide to foundation repairs. It can be read in its entirety, you can select the chapter relevant to you, or bookmark it as a reference when you meet with contractors.
If you have a major settling issue or a bowing wall, you may be ready to have a contractor come to your house now, and read the guide later.
Please make sure you verify that any company you choose is reputable, insured, and accredited by the Better Business Bureau. Not sure what questions to ask, or what information you should acquire about the company you hire? Please use our guide to questions you should ask a contractor, with a free downloadable form.
If you live in Indiana or the surrounding states, contact Acculevel. We are a family-owned and operated company, and we provide free written estimates. One of our experienced project managers will evaluate your bowing wall, then recommend the best course of action for you. Our goal is to help you keep your home strong and healthy for years to come.