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It doesn't matter if we're talking about businesses, relationships, or buildings; we all know the importance of a good foundation. Nothing can last with a weak foundation. Of course, when quality deteriorates, so does value.
As a realtor, I help buyers navigate the trade-off between cost and quality in the homes they buy. I've found that a lot of things can spook buyers, but flooding basements, cracked foundations, and mold are probably the biggest three reasons a house that is otherwise attractive won't get offers.
Still, I didn't understand how quickly a change in soil moisture can cause expensive problems until a few years ago when a particularly dry spring in Kansas City caused our back patio to suddenly split in half. My husband had already fixed a leak from a crack in a basement wall before we met, but during our first year together, there was a drought here in the midwest, where we're known to have expansive clay soil. One day, we arrived home from work and discovered a half inch drop in just half of our patio! We were lucky it was just our patio slab and not the foundation itself, because this is a common occurrence in houses I sell, and it almost always costs several hundred dollars or more to fix, with the most expensive repair I've seen so far costing about $12,000! One crack had already happened. It could easily have been worse for us!
Once you've taken ownership of your very own castle, you'll want to ensure that it holds its value with minimum effort, so I encourage you to make sure those three deal-breakers never happen to your house! In this article, we'll look at some foundation problems and learn how one very simple, almost free step can prevent certain types of foundation failure.
Although I'm not a home inspector or construction expert of any type, I've picked up a few things over the course of a few hundred home inspections and appraisals. Still, a standard disclaimer: You should always consult the appropriate experts if you are not sure about what you're doing!
Ok, good! Let's start with the difference between foundations that settle and those that shift:
Settling happens because the materials used to build a home— wood in particular, but also other materials including plumbing and ductwork— change depending on what's happening in the environment. Humidity can cause wood to swell, while dry conditions may lead the lumber to shrink instead. Metal ductwork can "pop" inward or outward when temperatures shift a few degrees. Plumbing lines can expand and contract with temperature changes, too.
Most settlement is nothing to worry about, but shifting is something to worry about, and signs of a foundation can often resemble simple settling. For instance, with settlement, those diagonal cracks at the doors or windows won't affect the way they open and close. However, if foundation problems begin, those same cracks may get larger and cause windows to get stuck or to become difficult to open. Doors may not operate as smoothly.
Although I'm not a foundation expert, I have discovered a few main reasons that foundations can shift or fail. There may be others that I don't know about, but the ones I see most often result from poor planning, poor drainage, poor materials, or poor maintenance.
So, let's look at how to water a foundation.
You'll want to figure out if your foundation is needing water. If you see a gap between the dirt and the foundation, then your soil has pulled away from the house. By watering it, you'll allow it to expand again and provide more support for your foundation.
There are two excellent methods for ensuring that your foundation retains the support it needs around it: Irrigation and landscaping plants.
Shrubs and grasses around your foundation help you keep your home looking nice and can add to your property's curb appeal. They also assist you in monitoring and protection the foundation if you are someone who notices when your plants droop, or your grass is dry, yellow, or just plain dead.
If your foundation doesn't have any greenery around it, you can add some. This ground cover will keep the sun off the ground, which in turn, slows evaporation to keep moisture in the soil. Just keep your landscape watered as needed to keep your plants thriving. Add some mulch—around an inch or two deep—for extra protection.
In drought conditions, you may discover that you're not allowed to water outdoors or that you have strict limits about how you can use water outdoors. If that's happening in your area, keep reading. The irrigation method can be useful to you.
Irrigate Your Foundation
For homes where plant cover isn't used or where water restrictions impose challenges, the irrigation method may be better. Lay out a soaker hose about a foot from the foundation wall (give or take a few inches as needed!) Don't turn on the hose full blast! Instead, use lower pressure in the hose so that you don't create other problems by causing pressure to force its way back into your indoor plumbing.
Some experts say that a few short cycles per day is ideal, while others advise a longer soak 2-3 times a week. The goal is to simply maintain stability in the soil's moisture content, so what is "best" for your area will depend on the type of soil you have, recent rainfalls, and how much water may be getting removed from the ground by trees, shrubs, and grass. (Large trees can use an awful lot of ground water!)
My personal opinion is that a combination approach is a good idea. By maintaining some smaller shrubs and grasses with some mulch in the front and back yard areas, we notice changes sooner, which is important during seasons where we don't water (like winter here in Kansas!) But we do have a soaker hose like the one above that gets put to use regularly in the summer to keep them watered and ensure that we don't develop any more problems.
Best part: it's almost a set-it-and-forget-it maintenance upkeep, which is my favorite kind!
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