“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of insurance,” said no one ever until I just made it up right now.
We have just finished writing an article on the chances of foundation repair being covered by your homeowner’s insurance policy. The chances are fairly slim so we thought about what alternatives a homeowner might have. Can foundation problems be avoided?
Who’s we? Oh right, well we are Anchor Foundation Repair and have been inspecting and repairing foundations in the Bryan, College Station, and Brazos Valley areas for over 35 years. We have *just a tad* of knowledge on the subject of foundation problems.
But really, when you know insurance won’t cover things, what else can you do except try to prevent problems the best you can?
Here are a few ideas of things you can do to possibly head off some causes of foundation issues that we will go over.
- Monitor for Drainage Problems
- Maintain Soil Moisture Levels
- Watch for Tree Root Issues and Leaks
There needs to be a disclaimer here that sometimes there is nothing you can do to prevent foundation issues, it is often just an inevitable problem you can’t avoid in certain areas.
So don’t expect miracles or guarantees here, just do your best and know that sometimes these won’t fully work and you might need foundation repair anyway. We will talk about why later in the article, too.
1. Monitor for Drainage Problems to Prevent Foundation Issues
A common cause of foundation problems has to do with excess water standing near the home. You don’t want water just hanging out near your foundation for long periods as this causes the soil to expand much more than normal. Excess expansion of soil can cause foundation issues.
You can help prevent standing water by monitoring your grading, drainage, and maintaining your gutters and downspouts.
Grading is not a letter grade you get on your homework, grading means the soil level and angle of slope around your home. Your soil/yard should gradually slope away from the home’s foundation on all sides. You do not want low spots that hold water anywhere around the ground right near your home.
Fill in low spots and make sure that the dirt/yard is angled away from the house. You would need to bring in quality topsoil and spread it around and grade it away from the home. It’s okay to put it right over the grass. The grass will push through and cover it in no time.
Grading and drainage are related since poor grading can cause drainage problems. But other things can cause drainage problems too.
Sometimes, areas around your property just tend to hold water every time it rains. The water sticks around and moves away more slowly in that area than in other areas. This could be due to variable soil types, obstructions, or for no clear reason. Investigate these situations and see if they can be remedied with drainage solutions.
French drains, open rock-lined drain paths, and shallow trenches can help move water away from these slow draining areas. You might need to call in a landscape specialist to assist you with solving drainage problems.
Drainage problems sound simple to fix but this is a line of expertise that should not be underestimated. Drainage issues are often complex puzzles that take some creative thinking and problem solving to handle effectively.
Speaking of drainage, how about them there gutters? Gutters have a very important role in keeping water away from your home. But homeowners often neglect gutters and downspouts by allowing them to fill up with debris and growing plant matter.
Be sure to keep your gutters clean and clear by maintaining them on an annual basis. Water needs to move freely through them instead of water possibly overflowing out the sides where it is not supposed to. When that happens, water spills over and accumulates right below those spots on the ground instead of being carried away.
Water hits those ground areas repeatedly and that creates low spots and accumulation points of water that don’t drain away.
Gutters filled with debris and growing things also wind up damaging your actual gutters with the extra weight, and eventually the home’s exterior too. This causes even more problems and home issues for you that need replacement and repair.
Downspouts are often a problem even when they are running clear. Many times, downspouts are not originally set up to flow out far enough away from the home. This is a really common problem that probably is present in 97% of homes that have a guttering system.
Downspouts should spill out at least 8 to 10 feet away from the edge of your home. Yes, this is far. Farther than you tend to see anywhere around town. But to keep your foundation safer from excess moisture, length should be added to the end of the downspouts and they should terminate farther away from your home.
We have also seen downspouts clogged with dirt and/or plant matter as shown in the photo. You can imagine that water doesn’t flow well through a spout like that. Water will just pool around that area next to your house and cause . . . you guessed it, foundation problems.
2. Maintain Soil Moisture Levels to Help Head Off Foundation Settlement
The most common cause of foundation settlement is variable moisture levels due to our inconsistent climate. Sometimes it’s really wet and rainy and sometimes it’s really dry to the point of drought. This makes our expansive clay soils expand and contract throughout the year, which puts great force upon your foundation causing it to move up and down.
You can’t control the weather, but you can try to maintain moisture. One way you can attempt to counteract the drought/rainy seasons is to keep the moisture levels a little more consistent and prevent them from drying out too much. It’s usually the dry times and extreme drought that cause the most problems for foundations in this area.
Two ways to keep more moisture around your home are through regular watering and mulching.
The variable moisture levels of our climate are what causes the expanding and contracting of the soils. If it was wet all the time, it wouldn’t be as much of a problem. If it was dry all the time, it also wouldn’t be as much of a problem. But when it changes back and forth a lot, that becomes an issue for your foundation.
Now, there’s no way you would want to keep the ground around your home as consistently wet as our wettest times. That would be a swampy mess, and your yard would be mud.
Not to mention the expense of putting that much water on your lawn when it doesn’t rain. You would go broke and the city would probably tell you that you can’t use that much water (just guessing).
So, what we recommend is that you simply water your lawn as you normally would to keep it alive and beautiful. If conditions start to become drought-like, just keep watering your lawn to keep it happy and be sure that the areas near your home are well covered by the water spray patterns.
You don’t want to go overboard with this in times of drought. Mainly because you might not be able to if cities begin restricting residential watering and you don’t want to get back to the swampy mess situation either. The key is just to keep it in a normal range of moisture, not too much, and not too little.
If you have a crawlspace foundation . . .
If you have a pier and beam or block and base type foundation, pay close attention to extra watering because you also don’t want to accidentally create a swampy mess under your house. Crawl space foundations hold the home elevated above the ground and there is space under them where water can accumulate if it is not draining properly.
Just be aware of this issue if you are doing extra watering because water sitting underneath your home is worse than water sitting next to your home.
Not every area around your home is going to have grass on it. You might have some flowerbeds or other landscape shrubs and vegetation right next to your home instead of a lawn.
If your house is like mine, you might also just have some dirt areas where nothing is currently growing at all, no grass, no shrubs, no nothing. No one ever said I had a green thumb . . .
Those areas that have beds or dirt can and should be covered with moisture-retaining mulch material. Mulch isn’t just for pretties, it actually has some functional purposes. The main one is that it helps to keep the ground moisture levels up. It’s like a spongy blanket on the ground that holds in water much better and longer than plain old dirt.
Note to self: I really need to get to Lowe’s and buy some mulch . . .
Anyway, mulch will work with and make your watering efforts go further by holding in the moisture a bit more in those flower bed-type and dirt areas.
3. Watch for Tree Root Issues and Leaks to Prevent Foundation Problems
Leaks and plumbing problems and cause foundation issues. Tree roots like leaks and can cause worse leaks and can cause foundation issues. Foundation problems can also cause leaks. It’s hard to know which situation caused the other. It’s a bit like that chicken and egg situation.
But at any rate, no matter which situation started first, plumbing leaks and tree roots can have an impact on your foundation and vice versa.
This one is a little harder to be aware of because this kind of stuff is going on under your home and under the ground where you can’t see it. But there might be some clues that you can watch out for. Here are a few signs that might tip you off to a leak or tree root problem under your home:
- A caved-in area near the home that creates an unexplained hole
- An area that stays soggy near the edge of your home even when it hasn’t rained
- A tree that usually looks okay suddenly begins looking fantastic and growing more
- Recurring slow-draining showers/tubs/sinks
- Gurgling and recurring low flush strength on toilets
- Wet floors where water is coming up from below
- Higher water bill with no visible signs of dripping faucets or fixtures
We have a whole article on the “Top 5 Signs Your Plumbing Problem is Foundation Related” that you can check out for more information on this topic.
Why Some Foundation Problem Preventions Might Not Work
The strength of expansive clay soils is powerful stuff. Regional severe drought seasons cannot be tempered by one person’s hose. These are forces of nature that are much bigger than you. Even tree roots are pretty darn strong.
Ultimately the strong forces of expansive clay soils, our climate, and nature itself will win out over any of your small-scale efforts. So don’t try too hard to meet an unattainable ideal of perfectly consistent moisture at all times for the sake of your foundation.
Just keep your plants and grass alive which is what you would normally do anyway. It’s also easy to miss things like under-slab leaks, they can go on for a long time undetected and it’s not your fault that you can’t see through your slab-on-grade foundation with x-ray vision.
Understanding the *specialness* of our soil and weather conditions means knowing that there is not much you can do to counteract everything at play and prevent all foundation problems in our area.
Watering your foundation could work better in other climate areas, but just not very well here in Central Texas. So don’t rule it out completely if you happen to be reading this and live in an area with either different soil types or different climate patterns.
Focus more on monitoring for drainage problems and keeping your grade, gutters, and downspouts clear. Do your best with watering, mulching, and monitoring for leaks, but don’t expect perfection because it’s unlikely to work flawlessly.
Watch for True Signs of Foundation Issues
On top of doing the preventative maintenance suggestions we covered in this article, you should watch out for the true signs of foundation problems. Things like diagonal cracks on interior walls, stair-step cracks in brick, trim separations, and doors that don’t lock or latch properly are some of the big indicators.
Anchor Foundation Repair has been serving the Brazos Valley community for two generations and has repaired thousands of homes in our area. We are ready to repair your foundation when you need it but we never want to rush things or repair homes when it’s not necessary.
There are some symptoms you might see around your home that are definite symptoms of foundation settlement, while others are false signs. If the true signs begin to cause functionality issues with your home, then it could be time for some foundation repair.
But until you see something worth worrying about, best of luck keeping your home’s foundation as healthy as possible with the tips from this article!