By Lance McCarthy
Last week I promised some answers about fixing foundation problems. Well…I’m back with those answers. We were talking about failed fixes that many foundation repair companies use, and why they usually don’t work–because they are usually trying to fix a symptom instead of fixing the actual problem. This reminds me of an inside joke my wife and I used to have when the kids were really young. If we were asleep in bed and heard one of the kids start to cry, the conversation would go, “……the baby is crying….” long pause “…..can you take care of it?…..” long pause “….sure, I’ll turn up the fan….” If any of you readers don’t do well with dark humor that involves babies, I can assure you that we never let our children cry without soothing them…or fed them anything with sugar in it before they were 5…or let them play games on our phone in the grocery store to get them to be good…or did any of those other things that really bad parents do.
Back to the crying baby and the fan. The reason it is funny is that it doesn’t really solve the problem. It just helps me not worry about the real problem any more. Just like with foundations. Many times, when a foundation starts showing problems, a company will rush in and charge a lot of money–all to fix a symptom.
If a foundation is cracking, heaving, bowing or leaking, there is a very good chance it is water related. Water is a foundation’s worst enemy, and it gets you coming and going. In the really wet seasons, if the water collects in the soil around a foundation, it causes the soil to get extremely heavy and expand. This puts tremendous pressure against the foundation.
Then during the dry seasons (remember the bad one in 2012?) the opposite happens and the soils shrink and move away from the foundation. All this expansion and contraction pounds your foundation like Thor’s hammer with anger issues. It’s no surprise we see so many foundations with cracks and bows.
So how can you tell? Here are some tell-tale clues I want you to look for that will point to the real problem:
- Black vertical streaks on the outside of your gutters are a sign they are overflowing and aren’t moving the water where they should.
- A narrow trench in the soil below the gutters will confirm this problem, and prove that the water from the roof is ending up right outside your foundation.
- Low spots in the ground or areas without grass are signs of areas where puddling near the house is happening. This is worst at the corners.
- Downspouts that aren’t connected to the drains mean the water is coming out and ending up right by the foundation.
- Concrete slabs that are tilted back towards the house contribute to this problem too.
The good news? This is all usually easy to fix.
First, ask a structural engineer that is NOT connected to a foundation company to come review the issue. You want someone who is not incentivized to find a certain type of problem that their company sells a solution for.
- Add topsoil around the house so that the ground slopes away from the house 8” in the first 8’
- Clean the gutters at least twice a year to keep them clear and working
- Increase the size of the downpouts (and gutters) if necessary to make sure all the water from the roof ends up away from the house
- Ready for the crazy one? Water your foundation during the dry season! Not really your foundation, but the ground around the house…so it doesn’t shrink too much and settle. About 2” a week should do the trick.
All in all, we are usually talking about a few thousand dollars (max) to solve the true problem instead of tens of thousands to solve symptoms. Makes me think twice about those times I turned the fan up when the baby cried…allegedly.