Foundations: Too Wet or Too Dry?

SUPPORTING YOUR FAVORITE FOUNDATION.... As you know, during the summer of 2007, the Cincinnati area experienced extremely dry conditions because we had little or no rainfall.

During that time, large cracks developed in the clay soil and large gaps opened around the outside of house foundations. Those cracks and gaps are the result of the shrinking clay soil due to the lack of water.

Clay soil is like a sponge. It swells when it gets wet, shrinks when it is dry. Hence, the drought of the summer caused severe shrinkage of the soil. This same shrinkage can occur under foundations when the drought is extended. The dryness actually extends deep into the ground, as deep as the foundation footings which in most cases is about eight feet.

Think of the cracks you see in the soil. Now visualize what this same crack or void would do if it occurred around the foundation footing. Yes, it leaves that portion of the footer(s) unsupported—and yes, the foundation is likely to settle, potentially causing major cracking in the structure.

Droughts will affect shallower footings quicker. Hence, homes with crawl spaces, slabs, or shallow footing (which includes additions and garages) are more likely to be affected sooner.

Using the Common Sense Approach throughout years of experience with buildings and their foundations, it has been discovered that a high percentage of the cracks found in the Cincinnati area are cyclical and not something to be overly concerned about.

Our common sense approach for foundation issues involves monitoring the area in question before spending thousands of dollars on what could be an unnecessary repair.

Things to Remember....Take Action

  • Consistent moisture content is key. Provide good drainage during wet periods, and water the soil near your foundation regularly with a soaker type hose during dry periods.
  • Keep gutters clean and sloped toward downspouts. Route downspouts well away from the foundation and make sure they don’t leak.
  • All buildings move. In areas with high concentrations of clay soils, they often move after a period of dry weather. In most cases, this movement is not a reason to panic and rush to install expensive piers.
  • Be ready for occasional, and perhaps recurring, crack patching. It takes some time for the soil moisture to be replenished. Cracking may continue to appear even after the first rain that ends the drought.

One final note: Those large cracks in the soil next to your foundation may allow water penetration into the basement when the rainfall starts. Once soil moisture is replenished and the soil cracks disappear, this leaking may stop.

Questions or Concerns?

Contact Wayne D. Jones, Senior Professional Inspector, Land America Property Inspections.  513-583-5522.

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