By Sam Wasson
Updated Nov 1, 2022
If you’re a homeowner and want your house to stand the test of time, or are a homebuyer shopping for a new home, paying special attention to the foundation pays off. Foundations are one of the most important parts of a home’s structure. A damaged foundation can affect the walls, floors, windows, doors, and just about everything else in a house. To help ensure your home lasts as long as possible, we’ve compiled this list of handy tips for extending the life of your foundation.
Foundations are built to last, and most can withstand a lot of abuse. Often, foundation issues originate from two common causes, bad soil or other faulty structures. For example, if your gutters become clogged and overflow, your soil will absorb the runoff and swelling, leading to hydrostatic pressure. The sitting water inside the soil pushes on your foundation’s concrete slab or basement walls. Over time, this pressure will result in cracks, uneven floors, bowed walls, and other problems.
One overflow isn’t a cause for alarm, as most lawns can drain water effectively enough to neutralize hydrostatic pressure. But, if your home systems that control drainage are not functioning properly, your lawn will become soaked more often, resulting in constant vice-like pressure that squeezes the life out of your house’s foundation.
On the other hand, if your soil is filled with clay or peat, it will absorb and retain more water than normal. As a result, you’ll experience frequent soil swelling. Elements like soil density also play a part, as the foundation will slowly compact loose soil over time. This compaction will eventually lead to shifting, foundation cracks, broken utility lines, and, at worst, an uneven home.
Keeping your foundation in good shape comes down to ensuring that other home structures are maintained, and that water is directed away from the house. Professional services can improve soil quality, making underground drainage more efficient, but these are expensive and typically considered a last resort. Instead, we’ll focus on at-home steps you can take to start extending the life of your foundation. If you’re already experiencing foundation problems, you should call a professional foundation repair company or hire a structural engineer.
The first and most important part of keeping your foundation in good condition is to ensure your gutters are clean and in working order. Gutters are your home’s primary means of redirecting rainfall away from the foundation. If your gutters become clogged, broken, or otherwise inoperable, rainwater will flow right off your roof, down your walls, and onto your foundation. We recommend cleaning your gutters twice per year, once at the end of fall, then again at the end of spring. These two times of year produce the most gutter-clogging debris, and cleaning out your gutters at the end of these seasons means they’ll be clear for the rest of the year.
To keep your gutters in good condition, you should also do a yearly inspection at the end of fall. You should review your entire gutter system and replace or patch damaged components.
Regulating lawn moisture can be a tall order, especially if you have difficult-to-manage soil. We recommend tailoring your watering schedule and lawn care to your grass and soil type. Thin, loose soils may need more watering, while thicker, denser soils may not need to be watered.
Water outside the home isn’t the only cause for concern. Leaky pipes in the basement, crawl space, and under your lawn can weaken the foundation. While concrete is a strong material, it’s porous and will absorb water. Over time, this can weaken the foundation’s structural integrity and further exacerbate existing problems. For example, during winter, leaks can fill cracks with water, freeze, expand, deepen the crack, and raise foundation repair costs. To ensure that minor faults don’t evolve into serious structural damage, always address signs of foundation problems immediately and take care of plumbing issues as soon as they arise.
There are a few simple landscaping techniques that, when used correctly, will help strengthen your foundation. We recommend trying out the following:
One of the most effective ways to direct water flow away from the foundation is to use a downspout extender. These long, flexible, extendable pipes direct the runoff from rainwater between 2 to 5 feet from the house. These handy add-ons are much better than splash blocks (the small trays under downspouts), which direct water less than a foot from home.
French drains are some of the most effective DIY projects you can undertake to extend the life span of your foundation. French drains are long trenches fitted with drainage pipes. The pipe is angled and carries water away from the yard or foundation. This pipe and the ditch are then covered with layers of gravel or river rock, providing an elegant and attractive appearance. The water is carried into a receptacle, like a water barrel, storm drain, a dry well, or off your property.
Some appliances will have water pipes that extend outside the house. The water in these pipes can freeze and burst if you live in an area with harsh or frigid winters. Burst water pipes can lead to flooding, water damage, and hefty repair bills. You’ll want to take appropriate precautions to protect these pipes in winter. Two primary ways to keep outdoor pipes from bursting are insulating exterior pipes with tubular pipe insulation and consistent use. This waterproof material provides an insulating barrier that protects the pipes from harsh temperatures. Next is to maintain constant water flow through these pipes. Try to run the appliance consistently, or if it’s a pipe connected to a faucet, let the water slowly drip through.
Sump pumps are installed in pits within a basement and pump water outside a home in the event of flooding. Sump pumps can be a lifesaver in the case of an emergency plumbing failure or flood. Sump pumps function by having a mechanism that detects water levels within the pit. Once the waters reach a certain height, the sensor activates a switch starting the pump. The pump will then drain the water to an outdoor location like a drain, septic tank, or dry well. Sump pumps are great waterproofing tools that help keep basements free of sitting water and reduce the total impact of floods and plumbing failures.
One of the simplest steps in keeping a healthy foundation is to schedule a foundation inspection. A foundation repair specialist will come to your home to assess any damage and recommend the best foundation repair methods for your home. Generally, you should have a foundation inspection every three years and before undertaking any major repairs or remodels. If you have a warranty on your foundation, you may need a foundation inspection when filing a claim.
While it can be easy to overlook the foundation, keeping this home structure in tip-top shape is essential. A foundation’s failure can lead to a massive price tag as other home sections begin to warp and break. By following some of the tips in this article, you can help extend the life of your foundation and, by extension, your entire home. However, if you’re already experiencing foundation problems, you should immediately contact a foundation repair specialist. Some foundation damage, like horizontal cracks on foundation walls, can indicate other serious structural failings that should be addressed as soon as possible.
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