In many respects, the foundation is the most important part of any architectural structure. Its sole purpose is to carry the building that sits on it, be it residential or commercial. Contrary to what we experience every day, the ground is not totally solid or still. A residence that is just plopped down on bare earth is likely to end up damaged over time by the elements. Ergo, having a healthy foundation will go a long way towards having a stable and sound home that will last for many years.
Identifying the Warning Signs of Damage
Knowing the early indications of trouble can head off bigger issues that could ultimately cost you thousands of pounds to fix. The sooner you can spot potential problems, the better you can address them. Here are what you should look out for:
- Warped ceilings and sagging floors
Even the upper levels of your residence will not be spared when there are issues originating in the underlying support. So scan for any exposed gaps where the interior walls are supposed to meet with each ceiling and floor. You may use a level tool to check whether the grading is consistent. A tennis ball placed in random locations also works as a low-tech solution for verifying minute gradients.
- Improperly fitting windows and doors
All of the doors and windows throughout your house should fit snugly in place, without them being too loose or too tight in their frames. Make sure to include the HVAC vents, garage doors and attic windows in your inspections as well.
- Buckling walls
It’s a well-known fact that building materials ‘give’ a little bit over time, but excessive settling is another matter altogether and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Therefore, you should routinely check the exterior and interior walls for any decay, shifts, fissures and even mould.
- Soil shifting and water damage
Inspect the soil around your property if it is unnaturally dry (even after watering the garden or following heavy rainfall) or unusually wet (even if there hasn’t been any rain recently). Once that’s taken care of, determine if there are any invisible leaks. Start with shutting off all of your taps and water-based appliances then determine if there are any changes in the meter readout after waiting for six to twelve hours.
- Compromised foundation
Obviously, you need to look at the underlying support itself to see if there are any noticeable problems. Pay special heed to these signs: pooling water, mould, moisture, flaking or crumbling of the concrete, gaps or ruptures, sagging or sloping floors and walls, as well as hairline cracks and fractures. Take note to check both the exterior surfaces and inside the structure (especially within the basement) for these.
Preventing Any Damage from Happening
Consider yourself lucky if you weren’t able to spot any of the warning signs listed above in your home. However, if you did find a few of them, get them fixed immediately by professional contractors such as Belowground. After which, take the following measures to avoid similar issues in the future:
- Provide drainage away from the house
It’s important that there be no standing water near the foundation. That’s because it may cause the soil to expand dramatically, which can put stress on the walls. You can install in-ground drains to move water from depressions and other areas that may retain water to a discharge point elsewhere. Downspouts can direct roof runoff and direct rain away as well.
- Plant shrubs and trees far from the building
During the dry season, the greenery ends up competing with the soil for moisture. When the soil shrinks, you can expect the underlying support to form cracks and settle unevenly. This makes it important to do your gardening and landscaping a few feet away from your structure. If you already have plants in place and it’s not possible to transfer them, at least water them regularly.
- Implement proper ground elevations
This will ensure that water will not be able to directly reach the base of your foundation walls. A good rule of thumb is to grade the terrain by at least 3 or 4 inches within ten feet of the house. You can make use of the soil already in your garden if you don’t want to buy any from the store. Depending on the layout of your outdoor space, you may have to dig a trench or install a French drain too.
- Attend to minor cracks
Yes, it is always better to bring in specialists to deal with underpinning, piling, ground beams and other major concerns. However, it is completely fine to address tiny issues with the concrete slabs yourself with some epoxy glue or other cement products made specifically for filling in gaps.
- Schedule yearly plumbing inspections
The entire plumbing system, including the sprinklers and sewers, should be checked annually for leaks. If you encounter any, have them fixed as soon as possible. Don’t wait until the minor issues blow up before you address them. What could have been an easy replacement of a spigot could lead to the fixing of your entire basement if you are not careful enough.
- Keep a steady temperature inside
Don’t let too long a time pass when you don’t cool or heat your property. Doing so will help to prevent or at least reduce the tendency of the concrete to contract and expand. This is when it pays to have a house sitter for situations when you have to leave the place empty for a couple of months.
- Consider erosion control systems
In areas where the slope is extreme, take measures to assure the stability of the soil and the structural support. These can include the use of rocks, liners, landscape timbers, grass and other ground covers. There are also more high-tech solutions worth trying, though you will want to speak with an engineer first before implementing them.
Whether you are selling your home or just want to improve it, it pays to be aware of the importance of proper maintenance of the foundation. It is, after all, key to ensuring that your property will remain standing for a long time, even when it has to constantly face the wrath of time and the elements.