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The foundation is the most important — yet most overlooked — component of your home. Out of sight and out of mind, it's easy to forget that it's even there. Yet, it works tirelessly around the clock to support everything in your home, including all of the rooms, furniture and occupants above.
Even still, most homeowners only think about their foundations when something goes wrong. Though by then, it's too late to do any preventative maintenance. Fixing the problem will be costly. In most cases, foundation repairs will be well beyond the scope of traditional DIY intervention.
However, you can avoid this situation with a few common sense strategies. Below are five of the most effective ways for maintaining your home's foundation.
1. Annual Plumbing Checks
One of the most important steps involves conducting yearly inspections of your home's plumbing system — both inside and out. Leaks behind the walls and under the floors aren't just bad for the foundation; they can also destroy other parts of the home. Of course, you can expect to pay a fortune in water bills.
This is why annual plumbing checks are essential. Catching leaks early can save you tens of thousands of dollars down the road.
Pooling water, moldy walls and low-faucet pressure are all obvious signs of plumbing issues, but some leaks aren't so conspicuous.
To detect hidden damage, turn off all water-based appliances and systems throughout the house. If the water meter shows a different reading after six hours, you need to have a professional plumber conduct a more thorough inspection.
2. Ensure Proper Drainage
Water damage can wreak havoc on your foundation, and plumbing is often the main culprit, but not always. Sometimes, rainwater and aquifers are to blame. When the soil surrounding your home doesn't properly accept or expel moisture, this can cause the earth to shift, placing undue strain on your property's foundation.
How do you prevent excessive moisture or dryness from destroying your home?
When the Soil is Too Dry
During dry periods, some homeowners use garden hoses to water the surrounding soil. Although this strategy certainly works, it requires constant maintenance. You also run the risk of overwatering, which can cause even more damage. As a general rule, the earth surrounding your home only needs enough water to keep plants healthy.
A simpler solution is to install rock beds roughly two feet away from your home's exterior. This allows rainwater to seep deeper into the soil, preventing it from evaporating too quickly.
When the Soil is Too Wet
Excessive moisture buildup is equally dangerous. Check all gutters and downspouts to ensure that they are redirecting water away from your home:
- A minimum of two yards for sandy soil
- A minimum of three yards for expansive soil
This sometimes means regularly cleaning gutters (especially during autumn), and you may have to buy extensions for downspouts. If all else fails, consider consulting with a certified gutter professional.
3. Filling Minor Cracks
If you ever spot major cracks in your foundation or basement walls, it may already be too late. Though minor cracks aren’t necessarily cause for alarm. You can sometimes repair these with a simple DIY fix:
- Clean any hairline fissures by sweeping the dust, dabbing any remaining powder with a wet cloth or letting the area completely dry.
- Fill the gap with an epoxy glue or any readily available mix that is especially designed for DIY concrete repair.
- Closely monitor the cracks over time to make sure they don’t become wider or longer. If they do, you’ll want to call a professional foundation repair technician ASAP.
4. Intelligent Landscaping
Plants can add beauty to your home, and they also keep the surrounding soil intact, helping to prevent erosion and landslides.
However, improper landscaping can do more harm than good.
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The root systems of any trees or shrubs around your home’s exterior can potentially eat into subterranean foundation walls. These roots also compete with the surrounding soil for water, causing uneven dryness and shifting — two problems that can easily lead to foundation failure.
How do you maximize the benefits of landscaping while minimizing the potential dangers?
The fix is simple: Don't plant shrubs or trees too close to your home.
Though what is "too close”?
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), trees and shrubs should be planted, “no closer to the foundation of light building structures than the anticipated height of the particular plant.”
In other words, if a tree's branches can touch your home, so can the roots.
This is great advice when moving forward. Still, if you already have plants that were installed too close to your home, you may need to have a landscaper help you relocate those trees and bushes.
5. Biannual Foundation Inspections
By conducting all of the above checks every six months, you can catch problems early and limit any potential damage.
Note that six months is only the minimum, so consider doing these checks in between the changing seasons (e.g. the first days of spring and autumn — or the first days of winter and summer).
Be prepared to conduct these inspections more frequently, if necessary. Unusually dry spells or unseasonably rainy ones are precisely when foundations become most vulnerable to soil shifts.
Always be on the lookout for any telltale signs of foundation damage, including:
- Buckling walls
- Slanted floors
- Improperly fitting doors and windows
- Sagging roofs
The sooner you intervene, the less expensive correcting the problem becomes.
Foundation repairs can cost thousands, but like any other part of the home, many issues can be eliminated with proper maintenance and care. With the steps above, one should never pay for a foundation repairs again.