Your home's foundation can fail for any number of reasons, ranging from sudden tectonic shifts to gradual soil erosion. Though one of the most common causes of foundation failure is water damage, both from inside and outside your home.
Although water damage is one of the most popular sources of foundation problems, it is also one of the most preventable. When caught early enough, fixing this issue is quite affordable. In fact, many of the tips below are suggestions you can do entirely by yourself.
Preventing Water Damage Inside Your Home
Leaks are the most obvious telltale sign of water damage. If you notice any hissing pipes, clogged toilets or dripping faucets, you might have to bring in a professional to address these issues (unless you’re an experienced DIY plumber).
Less-obvious warning signs include things like:
- Rot & mold
- Crumbling concrete
- Stains & discoloration
- Backed up sump pumps & septic tanks
However, some damage remains invisible until it is too late such as busted pipes under the floor or loose valves behind the wall. However, you can assess the damage indirectly by turning off the water main for a few hours and seeing if the meter changes. If it does, you’ve got a leak somewhere and it's time to call a plumber. Rest assured, however, that doing so is far cheaper than letting the problem fester.
- Left unaddressed, those hidden leaks could eventually compromise your home's foundation, requiring even more expensive intervention down the road.
- Until the problem is fixed, expect to pay much higher utility bills. You're essentially spending money on unused water.
Conduct all of the above inspections periodically throughout the year. Every three to six months is a safe bet. You should also run through this checklist after unusually heavy rainfall.
Preventing Water Damage Outside Your Home
Rain, sewer pipes and runoff can negatively affect your home’s foundation. So it is critical to conduct frequent inspections of your property's exterior.
- Checking and fixing broken, loose or missing roof tiles
- Cleaning your gutters, especially at the beginning of winter
- Ensuring all downspouts eject water at least two yards away from your home
Intelligent landscaping can also extend the life of your foundation. For example, you can slope the surrounding soil so that all rain runoff flows away from your home.
Another common strategy involves planting trees and shrubs next to your property to soak up excessive moisture. However, don't install these plants too close to your home, since nearby roots can penetrate your foundation's exterior over time.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, vegetation should be planted “no closer to the foundation of light building structures than the anticipated height of the particular plant.” In other words, a tree that might one day be 10’ tall should be planted at least 10’ away from your home.
If the above guidelines are followed, you should be in decent shape. Internal inspections of your home's plumbing system coupled with sensible maintenance of your home’s exterior is usually enough to keep water damage at bay.
However, performing periodic checks of the surrounding soil throughout the year is the correct choice of action. If the earth is unusually dry after heavy rain, or surprisingly wet after dry spells, it's worth contacting a licensed foundation expert in your region.