Homes in the Chicago area are prone to structural foundation damage and, when it happens, it ranges from minor to so serious that it threatens the structure of the home itself.
Of course, even the worst foundation damage can usually be repaired but, just as damage occurs in varying degrees, the repairs can range from simple to complex, time-consuming and costly. Of course, the best repair is no repair at all because the damage never occurred and that requires prevention.
Admittedly, some conditions that cause structural foundation damage are natural occurrences and out of anyone’s control but most damage can be prevented or reduced in severity if the homeowner takes a few simple steps.
How Does Structural Foundation Damage Occur?
Foundations suffer damage because they move, either downward – called settling or dropping—or inward. Both of these movements are caused by the soil surrounding the foundations either shrinking or compacting, which causes settling, or expanding, which cause inward movement. In either case, the culprit behind the soil conditions is the same: water.
Water is present in the soil around the foundation all the time although it is usually far enough below the surface not to cause problems. When heavy rains or extensive snow melt saturate soil, the upper level of soil doesn’t have the opportunity to drain and absorbs the water, causing the soil to expand just like a sponge. Different types of soil drain and expand differently and, unfortunately for local homeowners, the clay soil that is found all over the Chicago area, holds water the longest and expands the most.
When the soil around the foundation expands, it creates lateral pressure on the foundation walls that can actually cause the walls to crack and move inward. Poured concrete walls tend to crack at the corners and tilt inward from the top; masonry walls tend to bulge or bow in the center.
Soil under the foundation expands too but that isn’t what causes settling, sinking and dropping. When things dry out, especially in drought conditions like Chicago experienced in 2012, so much water is drawn from the soil that the soil contracts and no longer supports the foundation as it did. With nothing holding it up, the foundation has nowhere to go but down.
How Do You Prevent Structural Foundation Damage?
Logically, if water is the problem then managing the water is the solution. If a Chicago homeowner does everything he or she can to keep water away from a home’s foundation, there’s a pretty good chance the foundation will remain hale and hardy.
The first step in making sure a home has good yard drainage is to ensure that rain gutters on the roof are clean and unobstructed. One inch of rain on the typical Chicago home can produce 1500 gallons of water and if all that water isn’t being properly channeled away by fully functional gutters it will pour off the edges of the roof and land, you guessed it, right next to foundation.
Of course, if the downspouts leading from those gutters end right at the foundation, it won’t matter if the gutters are clean or not because the downspouts will be dumping water right next to the foundation. Downspouts should be extended at least 10 feet away from the foundation to avoid over-saturating the soil and will be more likely to stay connected and functional if the extensions are underground instead of laying on the surface.
Grading outside the home, too, can create water problems around the foundation. A negative grade, one that slopes back toward the house instead of away from it, will cause water to run back toward the foundation and saturate the soil. Also, poorly planned landscaping features, like berms and edging, that trap water near the house must be eliminated.
As noted earlier, there are some conditions that can’t be avoided but the majority of structural foundation problems can be mitigated by taking these few simple steps. At U.S. Waterproofing we repair structural foundation damage but we’d much rather help you prevent it by installing underground downspout extensions and other ways to make sure your home enjoys proper yard drainage. Why not ask for our free advice?