During periods with little or no rain, like the current drought conditions affecting many parts of the world, you may notice small cracks appearing in your home’s foundation or interior walls. Doors slowly sticking or floors feeling uneven are other signs something could be wrong. But what’s really going on below ground when drought strikes? Let’s take a closer look at what happens during a drought and ways to protect your home’s foundation.
What Happens to Soil During a Drought?
The soil supporting your house plays a key role. Its composition and moisture level directly affect foundation stability. Soil contains various amounts of sand, silt and clay particles. Clay is particularly expansive – it absorbs water, swelling in size. During wet weather, clay around your foundation expands gradually with no issues.
However, drought reverses this process. As rain stops for weeks on end, the clay shrinks as it loses moisture. This contraction leaves gaps and spaces between the soil and foundation. Over time, your home’s weight begins settling into these cavities through gravity. Floors slope, doors stick and cracks appear – all signs trouble is brewing below the surface. Without rain, the soil surrounding your home begins to change. The different types of soil like clay, sand and silt react to drought in their own way. Clay soil in particular becomes extremely sensitive to moisture loss. When clay dries out, it starts to contract and shrink away from surfaces like your foundation.
So in essence, drought desiccates the soil your foundation relies on. The shrinking and settling that results creates cracks and fissures homeowners may not notice until serious damage emerges. But there are steps you can take to minimize these risks.
“When expansive clay soil becomes extremely dry, the soil contracts and the foundation sinks,” says Stan Gatland, a manager at CertainTeed’s building science technology department.
As the clay shrinks, gaps and cavities form between the ground and the place where your home’s foundation interfaces with the soil. Over time, the weight of your entire house is pulling straight down into these newly created spaces due to gravity. This gradual sinking process is what specialists refer to as “settlement” or “settling.”
What Happens When Foundations Settle?
While a small amount of settling is normal, drought can dramatically speed up the process which leads to potential problems. As different parts of your foundation settle at different rates, stresses develop that cause cracks to form both inside and outside your home.
“If there are cracks in the garage, you can usually assume that the cracks do not end there, but extend through the house,” warns Gatland.
Signs of settling like cracks in brickwork, siding or interior walls are red flags that your foundation is being compromised by shifting soil. Doors getting stuck, sticking windows and sloping floors are other warning signs your home is settling unevenly due to drought conditions underground.
Can You Identify Drought Damage to Your Foundation?
Catching problems early allows for less costly repairs. To be able to catch problems early, carefully inspect your property for signs indicating foundation damage. Scan your concrete basement or slab for tiny fractures and check exterior walls, steps and patios too. Inside, look at cracks in walls and ceilings, stuck windows and sloped floors – all potential drought consequences.
“We see a lot of bowing in drywall corners during droughts,” says foundation expert Stan Gatland. “That’s a red flag the foundation is distorting from soil movement.” Be especially vigilant if you live where expansive clay soil dominates. Getting an expert evaluation confirms any concerns. Early detection means protecting your foundation before shifts become too severe.
Remember that drought foundation damage takes place gradually over time. Being proactive applying these prevention strategies helps keep your home’s base stable, even when rain isn’t falling from the sky. Addressing problems quickly also results in less costly repairs down the road. With some oversight, you can effectively minimize drought’s risks to your foundation.
Can Your Drought-Cracked Foundation Be Repaired?
If cracks and damage from drought settling appear severe or extensive, professional foundation repair may be needed. Techniques like mudjacking, piering or slab leveling can lift and stabilize sunken areas while cracks may require epoxy injections. Early intervention often leads to less costly repairs compared to ignoring problems until much worse damage results.
So in summary – the answer is YES, extended dry spells with little rain “can” lead to foundation problems as soil shrinks and your home settles. But there are important steps to consider as well to help minimize drought’s impact.
How Do You Protect Your Foundation During Drought?
Now that you understand what happens below ground, let’s shift to solving the problem with some foundation protection strategies:
Keep Soil Moisture Levels Stable
One key is maintaining consistent moisture in the soil surrounding your home’s footprint. “Plants hold the soil and keep it from eroding away from the house,” explains Gatland.
Establishing drought-tolerant landscaping and watering foundation areas are effective tactics. Soaker hoses placed 6-12 inches from your foundation can run regularly during dry spells. This resaturates contracting clay and prevents gaps from opening that enable settling.
Monitor Grading and Drainage
Improper slopes that direct runoff towards your home’s foundation can worsen drought damage. Check that grading falls away at a rate of 1/2 inch per foot. To avoid this, extend downspouts 5 feet minimum from your home’s sides to move water away as well.
Control Tree and Shrub Roots
Deep-rooted plants siphoning moisture from foundation soil zones can starve your home’s base and hasten settling. Consult an arborist to select suitable low-water specimens planted at safe distances.
“Tree and shrub roots can compete with your soil for moisture during drought, causing your foundation to settle and sink unevenly,” Gatland warns.
Watch Out for Post-Drought Soaking Rains Too
While drought brings its own set of issues, Gatland also stresses that heavy rains following a dry spell pose a new threat: “Ironically, after a drought, a lot of rain can be a risk as well. Expansive clay can absorb water too fast. That may result in swelling over short periods. The rapid change in the soil will actually promote cracks in your foundation.”
After a long hot summer with little rain, the first soaking storms bring welcome relief. But remember that parched clay is thirsty – it drinks in moisture dramatically and can rapidly expand, putting stress on your home’s concrete basement walls and slab from the force. Cracks appear where weaknesses have formed from prior drought settling.
Gatland adds “It’s like gulping down a few drinks of water after being parched for weeks,” “The soil swells fast, putting abnormal pressure on foundations.”
The sudden soil bloating and contracting places immense strain on basement walls and floors. Cracks widen further as a result. So even after rains return, monitor your property closely. Immediate foundation watering during drought also requires care, as excess could cause equally problematic soil inflation. Careful moisture control seems to be the key to avoiding drought damage.
For this reason, keep a close eye on your foundation in the weeks after significant drought-breaking rains arrive as well. Watch for fresh cracks forming or old cracks widening, signs the soil may be swelling too vigorously from the absorbed rainfall. At the first signs of new damage, call a foundation professional for an evaluation to determine if repair is needed before more extensive cracks result.
A Foundation Inspector Shares Hard-Won Advice
With decades of experience repairing properties affected by drought and soil issues, foundation inspection expert Mark Jackson offers this advice:
“Foundation problems don’t just appear overnight. Pay attention to subtle signs like doors sticking more than usual or minor cracks appearing. It may not seem like a big deal at first, but these are your homes trying to tell you that underlying soil shifts are developing. Don’t ignore early warnings”.
Jackson’s wise words remind us the value is catching smaller problems before they worsen. Act promptly on any noticeable cracks, floor sloping or stuck doors/windows as indications your home may experiencing subterranean drought stresses requiring inspection and treatment.
Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Foundation Problems from Drought?
Unfortunately, standard insurance policies do not typically cover foundation issues caused by environmental changes like drought. Settling, soil drying and movement are defined as “gradual” processes outside normal policy coverage for sudden disasters.
However, some insurers may help fund repairs if you can prove issues directly resulted from a documented drought in your area. Photographic records of soil cracking before damage emerged strengthen cases for payouts. Enhanced foundation coverage options also exist, but for an added premium cost.
In summary – learning to recognize the dangers drought poses to your foundation is key. But being proactively prepared with the right prevention, monitoring and responsive repair strategies means facing your foundation’s settlement risks head on rather than leaving it exposed. Staying ahead of drought problems is the best solution for preventing costly repairs later on.