The Dallas Fort Worth area, known as the “Texas Blackland Prairies,” stretches about 300 miles from the Red River in North Texas and down to San Antonio in the South. The land in the Blackland Prairie region is comprised of clay soils with high shrink-swell properties. Clay soils are extremely vulnerable to seasonal moisture fluctuations and tend to shrink in the summer months and expand during the winter. Even so, there are still a few things that you can do to maintain your home’s foundation. Keep reading for tips from a Texas Licensed Professional Engineer on how to preserve your foundation.
When your house was built and the yard and landscaping installed, the natural effects of climate and precipitation on the soils around your home were modified. Over the long-term, the soils will tend to be wetter or have greater volume under the center of the house and will seasonally dry out and shrink near the edges. When these moisture variations occur, the underlying clays experience shrink-swell cycles, and the foundation will attempt to conform to the shape of the supporting soils. This can result in movements of the foundation, which, in turn, stress the walls of the structure above it, i.e., your house. After repeated cycling, stress cracks will eventually appear in the walls and grade beams. Once the cracks appear, they may become progressively worse at an accelerated rate if the shrink-swell cycles are allowed to continue.
Your builder recognized the activity of the soils in this area and designed and constructed your house foundation to accommodate the soil movements as much as possible. While it is virtually impossible to eliminate all movements, controlling the soil moisture content and keeping any
moisture variations relatively constant throughout the years can minimize them. The soil volumes will then remain relatively constant and any related movements will be reduced.
FOUNDATION MAINTENANCE TIPS
Tip #1 – Water Your Foundation
As a homeowner, you can control these moisture variations by implementing a program of proper foundation watering. The purpose of such a program is to maintain a high, uniform moisture level in the foundation soils by restoring the moisture lost to seepage, evaporation, and plant transpiration. This watering can be accomplished by either a properly designed lawn sprinkler system or by a separate foundation watering system using soaker hoses or drip irrigation tubes. In either case, artificial precipitation should be applied evenly to the soils near the foundation year-round. Obviously, the watering can be postponed if the natural precipitation is sufficient. The water should be applied slowly to allow absorption and prevent runoff. To verify the adequacy of the watering program, surface soils should be routinely checked for shrinkage, cracking, and/or pulling away from the foundation. If either condition develops, or if landscaping shows moisture stress such as wilting or leaf drop, the
frequency and amount of watering should be increased. Root growth of trees and shrubs should also be directed away from the foundation by adequate watering and fertilization of the yard away from the house. It should also be noted that sprinkler systems alone seldom supply the needed moisture to the soils around our home’s foundation in times of extended dry conditions. However, this can usually be best accomplished with SMART irrigation. You may contact North Texas’ pioneering company in this technology, Lee Engineering for design guidance and operation for optimal performance specific to your home. At a minimum, a soaker hose should be utilized around the foundation of your home to supplement dry weather
conditions until a more precise system customized for your home can be implemented.
Tip #2 –Perform Routine Visual Inspections
Make it a habit to inspect the interior and exterior of your home for signs of foundation damage. In Texas, foundation settling is very common, but it’s important to act quickly when you see signs of foundation problems. Inspect your home for the following signs of foundation settling:
◼️ Interior cracks in the sheetrock
◼️ Exterior cracks in brick and mortar
◼️ Cracks in concrete patios, porches, and sidewalks
◼️ Frieze board separation
◼️ Uneven flooring
◼️ Jammed doors and window frames
If you notice any of these common signs of foundation settling, you should have your foundation looked at right away to prevent further damage.
Tip #3 – Never Allow Water to Pool Near Your Foundation
While it is important to maintain moisture in the soils around and beneath the foundation of your home as discussed above, it is equally important that positive drainage away from your home be maintained at all times. Ponding water near the foundation can cause ‘heaving’ (upward movement of the foundation), settlement of the foundation due to over-saturation of the clay soil, or erosion of soil embedment around the foundation. Sloping the soils away from the home and preventing water from ponding near the foundation is needed to prevent ‘heaving’ of the soils. We recommend that a full gutter system with gutter extensions be maintained to discharge a minimum of 5 feet from the foundation (not in landscaped flower beds or any other location that will trap water near the foundation). In some cases, a drainage system may be necessary to move water far enough away from the home. If ponding is noticed near the foundation during the rainy season, consult with a licensed engineer to determine the correct drainage repair so as to not adversely affect the foundation of your home.
Foundation drainage guidelines:
• Never allow water to accumulate near your foundation
• Make sure your home has a full gutter system with extensions
• Gutter extensions should discharge away from your foundation (min 5 feet)
• Install drainage solutions when necessary
Tip #4 – Trees
Trees or numerous shrubs growing too close to a foundation can dramatically affect the moisture content of the soils within the zone of influence beneath the structure. Root systems extract large quantities of water from underlying soils and result in large volumetric changes in the soils shrinkage and swelling). As trees absorb water from the soil, the foundation of the home will settle in unsupported areas. Tree or shrub influence may be remediated by manipulating watering patterns, complete removal or installing root barriers. The expansion and contraction of clay soil due to excessive moisture fluctuations and poor drainage are the biggest threat to your home’s foundation. Many homeowners miss the early warning signs of foundation damage.
With these tips, you can do your part to protect your home from foundation problems and preserve your home equity for years to come. With over 20 years of experience providing structural engineering services throughout Dallas – Fort Worth Texas, Thomas Engineering Consultants understands the unique challenges that local expansive soils and weather extremes create. Our services include home inspections, foundation inspections, and structural engineer evaluations. We can help you protect your investment and ensure that your property does not fall victim to these forces.
For more information, visit tecdfw.com.