In this comprehensive guide, we will give professional answers about some of the most frequently asked questions from homeowners about common foundation problems in Texas. These questions include:
- What Foundation Problems are Common in Houston?
- What Causes Foundation Problems in Houston?
- Can You Prevent Foundation Problems in Houston?
And much more!
If you live in the Houston area, you probably have heard complaints about foundation problems or have had some yourself. It is a common house maintenance problem caused by several factors that we will discuss.
Houston is in a tropical region. It has a relatively high temperature and some rainfall most months of the year. The warmest months are between June and September. The daily average can go up to 89 degrees Celsius. The rainfall is relatively high and has been consistent for decades. These extremes of temperature and moisture contribute to the foundation problems faced by Houston homeowners.
The soil in Houston is another factor that contributes to a series of effects that affect the foundations in Houston. As opposed to mainly comprising sand and rocks like in other areas, the soil in Houston is made of clay. The temperature and moisture fluctuations together with the type of soil in Houston all contribute to a higher prevalence of foundation problems.
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What Foundation Problems Are Common in Houston?
There are many foundation problems you can discover in your home. However, given the unique climate, geography, and soil composition in Houston, here are the most common foundation problems in Houston:
Cracks Due to Heaving and Voids
Clay is what is known as an ‘expansive soil’: it expands and contracts considerably depending on how much moisture is in it. When clay is wet, it absorbs water instead of letting the water flow through it. This retention makes the clay expand and occupy more space. When the clay is dry, the absence makes the water shrink. These drastic changes in volume give the clay a mercurial nature that is less than desirable for structures meant to stand the test of time.
When the clay expands, we refer to it as heaving. This heaving applies unequal pressure to the underside of your foundation around the edges and joints. The pressure creates cracks on the foundation slabs and creates room for water damage. The pressure it places on the foundation can be so extensive that it makes your walls bend inwards. This force creates cracks and has the potential to affect the integrity of your piers and beams.
When the clay dries and shrinks during the hot season, pockets of air are created within the soil. These ‘voids’ create areas of zero support under your foundation, and the weight of the house is unevenly forced downwards due to gravity, forming foundation cracks. These voids are especially destructive when they form irregularly due to the clay drying out and shrinking at different rates. These voids are not exclusive to the hot season; after it rains, the eventual drying out of the rain also makes the clay shrink. Heaving followed by shrinking causes double the damage. The rain also washes away any loose clay, further reducing its volume and density.
Seepage is a problem that usually comes after the cracks from heaving and voids form. When cracks compromise the integrity of your foundation, they further weaken the foundation by allowing debris and water to fill in these spaces. This may seem like a good thing, but it isn’t.
When debris and water fill the cracks, they expand and contract with temperature changes. Most of the debris that would fill a crack is also clay, and we already talked about how expansive clay is. When the debris and water expand, they widen the cracks and destroy the structure of the foundation.
Seepage is what happens when cracks that have formed in the foundation are filled with debris and water which then expand and widen the crack. This seepage also allows moisture to creep into your walls and cause additional problems such as mold and mildew. By the time the fungus gets to the cracks in the walls, it would have already spent a good amount of time destroying your foundation as well.
Seepage is a difficult problem to address because it takes place over time; you will usually notice it only after it has caused extensive damage. It silently destroys your foundation.
‘Settling‘ is what happens when the weight of the house pushes down into the foundation and causes sinkage. Settling also includes the structural damage that follows this process, such as finding uneven floors, sloping floors, and cracked tiles. Apart from a cracked wall which may not be that obvious, settling covers most common signs of foundation issues.
The extent of settling that occurs is dependent on the type of soil. Clay is heavy soil. Heavy soils are more prone to compaction than sandy soils. When the soil gets wet, the rate of compaction in heavy soils gets worse.
Settling is a natural phenomenon that happens to all structures and is a common sign of an older home. The allowances that structural engineers put in place are usually sufficient. Moreover, settling is a gradual process that takes many years to notice. However, houses in Houston face the destructive effects of natural settling at an accelerated pace because of the clay soil and climate.
What Causes Foundation Problems in Houston?
So far, we already know that the clay in Houston is a huge disadvantage. We can also guess that both the warmth and moisture in Houston only make the clay act up more. Now that we know the basics, we can dive into these factors a little deeper. This will help you to effectively prevent and fix the common foundation problems in Houston.
The Type of Soil
As mentioned before, Houston’s soil profile is primarily composed of clay. Clay has high shrink-swell potential that affects its volume and compactness depending on moisture content. The swelling occurs because clay is good at absorbing water and holding onto it for a long time. Clay is therefore referred to as having high water retention and slow permeability. When it loses the water and dries out, it drastically loses volume.
This mercurial nature puts foundations at the mercy of opposing forces. One force applies excess pressure to the foundation through expansion, and the other weakens it by taking away support through shrinkage.
The Climatic Conditions
We already talked about the hot and wet climate in Houston, but how exactly does this interact with the soil profile?
The frequent rain and heat create a vicious cycle of expansion and contraction of the clay soil beneath Houston homes. The constant push and pull throughout the year, coupled with the occasional drought make a stressful environment for foundations.
This hot and wet climate promotes heavy weathering, so cracks are filled up with debris at a relatively high rate. This encourages seepage, which we had discussed earlier.
These conditions also promote water damage and the growth of fungus within cracks and seepage.
Other Causes of Foundation Problems in Houston
Apart from the clay and the climate, here are other interrelated factors that cause foundation problems in Houston:
- Trees and shrubs planted too close to the house: Roots can grow beneath foundations and shift them. They also make dryness issues worse because they absorb any moisture in the soil during droughts.
- Poor drainage: Excess water that does not drain away from the house pools beneath it and makes the clay expand.
- Leaking plumbing: When plumbing leaks, it introduces excess water to the clay soil.
Can You Prevent Foundation Problems in Houston?
It may seem impossible to avoid these issues; mostly because they have natural causes. However, there are some ways you can prevent these issues altogether, or at least mitigate their effects over time.
Moderating the Amount of Moisture in Your Foundation
Since both excess wetness and excess dryness are problematic when it comes to clay, the best way to fight this is to try and control the amount of moisture in the soil beneath and around the foundation.
We can achieve this feat against the forces of nature by using an automatic foundation watering system. This system works in such a way that the soil is saturated only to an appropriate extent. This mechanism avoids over-expansion and shrinkage as well. It stops rapid shrinkage by slowly replenishing the moisture content of the clay after precipitation. Another device you can use to do this is a sump pump.
Vapor and Root Barriers
A vapor barrier is any product that keeps excess moisture away from the foundation. Vapor barriers work by creating a sealant between the crawlspace and the outside environment. Sealing the foundation will help moderate the amount of water in the clay around the foundation.
Root barrier systems consist of 30-inch trenches filled with impermeable material to block the growth of roots towards a house. Root barriers are on the side of the tree or shrub facing the house. Building root barrier systems on one side gives the roots enough room to grow on the remaining sides.
Timber Pile Support
Timber pile support is the process of reinforcing the wooden beams in the foundation. The beams are reinforced with brackets or carbon fiber. Sometimes, fish plates are bolted to the sides to make them even more robust.
How Can You Fix Foundation Problems in Houston?
Whether or not you can fix foundation problems on your own in Houston is dependent on where the damage is and the kind of foundation you have.
If your house has a crawlspace, then there are some repair methods you can try to fix some of the damage on your own. A crawlspace makes it easier because the other kind of foundation, a concrete slab foundation, needs expertise and is often dangerous. A crawlspace is safer, and it is easier to install devices that can help fix problems. However, crawl space foundations are less common than concrete slab and pier foundations. If you do have a crawlspace, then here are some things you can do:
Use a Sump Pump
A sump pump is a device used to collect and redirect excess water in the crawlspace. A sump pump is the best device to use if you are facing excess wetness in your foundation,
Use Post Jacks for Joist Post Damage
We will discuss how to identify joist post damage in the next section. However, it is worth mentioning here because these are one of the few repairs on your foundation you can safely do on your own.
To fix your joist post, you will need a post jack. Most of them are easy to use with a manual. However, it should go without saying that it would be safer to do this kind of work with some experience. If you do not have any, ask someone nearby or get an expert to do it.
Use Root Barrier Systems
Root barrier systems reappear here because they are easy to make. All you need to make a root barrier is a 30-inch trench you can dig on your own and an impenetrable material such as low-density polypropylene buried in the trench. Root barrier systems are a great alternative to simply cutting down a tree that grew too close to the house.
When Should You Call a Foundation Repair Expert?
As stated above, concrete slab foundations should only be attended to by experts. Concrete slab foundations run deep and are heavy, making any mistakes and accidents fatal. The best option is to consult an expert.
Another general rule of thumb is to see where the damage is manifesting. Foundation damage that is visible on the perimeter walls of your home needs a professional. If the damage is on the interior walls, then you may be able to fix them safely on your own.
Here are some forms of damage that you can fix if you have a crawlspace:
- Sagging floors
- Sheetrock cracks on interior walls
- Doors that do not lead in or out of the house not fitting in their door frames
Most of the time, the damage described above originates from problems in a floor joist that stands between concrete piers or pillars. This damage is a problem fixed by using post jacks, but a little experience in home repairs will go a long way here. Be mindful about over-lifting the floor when you do this.
There are, however, signs of foundation problems that need professional care, regardless of whether you have a crawlspace or not:
- Cracks on exterior walls
- Exterior doors out of square with exterior wall
- Chimney leaning away from the house
These problems are tell-tale signs of exterior wall issues originating from the concrete slab foundation. This kind of foundation damage is not for the unskilled. The experts at Regional Foundation Repair have all the tools and skills needed to fix such issues safely and effectively.
When you can, it is advisable to prioritize seeking professional help over fixing foundation problems on your own. The cost of foundation repair may seem hefty, but your safety and the safety of your loved ones is priceless.
Getting your foundation fixed by a professional will save you money in the long run. At Regional Foundation Repair, we offer extensive foundation inspection services that will look at your foundation through the lens of an expert. We will fix the root cause of your foundation issues, and find problems that you may not be able to see with untrained eyes. A professional will also assess risk and help you keep you and your family safe. These preventive measures avoid extra expenses brought about by not fixing the real problem and unintentionally causing more damage.
Another issue that you should watch for is mold and mildew damage. These can rot and weaken the wooden beams in the foundation, then creep into the wall and pose a health hazard to your household. Most times, foundation cracks already have some mold in them so it is better to have them all inspected by professionals because the mold will surely be in your walls. Regional Foundation Repair is a top foundation repair company in the Houston area because we offer all these services.