Maintaining a relatively constant moisture content in the soil around the foundation of a home is one of the preventative measures a Houston homeowner can take in order to avoid foundation problems. While specialists advise homeowners to water their foundations with the equivalent of 2 inches of rainfall per week during the hotter summer months, determining whether you should continue watering your foundation during the winter as well is a legitimate concern. To help you make an informed decision, let’s first find out how cold weather can affect the foundation of a home located in the Houston-Galveston area.
Houston’s Winter and Your Home Foundation
Evaporation of water occurs over a wide range of temperatures. On colder days, water evaporates from the soil at a slower rate than it would on warmer days. However, it still evaporates, and this can cause the clay soil underneath your home to lose a lot of moisture. Left without sufficient moisture, clay soil can shrink considerably. Once shrinkage occurs, the soil will start to retract from different concrete structures, including from the foundation, potentially causing it to move, shift, and settle unevenly. This is commonly referred to as differential settlement. The biggest problem with differential settlement is that it can lead to different structural issues later on. A relatively easy way to prevent differential settlement as well as other foundation problems is to keep the soil around your home uniformly moist throughout the year.
How Often Should You Water the Soil around Your Foundation during the Winter?
The amount of water and watering frequency depend on how dry it is during the winter. When there is very little precipitation, a good rule of thumb is to water the soil once a week for about 15 to 20 minutes at a time. When watering the ground around your foundation, it’s also important to remember the following tips in order to avoid future foundation problems:
- Don’t overwater the soil – Overly wet clay soil can cause just as many foundation issues as dry soil. When you overwater the soil around your foundation, it could become saturated with water, with a near-mud consistency. This can affect its ability to support the loads on top, which means that your home could sink into the ground and settle unevenly. Additionally, clay soil that absorbs a lot of water can increase in volume significantly. This can lead to heaving. Whether heaving occurs under your entire house or just under a section, it could force your foundation out of its level position. Over time, this could cause a series of problems, ranging from differential settlement to deep cracks and broken water lines.
- Place the sprinkler or soaker hose at least 18 inches away from your foundation – Placing the sprinkler or soaker hose in direct contact with your foundation could cause water to accumulate in the concrete. If the temperature drops below the freezing point, the water accumulated in the foundation could freeze and cause cracking and/or spalling. As well, water or excessive evaporation that accumulates underneath your floor system could lead to mold growth and wood rot, which will eventually affect the beams and joists, causing your floor to become uneven, soft, and/or bouncy. To prevent water damage, make sure that your drainage systems are also working properly before you install a soaker hose or sprinkler system to water your foundation.
- Ensure proper grading around your house. An improperly graded yard may allow water to collect around your foundation and underneath your home, which could lead to water damage over time. Therefore, to avoid foundation damage due to excess water, your yard should slope away from the foundation and not towards it. If there isn’t an adequate slope around your foundation, you can easily create it by adding or removing soil.
- Insulate your water pipes if the temperature is expected to drop below freezing. Lower temperatures could cause your water pipes to freeze and burst. Since broken water pipes can negatively impact your foundation and crawlspace, inspecting and insulating your pipes before winter arrives is one of the simplest ways to avoid foundation damage. Besides preventing pipes from bursting, winterizing your plumbing system will also make your hot water last longer, which may lower your energy bills.
Should You Still Check Your Foundation for Signs of Damage?
Even though watering your foundation during the winter could help you prevent many foundation problems, damage could still occur. Thus, we recommend that you inspect both the exterior and interior of your home regularly and look for signs of damage, including cracks, concrete spalling, water leaks, tilting home components, doors and windows that stick, and any other issues that may indicate foundation problems. Additionally, it’s advisable to schedule an inspection with an experienced foundation repair professional, who will be able to identify potential foundation issues even before they become apparent. Knowing beforehand the foundation issues you might need to take care of one day could save you a lot of money in the future. To schedule a free foundation estimate with our professionals, fill out our online form or give us a call at 713-597-3809!