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Drought-damaged foundations

This year’s unprecedented drought created problems for homeowners across the country, with headaches hitting the midwest especially hard.

After a severe drought year, homeowners should keep an eye out for changes in the foundation, walls and ceilings of their homes and act quickly to avoid serious damage and costly repairs in the future, says Michael E. Goldschmidt, University of Missouri Extension specialist in housing and environmental design.

Missouri’s clay soil, known for expanding and contracting as moisture increases or decreases, make homes in the area particularly susceptible to foundation shifts and cracking, he said. Older home foundations of stone or concrete generally were built without rebar reinforcements, making them more prone to damage.

“When we went through this unprecedented drought, the soil moved,” he said. As a result, the foundation of the home may pull away from the soil. Basements, crawl spaces and slabs may all be affected.

"These gaps can allow air to dry the soil under your home's foundation, which may stress the concrete enough to cause cracking," says Ken Hellevang, North Dakota State University Extension Service agricultural engineer. "One way to minimize this problem is to wet the soil around the foundation during extended dry periods if the soil is pulling away from the basement wall," he advises.

Homeowners may see cracks in their drywall and molding, or find doors and windows hard to open as a result of shifting. Nails may even pop out, and homeowners may hear noises as the house shifts. Visible signs of damage on the inside of a home generally are indicators of bigger problems in the foundation.

Goldschmidt said small cracks can often be repaired by waterproofing the inside foundation with a special coating available at home-improvement stores and lumberyards. If the crack is substantial, Goldschmidt urges homeowners to contact a basement and foundation repair professional immediately.

If foundation damage isn’t repaired quickly, a minor problem can turn into a major one, with repairs costing as much as $15-20,000 for an average home. “It is better to have an expert look at it before trying to do repairs yourself,” Goldschmidt said.

With severe spring rains typical for much of the midwest, homeowners should act now to avoid the potential harm caused by pressure on the foundation.

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