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A Response to NYTimes: “Shifting Soil Threatens Homes’ Foundations”

March 5, 2010

in Expansive Soil, Foundation Problems, Foundation Repair, Foundation Repair Costs

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The New York Times

On March 4th the New York Times published an article about the foundation repair industry titled “Shifting Soil Threatens Homes’ Foundations”. The article points out that the foundation repair industry has grown even throughout the recession as more and more home owners have been faced with problems caused by expansive soil (read more about expansive soil in Central Texas).

The Article states:

Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association indicates that since the 1990s there has been an accelerating trend nationwide toward more extended dry periods followed by downpours. Whether due to random climate patterns or global warming, the swings between hot and dry weather and severe rain or snow have profoundly affected soil underneath buildings.

Clay soils, like those beneath the houses of Mr. Derse and Ms. Wilson, shrink during droughts and swell during floods, causing structures to bob. And because sandier soil loses its adhesive properties in dry conditions, it pulls away from foundations. Heavy rains cause it to shift or just collapse beneath structures. With both kinds of soil, such sinking, called subsidence, usually happens gradually, said Randall Orndorff, a geologist with the United States Geologic Survey. But, he said, “swinging from very wet to extremely dry weather like we’ve been seeing lately in many parts of the country may be accelerating the effect.”

While the author questions whether foundation problems are caused by global warming (this of course is an entirely different debate which we will not elaborate upon), she does provide an excellent explanation of how foundation problems occur. The soils in Texas are especially subject to these characteristics, thus the large amount of foundation repair companies that can be found in Texas.

The article also discusses the cost of foundation repair to homeowners and estimates that around $4 billion dollars a year are spent repairing foundations, a much more conservative figure than the $12.5 billion purported by the Foundation Repair Association. Regardless, foundation repair is a multi-billion dollar industry which people often tend to ignore until they see the signs of foundation problems.

The author also points out, “Subsidence is not covered by most homeowners’ insurance policies in the United States.” This topic has already been covered by Superior Foundation Repair in a previous blog post and readers should be aware of this fact already (read about insurance and foundation repair).

Another aspect covered in the article is proper techniques for maintaining a healthy foundation.

Landscaping should, as a rule, be installed so that water slopes away from the house and gutters should discharge at least five feet from the house to avoid oversaturating the soil. (read more about landscaping and home foundations) During droughts, experts recommend placing soaker hoses around the perimeter of the house and turning them on for 30 minutes a day. “The idea is to maintain a constant amount of moisture in the soil,” said Tom Witherspoon, a foundation engineer in Dallas. “If you can do that, your house will never move.” (read more about maintaining a healthy foundation)

Among other things there are a few personal stories mixed in with the article which highlight the hardships endured by various families who have dealt with foundation problems.

The article makes some good points about the foundation repair industry and the severity of problems caused by expansive soil throughout the United States, even if the article is loosely based around the idea that climate change may be the cause of foundation problems. However, the author also brings into question whether or not poor construction habits, the increase in new homes, or the availability of good quality soil have contributed to the increase in foundation problems across America. In all the article is an excellent read for anyone interested in understanding foundation repair and how it affects families.