Insurance and Finance

Protecting Your Foundation from Shifting Soil

By Lisa Martin 6.8.15

Blame Texas’ notoriously elastic clay soil. It swells when waterlogged and shrivels and hardens in the punishing heat. As it expands and contracts, your slab moves. As a result, our foundations rise and fall or settle, shrink, and shift. Eventually, your home may begin to separate from its foundation. 

Depending on where in Texas you are, your soil may be clay, sand, or a mix of the two. But there are other conditions that exacerbate our foundation issues. Between drought conditions and small earthquakes, Texas’ foundations have been under a lot of pressure. So how do you prevent foundation damage, and recognize it when you see it? 

Shaken Up

Two major fault lines — the Balcones and the Ouachita Tectonic — run through Central and Northeast Texas, while the Barnett Shale — the largest natural gas reservoir in the country — spans a dozen counties centered around Fort Worth.

A new study by Cliff Frohlich, Ph.D. of the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas, reveals that the number of small earthquakes near gas drilling sites has surged significantly. So while 2009 saw a total of 17 minor earthquakes in the metroplex, there were six in June 2012 alone, including one quake responsible for $100,000 damage to the Boy Scout Museum in Irving.

According to Dr. Frohlich, even an earthquake measuring less than 1.5 on the Richter scale — a level most people won’t even feel — has the potential to harm homes by placing extra stress on foundations. It pays to be extra wary, especially during the summer. Here are sure signs you’ve got a problem. 

Signs of Damage

Many hairline cracks in drywall result from concrete curing or minor structural settling — those are normal and no cause to panic. But if you see evidence that your home has separated from its foundation, you might have a more serious issue on your hands. Call an inspector if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Uneven floors.
  • Fractures or fissures in a home’s brick siding.
  • Cracks in drywall, floor tiles, or ceiling.
  • Doors and windows that “stick” or refuse to close properly.
  • Bubbling, peeling, or stained wallpaper.
  • Walls that are separating from the house.
  • Leaks in a relatively new roof.
  • Gaps between the garage door and the pavement.
  • Cabinet doors that won’t remain shut.
  • Air leaks around the fireplace.

Safeguarding Your Slab

Especially during the summer, it’s important to take steps to prevent foundation. Most foundation repairs range between $3,000 and $7,500 per occurrence. And while most property insurance policies cover perils including windstorm, hurricane, hail, fire, and lightning, among others, foundation damage doesn’t usually apply.

“It doesn’t cover normal settlement or cracking,” says Paxton Hurst, a Texas Farm Bureau Insurance agency manager in Denton, since “what typically causes those things is fluctuation in the soil.” Save yourself a hefty bill by taking these precautions: 

  • Hydration. Water with a soaker hose positioned a foot or two away from your slab, about as often as you water your lawn. In the heat of summer, 15 minutes in the late afternoon or early evening should do it; just check with your local water authority on water use restrictions.
  • Drainage. Make sure water always drains away from the foundation. After the first summer rainstorm, check for any pooling or ponding of the rainwater; you may have to regrade the area if there is.
  • Sealing cracks. Hairline cracks in your slab are as common as fire ants in these parts, but that doesn’t mean you should simply accept or ignore them. Fill cracks with epoxy or face a potential insect invasion.
  • Water hogs. Trees and shrubs situated too close to the house can leach water, causing dry soil to shift. (One live oak can suck 250 gallons of water out of the ground each day!) Before you chop, try installing a root barrier. Just be sure to dial 811 or visit before putting shovel to dirt; a professional will come out within 48 hours to show you where it’s safe to dig.
  • Mulching. Mulch can keep moisture levels higher and evener than bare soil or grass.
  • Photographic evidence. At the start of summer, snap a picture on your smartphone of any suspicious cracks inside or out, then go back in the fall and repeat. If you note a worrisome change, you might want to consult a foundation repair pro.

Not sure what your property insurance policy covers? Call your local Texas Farm Bureau Insurance Agent today to discuss your coverage and policy options, and learn more here about how to protect your home from the elements.

Coverage and discounts are subject to qualifications and policy terms and may vary by situation. © 2015 Texas Farm Bureau Insurance