How a Drought Can Wreak Havoc on Your Home’s Foundation

Marwa Hasan
Written by Marwa Hasan
Updated December 17, 2021
suburban home in desert area
Photo: soupstock / Adobe Stock

Highlights

  • When drought happens, the soil shrinks, making gaps in the ground.

  • The foundation often settles in the new gaps due to gravity.

  • Watch out for signs of cracking or sloping and treat them ASAP to prevent costly foundation repairs.

  • Staying vigilant can save the foundation of your home from the impact of a drought.

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If your area is experiencing a drought, it can affect many aspects of your daily life. However, you may not realize that it can have some devastating effects on your home, too. Extremely dry weather can lead to infrastructure and foundation damage, among other issues. 

Knowledge is power, though, so being aware of the effects a drought can have on your home can help you keep an eye out and implement fixes sooner rather than later.

How Does a Drought Affect Soil?

The soil underneath your home's foundation comes in different types, and each reacts differently to various weather conditions. The three basic categories of soil based on size and mineral composition are sand, silt, and clay. Usually, the soil beneath your house will be a mixture of the three. 

If the soil is high in sand, the rain will drain through easily. However, water gets trapped within the granule when soil is mostly clay. When clay-heavy soil expands and fills up with rainwater, it becomes what is known as expansive soil. 

Expansive soil can be problematic since it can swell and grow when moisture changes. This type of soil can also shrink when a drought is present, causing problems with your foundation.

How Do Soil Changes During Droughts Affect Your Home’s Foundation?

After long periods without rain, the water within clay evaporates, causing soil shrinkage. Over time, the gravity will push the weight of your home down to fit into the new gaps, causing uneven foundation settling and possibly damage.

While some settling is normal, a drought can make these changes happen much faster and negatively affect your foundation without proper support. If soil compaction is severe, this can result in a noticeable slope on one side of the structure, which can make a huge impact on the stability of your home and its foundation. 

5 Signs of Drought Foundation Problems

If your area is experiencing uncommonly dry weather and your home shows signs of drought stress, you may have a case of foundation damage. By understanding the changes happening underground, you'll be able to tell when you notice signs that your home is settling.

It's important to inspect your home regularly to check for damage and address any issues before they progress beyond repair. These are some common signs your home suffers from foundation problems due to drought.

1. Cracks

These can manifest in many ways. Look out for any visible cracks on the wall, the brickwork, or the house’s siding. You may also notice cracks in tiles, stucco, or drywall. The cracks can also show in the sidewalk, driveways, and patios around the house, so keep any out when you go outside. Speaking of, you may also notice cracks or movement in your chimney.

2. Uneven and Sloping Floors

Although it's not easy to spot, sloping floors or splits are signs that your foundation is settling. If you suspect that the floor is uneven, look for cracks in the basement floors or ceilings. 

You can also conduct a quick check with the marble test: place a marble in the middle of the floor and see if it rolls to one side. This test isn’t a perfect system, but it can give you an idea of any potential issues. You can also break out a bubble level.

3. Dry Soil 

someone watering soil on property
Photo: kolyadzinskaya / Adobe Stock

Walk around your house and see if you notice any gaps between the soil and the bottom of the concrete foundation. If you find signs of shrinkage, there are some things you can do to try to prevent it from getting worse, such as gentle watering. 

4. Windows and Doors

If doors and windows are stuck or don't align properly in their frames, these are signs that your foundation is affected by drought.

5. Broken Pipes

Foundation issues during droughts can also lead to broken pipes. Not only can this be a sign of foundation issues, but it can also lead to additional problems with your plumbing.

Be sure to regularly inspect your home's foundation for signs of damage, even small indicators of drought stress can accumulate into significant damage. 

Call a foundation repair specialist right away if you notice any of the signs of foundation issues related to drought.

What Happens to Your Foundation After the Drought Ends?

When the drought ends, and rain starts pouring after a long time, this can be bad too. 

The expansive soil will absorb the water and can swell quickly in a short time. This rapid change in the soil can push your foundation up—not always evenly– and even cause flooding in your basement.

How to Protect Your House From Drought Damage 

Droughts can happen almost anywhere and can lead to many different issues, so it’s better to understand the risk in advance. 

The cost of foundation repairs can reach $100,000 or more, and homeowners’ insurance doesn’t often cover these costs. Being proactive about your home and taking measures to prevent foundation issues can help you protect your home and avoid thousands of dollars of damage. 

These are some protective measures you can take:

  • Water soil: Prevent drought soil shrinkage by hydrating the ground around your foundation using a soaker hose. Be careful not to flood the earth. Gentle watering throughout the day will prevent soil from shrinking.

  • Plant trees away from your foundation: Tree roots compete for water during dry periods and affect the foundation if they are close to the house.

  • Guard the foundation: The right structural solution can secure your house and preserve your investment. 

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