Chicago Drought May Cause Foundation Cracks, Wet Basements
OK, it’s hot. In fact, the first six months of 2012 just set a record as the warmest January-to-June in the 48 contiguous states – and July has been hotter still.
And, it’s dry. Those same first six months of 2012 are tracking on the weather graph right along with 1962, the Chicago area’s driest year in history.
At least your basement’s not leaking, right? Of course, we all know it will start raining at some point and all those unrepaired seepage problems will return. But, did you know that the same hot, dry weather that is keeping your basement dry at the moment is also affecting the soil around your home in ways that could make your foundation shift and crack?
All over the land mass on the western shore of Lake Michigan, including the Chicago and Milwaukee areas and northwest Indiana, our soil is composed mainly of clay. This comes as no surprise to anyone who’s ever dug a posthole or a footing for a deck. This clay soil is normally very moist and elastic and is called an “expansive” soil by scientists who study that stuff, meaning that it expands when moisture is added.
This soil expansion is one thing that causes foundation cracks; the other major cause is the exact opposite, which I'll discuss below.
What’s Happening to the Soil around My Foundation?
In times of high heat and low rainfall, such as we are now experiencing, moisture is removed from the soil in a process called "soil desiccation." Surprisingly, it’s not mainly the hot, dry conditions that suck the moisture directly from the soil – most of it is done by the trees and plants that surround our homes. In a desperate effort to survive during these droughts, trees and plants send their root systems deeper and wider to pull as much water from the ground as possible.
When moisture is extracted from the ground, the soil particles move closer together, causing the mass of earth to shrink. When this occurs, soil pulls away from your foundation, allowing walls to shift outward and for cracks to begin or grow larger.
Even if this soil movement doesn’t cause cracks, it does create gaps around your foundation -- openings for water to find its way into your basement. The first heavy rains at the end of this dry period are likely to bring some major surprises to homeowners who have been putting off basement repairs and to those whose basements have always been dry.
Is There Anything I Can Do to Prevent a Major Water Problem?
Funny you should ask. At the risk of sounding too much like a salesman, I’ll tell you that the best thing you can do is to fix the problem before it starts. If you already know that you have seepage problems in your basement, they’re only going to be worse when the weather changes and the amount of water that infiltrates your basement may do significant damage. If you suspect that the recent hot, dry spell may have caused damage to your foundation, it’s a good idea to get the advice of an experienced basement waterproofing professional who can perform seepage tests around your home.
If you repair cracks, install drain tile or stabilize your foundation now, you’ll be sitting pretty -- pretty dry, that is -- when your neighbors are desperately looking for help. You wouldn’t wait until the dead of winter to replace a broken furnace or the heat of summer to fix your air-conditioning, so why wait for the rainy season to fix your basement seepage problems?
We have over 300,000 dry basements to our credit at U.S. Waterproofing and, since our founding in 1957, we have helped homeowners in Chicagoland, southeastern Wisconsin and northwest Indiana ensure that, regardless of the weather, their homes are dry, safe and healthy. If you agree that it’s foolish to postpone the inevitable, why not ask us for a free consultation?
Wondering if the next heavy rain is going to create problems in your basement? Describe your situation in the Comments box below and we’ll help you figure it out.