Texas Foundation Repair and Soaker Hoses

There is a lot of smoke and mirrors behind watering your foundation with soaker hoses. First let’s review the background related to using soaker hoses as a form of foundation repair.

It has been well established that foundation failures and foundation repairs are widespread, especially in the State of Texas. Many experts claim that in most cases foundation failures are the result of an unregulated building industry, unskilled labor and builders cutting corners for the sake of higher profits or pure ignorance. For all those who live in a home built by a tract home builder this will not come as a surprise.

In recent years numerous experts around Texas have testified extensively about the increasing problem of home builders cutting cost corners and that the homes foundation is the first example given. It has also been acknowledged by engineers that home foundations are being designed to less stringent standards in order to build them cheaper. This lack of quality control has lead to unprecedented foundation repair work being needed.

Because of widespread homeowner complaints describing foundation failures, the American Society of Engineers (ASCE) asked for comments and recommendations from engineers across Texas. The consensus of those engineers who participated was to improve foundations by designing stiffer slabs. The results were astounding; the recommended guideline changes would increase foundation strength by 27% at an estimated cost of only a $1,000 for a 2,500 square foot one story home.

However, the disgraceful response by the building industry, to its critics, is that homeowners have a maintenance responsibility to “water their foundations” to protect the structural integrity of their homes. As if watering a foundation replaces sound engineering.

At a Texas building standards public hearing, a committee member described how homeowners are instructed by builders to put a soaker hose around the perimeter of the home, and never turn it off in order to keep the foundation from cracking, and to keep it stable. He then asked how much water was needed to maintain a foundation. The well respected engineer responded; you cannot maintain a foundation by watering because “you can never water enough.”

The engineer went on to say that the cost of water over even a relatively short period of time would far exceed the cost of the $1,000 needed to stiffen the foundation significantly when it is initially built.

So finally we have it on good authority that the excuse for foundation failures caused by too much rain, lack of rain or trees is a fairy tale, and that these so called “Acts of God” are really acts of man in order to increase builder profits. Remember the Texas Home Builders Association has a very large lobbyist organization in Austin.

Texas has highly expansive soils, as well as many other states however, no other place but Texas are homeowners instructed to “water their foundations.” Other states officials and foundation experts laugh when they hear that in Texas homeowners are blamed for foundation repair issues because they didn’t properly water their foundations. The solution to expansive soil problems is to properly engineer foundations to withstand the adverse effects of expansive soil. This can be accomplished during construction as well as after construction is complete by trained professionals under the guidance of independent foundation engineers.

In the meantime, if nothing is done, new homebuyers are at risk, and the new home foundation problem will continue to worsen while builder profits take priority. While continuing down this road will make the new home building and foundation repair industries very profitable, the consumer will suffer.

One solution for existing homes, that are having foundation problems, is to have proper foundation repairs done by trained professionals. There are several foundation repair methods that will solve current problems and they all have certain things in common.

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The Usefulness of Foundation Elevations

Some inspectors, engineers and foundation leveling companies use the elevation readings of the surface of a foundation to “determine” if a foundation has suffered differential movements or if a foundation needs “leveling”. A reading of the elevations of the surface of a foundation does not determine if the foundation has moved differentially. “Movement” is a function of time.

Movement is a change is position over a change in time. The taking of the elevations of the surface of the foundation can only define the configuration of the foundation at the time the readings were taken. The only way anyone can convince that your foundation has moved differentially based on a single set of elevation readings is if that person can convince you that the foundation of the structure was completely “flat” when the foundation was constructed.

No foundation is completely “flat” when it is constructed. If you don’t want to take my word for that just drive through any new subdivision after it rains and note that water stands on different areas of the foundation. That means that the foundation cannot be “flat” or “level”. It is true that flooring companies are supposed to cosmetically “level” the surface of the foundation before installing the floor covering materials but, that just really doesn’t happen.

If you want to determine if your foundation is moving differentially you will never to have the elevations of the foundation surfaces taken on more than one occasion over a period of time. You should wait until the weather conditions change. For example, if the weather has been dry, you should wait until after the ground is wet from several rains. This will give you the best chance for the changes in the elevations of the foundation to occur, if your foundation is moving differentially.

You should also know that the instruments used commonly by most inspectors, engineers and foundation leveling contractors are not all that accurate, that they require calibration fairly often and/or that they require some skill in use. Elevation readings should be taken in areas out of normal walking areas and the location of each reading should be taken in a place that can be fairly easily determined so that the elevation readings are taken at the same spot each time. The experts in measuring elevations are land surveyors. If you really want good elevation readings on the surfaces of your foundation, you should employ a land surveyor to take the elevation readings.

Generally, if the foundation of a structure is in need of leveling, you don’t need a professional to tell you that the foundation needs leveling. You will know it because you are walking up and down hill, your coffee cup won’t stay on the breakfast table, you keep rolling out of bed or the neighborhood kids skate board in your living room. If someone has to go to the extent to use measurements to determine that differences exist in the surface elevations of the foundation and you cannot feel the differences in the elevations as you walk through the house, what difference will “leveling” the foundation make?

Many “professionals” are of the opinion that all cracks in wall covering materials, out of square door frames, out of square windows, etc. are caused by differential foundation movements. In my experience with foundations, which spans over 40 years, only a small percentage of the wall cracks found in structures are caused by differential foundation movements. Most cracks, out of square door and window frames are caused by structural framing problems. But framing problems are harder to find, to understand and to explain to clients than it is to just assume that all problems are caused by differential foundation movements.

The performance of a foundation can only be determined during a real estate inspection or during a single inspection of a foundation by observing the performance of the superstructure and by observing the slopes in the surface of the foundation. If the foundation is not noticeably sloping and there are cracks in the wall covering materials, out of square door frames, out of square window frames, etc. then you should suspect that the problem lies in the framing. If the flooring of the second story sags and the surface of the foundation on the first story is relatively “flat”, you should suspect a defect or defects in the wall and second story floor framing system.

Differential foundation movements, unless extreme, do little actual damage to the framing of a house. After all, how many houses have you seen fall down from differential foundation movements? You should also understand that foundations were not designed to be “leveled”. “Leveling” of a foundation should only be performed when other means of controlling actual differential foundation movements fail and the slopes in the surface of the foundation are so severe that living in the house becomes uncomfortable

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