Stratum Foundation Repair
Stratum’s maintenance recommendations follow the guidelines laid out by the National Foundation Repair Association (NFRA).
Foundation repair costs are estimated to be around 12.5 billion every year. Poor maintenance is the most common culprit when it comes to foundation problems, most of which can be prevented. These recommendations will help reduce settlement and allow the grade beams to support the home as intended. Since most foundation repairs are still dependent on the soil under the grade beam for stabilization, it is still important to address these foundation maintenance recommendations to prevent future problems.
These categories cover the most common areas that need to be addressed to reduce the amount of settlement before and after any repairs are made to minimize the stress on the slab and structure above it.
Slope MaintenanceLearn More
We will assume that structure was built above the surrounding terrain to allow for proper drainage away from it. However, it is the responsibility of the homeowner to maintain these positive drainage conditions. The reason behind these slopes is to prevent water from sitting or ponding near the structure, which would create inconsistent fluctuations around the perimeter grade beam. It is therefore recommended to keep a regular eye on the perimeter to spot any ponding water, if spotted one should have their property re-contoured to produce a positive slope away from the structure. If a proper slope can’t be achieved, please take note of the category about sub-surface drainage.
DIY Homeowners can and should periodically compact the perimeter area by stomping it with a heavy material such as a 4 “x4 ” piece of wood. This process works best after the ground has been dampened by either rainfall or by a drip line. More soil can be added to maintain that slope away from the slab. One should use soil that is made up of clay, not sand, water will run off instead staying in inconsistent puddles.
One should aim for at least a 5% slope for the first 5 feet away from the foundation or a 3″ drop in that amount of distance and then taper off to 1% from there. One should use a ground cover, like mulch or gravel, to help prevent erosion and to lower the amount of times you need to perform this maintenance throughout the year.
Flat WorkLearn More
Flat work, or sidewalks and patios, present the benefit of preventing evaporation and lessen the fluctuation of water seeping under the slab. Therefore, one should regularly inspect the concrete flat work. Even if your home is brand new, the most important time period is within the first five years. This is the period where the most settlement can happen.
If and when the flat work tilts, one should re-pour or re-level to correct the negative slope. If the slope takes within 1% it would only be important to seal all cracks and entrances to the soil below to prevent water seeping under the slab. One should use a urethane sealant that will be flexible without letting water pass through it. We are also talking about the barrier that would be found in between the flat work and slab, which should be replaces regularly.
Flower BedsLearn More
Your typical landscaper will recommend using peat, bark, sandy loam and other planting substances that can increase the moisture levels above what’s recommended. Therefore, One should have systems in place that allow for the removal of extra water. This is the least popular topic since most homeowners would rather pass on good engineering for something that is more aesthetically pleasing. We recommend a balance between the two that will prevent further damage to the load bearing soil.
The most common problem with flower beds is found at the barrier where water has been trapped inside the flower bed and not allowed to run-off. If a barrier is installed, we recommend that adequete openings be placed to allow this passage to water. The next problem is the choice in shrubs. Shrubs planted around the structure should be chosen for their short and very contained root growth. Recommendations for shrubs with such root systems can be found from your local nursery.
Gutters & DownspoutsLearn More
Gutters are an essential tool used to help prevent soil erosion and low spots that cause water pool near the slab. They should be installed all the way around the home. Those gutters should then be checked once in the spring and again in the fall. The gutter should be checked for debris and rust. Gutters that have trees nearby will have to be cleaned out more often.
Just like the slope of the soil, the slope of the gutters should be checked as well, poor slope can render the gutter useless or accelerate the rate of rust. Gutters should installed with a slope at least 1″ for every eight feet in distance. Any piece of gutter that is more than 35′ long should be fitted and sloped to drain both directions or have downspouts that are spaced roughly or less than 20′.
One can check the slope of a gutter easily by using a garden hose or pour a bucket of water into it. The gutter should then be adjusted accordingly to correct any spots that prevent the flow of water. For downspouts that are clogged, the elbow can be removed for cleaning, but it may be necessary to use a plumber’s snake or similar device to clean the downspout.
Downspouts should be equipped with an extender to allow water to be discharged no closer than 5′ from the foundation. If dirt is present at the exit and erosion could potentially be a problem, splash blocks can be placed at the discharge point to prevent those problems. We use these extenders to remove this unwanted water from the perimeter of the foundation. Erosion can cause inconsistent sloping and therefore become a problem for the soil that is supporting the grade beam.
Sub Surface DrainsLearn More
Sub-surface drains are used when obstacles make is impossible for water to drain at the surface. The great thing about sub-surface drains is that if they are installed correctly they will need very minimal maintenance. Really the only thing and the most important is to inspect the inlets, outlets or coverings to make sure nothing is keeping water from passing through the drain.
Entrances and exits should be checked every 6 months to check for leaves, grass, soil or other things that can clog and obstruct the drain to keep it from moving water away from the structure. At the exit dirt can build over time and it may be required to remove this dirt as it fills up over time to assure proper slope. The use of a mechanical cleaning snake may be required if something in the middle of the drain becomes clogged, which can be checked be using a hose at the top of the drain to check to see if it’s coming out at the same rate at the bottom.
One must be careful when driving heavy trucks across the surface of where a pipe is located, as it can cause the pipe to crush. This would reduce the flow of water and cause dirt to build up within the pipe, blocking the flow of water completely. Over time your yard can settle which would also cause the pipe to crush, thus it’s important to check the flow every so often. This would be more of a problem if clay piping is used instead of PVC. To fix a problem like this one would need to excavate and replace the drain at the required point, messing up the lawn and potentially messing with the slope of the yard.
If there ever comes a point where corrective actions need to take place, it would be important to know where clean-outs and the discharge lines are located. During installation draw a map of such things and keep in a safe place for future purposes.
Capillary / French DrainsLearn More
Capillary drains are used to collect the subsurface moisture and move it away from the home. Many times these are used when the slope does not allow for adequate removal, in these cases it’s necessary for one to install what is called a sump and pump to collect this excess water and force move it up and away to a shallow drain line.
As with the rest of these maintenance devices, it will be important to check the working condition of these pumps and drains every 6 months to clear any debris that might block the pump and to check to make sure the pump itself is working. These sub-surface pumps are prone to malfunction and unless there is an alarm system, it will be very hard to assess the condition. If you decide to put a cover over the sump well then it will be even harder as you won’t be able to visually inspect the pump, but debris will be less likely to cause any blockage. Therefore, the installation of the previous mentioned alarm is recommended. This will help give a warning to the homeowner to prevent any intrusion of water into the home or under the slab.
Clean-outs should be installed along the discharge lines to allow for any obstructions to be removed by the use of water jetting or a mechanical cleaning snake. Since every systems effectiveness can’t be accessed until it’s in use and the problems each one might encounter, it is important to to regularly backwash the system from the end and/or at the sump at least once every two years. You will know if this is working any can adjust how often by the amount of debris you see removed by the backwash on the other end.
Capillary drains can and are used sometimes as moisture barriers along the perimeter of a home, these barriers are used to remove excess water and stabilize the heaving of the soil near the grade beam of the foundation. This includes the insertion of an impermeable material barrier drain pipe that is can be installed under flower beds. Because of this it is important for homeowners to be careful with any planting action that can puncture the material. When this damage happens one might need to patch the hole with something that will help maintain the structural integrity of that barrier.
Irrigation/Sprinkler SystemsLearn More
Watering of lawns and house perimeters must be regulated to maintain consistent moisture content under the foundation. Therefore, allowances for shrubs, plants and trees must be regulated for each segment of the yard. It is advisable that watering along foundation perimeters should be on a maintenance basis in corroboration with seasonal needs. This should be in conjunction with plant and tree requirements so that added water will not be siphoned from under the foundation.
Soil Shrinkage Due to Moisture Removal By Roots DiagramSeasonal monitoring will necessitate different watering for the sides that receive added and hotter sunlight (south and west sides), which increases evaporation. This monitoring will also take into consideration time of day for watering. Most authorities recommend early morning watering so that less evaporation will occur.
It must be understood that over watering can be just as damaging to the foundation as under watering. If an electronic sprinkler system is installed, each of the factors listed above must be incorporated into the sequence and timing. Visual observations must also be included in the process to make adjustments beyond the capacity of normal programming.
A variety of watering heads and systems are on the market that can be customized to a homeowner’s needs. There are bubble sprays, side sprays or angle sprays that discharge from riser heads or pop-ups and can be mixed to provide complete coverage. Where evaporation is a concern, however, a drip system will provide necessary watering very efficiently. A close inspection of the ground surface is necessary to ensure appropriate volumes and consistency. The goal is to keep the soil near and under the foundation a consistent moisture (neither wet and/or muddy nor dry and cracked).
An inspection of the sprinkler system should be performed at least twice a year to determine if zones are functioning properly and if heads are improperly discharging/broken or if leaks have occurred that will provide uneven watering. This will, in the case of electronic watering systems, require running through the system to determine if times, duration and frequency have been maintained.
Vegetation & TreesLearn More
Studies from England and the United States have proven conclusively that trees can cause damage to foundation stability and in more severe cases complete foundation failure. Engineering studies map the effect of moisture withdrawal, which can severely damage a slab- on-grade foundation and cause movement in a pier and beam foundation system.” Even when the perimeter of slab has been underpinned, the interior slab will often deform as moisture migrates to the perimeter as a result of root capillary action.
Planting of shrubs, flowers and trees should be with the understanding of mature growth. Since additional moisture withdrawal will occur, distance and watering patterns must be planned. If distance away from the foundation cannot be maintained, root barriers may be necessary to reduce and/or eliminate penetration under the slab and subsequent moisture withdrawal during times of drought. The depth of this barrier may vary according to tree or plant root expectations. These barriers, if properly constructed, can also serve as a moisture barrier, which will add stability to moisture contents under the foundation. Several agriculture agencies have material available which provides projected root and moisture requirements for different types of vegetation.
Trees should not be planted closer to the foundation than approximately the mature height of the tree. Some studies also indicate the tree limbs should not invade the footprint of the house at maturity. There is a variance with different types of trees that will necessitate their planting even further away. If the proper distance cannot be maintained, it may be necessary to install a root barrier to reduce the risk of future problems. Pruning of tree branches so that they do not extend over the structure .can . also be an effective way to limit root growth under the foundation.
The plants should fit the environment. In areas where droughts frequently occur, it may be necessary to substitute drought resistant plants and trees to incur less action on the foundation and provide easier maintenance of the foliage.
Plumbing LeaksLearn More
Leaks in water and sewer lines will change the soil equilibrium under a foundation and can lead to differential movement/damage. Therefore, it is necessary to recognize signs that indicate problems exist.
If sewer lines are frequently stopped-up and roots are observed when clean-out rooters are used, a sewer test should be conducted to determine the presence and location of the break. Repair of a break should be made immediately to avoid damage and future problems.
If abnormal- water bills indicate a sudden surge in water usage, wet spots occur that can- not be explained or the owner should hear the sound of water running in a bathroom (note: The bathroom nearest the water supply line will provide the best indication of a water leak), a test of the pressure lines should be conducted. If leaks are found, they should be repaired immediately.
If hot spots occur in the floor or unexplained water should pool, it is a good idea to call a plumber. Catching leaks early will many times avoid extensive foundation damage that may be very difficult to repair.
Plumbing Leak RepairsLearn More
Leaks will often occur under a slab-on-grade foundation that require breakout of a segment of the slab to gain entry and repair the plumbing. Care should be taken to perform proper compaction of the soil when repairs have been completed. This will require adequate moisture in the utilized soil and compaction of layers no thicker than 3″ to restore soil bearing to as it existed prior to excavation. The vapor barrier should be repaired with plastic and a bonding material to provide a vertical moisture stop from vertical capillary action or water migration that may enter the living space.
Even in the case of post tensioned slabs, a minimum of #3 reinforcing steel bars, at a spacing of 12″ on center, should be utilized by drilling into the existing slab horizontally and epoxying the reinforcing steel bars to provide integrity. A bonding agent should be utilized at the edges to provide the necessary bonded joint between existing and newly placed concrete. It is normally advisable to install a moisture shield at the surface to prevent migration of water through the concrete. This same procedure should be employed if it was necessary to break through a grade beam to repair a plumbing line except that non-shrink grout or epoxy concrete should be used to remold the beam.
Reinforcing Steel ExposureLearn More
Many times concrete will blister or peel along the grade beam and reveal post tensioning cable ends or conventional reinforcing steel bars. If left unprotected, corrosion will slowly reduce the originally intended strength of these reinforcing steel members. Therefore, it may be necessary to properly clean the steel and remove all bond and then install an epoxy grout or non-shrink grout to build back the beam and protect reinforcement. In more severe situations, it may be necessary to drill and epoxy reinforcement dowels/ stirrups to build out the grade beam and provide adequate coverage of the reinforcing steel.
Brick, Rock Or Cladding CracksLearn More
Movement, weathering and freeze damage will often times create cracking in the brick veneer or mortar that will allow passage of moisture into the vulnerable wall material. Because this will often lead to deterioration of wood members, it is advisable to seal these cracks with a urethane, mortar or caulk that will prohibit weathering problems. Where obvious structural problems are visible such a lateral displacement of veneer, lateral shields or other retainers will be required to prevent additional movement damage.
Vent CoversLearn More
The original purpose of vent covers is to provide adequate circulation of air under the floor of a pier and beam foundation so that moisture will not build up and cause deterioration of wood members. Although coverage of these vents will save money in reducing heating bills, it will often provide the unwanted environment for wood rot. Therefore, it is not advised that these covers be utilized unless other means of air circulation are available such as a sub floor vent fan(s). Recent revelations of houses where the growth of bacteria was so invasive and so deadly that the houses could not be salvaged, have led to anew examination of detection and prevention of such growth.
Animal DamageLearn More
Dogs, skunks, armadillos, snakes etc. will many times burrow under a slab or pier and beam foundation. This will undermine the bearing soil and may provide entry for water that was not possible prior to the excavation. Therefore, it is necessary to back fill the segment and/or place an impenetrable shield to prevent further entry. It is also important to restore positive drainage to prevent foundation moisture instability.
Termite DamageLearn More
Wood should not touch the ground at any place near a foundation. This will only invite termites and provide avenues for their passage to more appetizing segments of the structure. Therefore, the homeowner should take care to avoid laying, placing or constructing wood that engages the ground. This includes removal of any wood pieces that may exist in the crawl space of a pier and beam foundation. When you add moisture to wood on the ground, you provide a perfect environment for growth of termites and other wood eating insects.
Interior DoorsLearn More
It is a known fact that most slab-on-grade foundations will move differentially, which can cause misalignment of interior doors. Therefore, some flexibility in the fit of the doors will reduce the inconvenience of this movement.
Interior doors should have a minimum 1/8″ to 3/16″ clearance between the top and side with the frame. This will allow some seasonal movement prior to sticking. It is also a good idea to provide adequate clearance off the carpet or floor to further buffer movement and allow for different heights of carpet and/or flooring.