If you are new to North Central Texas you may have never seen soil quite like this. Known locally as Black Gumbo, this clay soil has a Jekyll and Hyde personality. In the fall, winter and spring it can be tolerable even though it will stick to everything that it touches it. But dry summers will change its personality. It can create cracks in the ground large enough to swallow small animals. Break it up into small pieces and it become a weapon of mass destruction…. throw a clod at some one and you can easily put some ones eye out (as my mom would say). I have never met a shovel that liked it. The weapon of choice to dig in black gumbo? A Pic.
With all that said, what does that have to do with home foundations you ask? A lot; the properties of this soil allows it to shrink more than 15%. For this reason, the soil surrounding the foundation can easily pull away and leave it un supported or cause footings to permanently move. Because of these characteristics, foundation repairing is a big business in Texas.
The two most common foundations are pier and beam and post tension slab foundations. Both can be repaired but slab foundations tend to be the ones with the most dramatic problems. If foundation concerns are not addressed BEFORE they start, it can cost 10’s of thousands of dollars to repair them. To protect your foundation (regardless of the types mentioned), you must water your foundation. Even though most sprinkler systems will help, most were designed to spray water away from the house. To complicate it further, many cities are enforcing landscape watering restrictions. Probably the most important fact associated with watering foundations is to do it 12 months a year. It is very import to maintain a constant moisture content to retain soil consistency. Even if you only have minor issue (sticking doors, squeaky floors), managing the porosity of soil will even out the issues for a more stable foundation.
How to Water a Foundation: There are several methods.
- Hand Watering: I dont recommend this method, but it can work. It can be difficult to consistently apply the same amount of water around the entire foundation with a systematic approach.
- Soaker Hoses: By far the most popular, “soaker hoses”, are easily attached to water outlet and draped around the foundation of the house. These come in 25 and 50 foot length and can be connected in series. Try to place them within about 6 inches of the foundation. (TIP:Keep bare landscaped areas covered with a natural mulch (pine or hardwood bark, etc) This too will assist in retaining the moisture content around the structure. Covering the soaker hose with the mulch is acceptable.). You will need to inspect these regularly as I have found they deteriorate fairly quick (less than 3-5 years). Additionally, neighboring visitors (rats, mice, raccoons and such) have found a liking to chew on hoses, in turn puncturing them causing excessive water to come out in one place. Once broken, I have not seen a good way to repair them, so you will have to replace the hose.
- Drip Lines: These hoses are designed with drip emitters in the hose every 12 inches. You can deploy them in the same method as mentioned for the soaker hoses, but the hose material is a bit more stiff. Staking them will help as they do not like to lay flat to the ground. You can purchase the hose in bulk from the Orange Box store of Sprinkler Warehouse. You will need to also purchase inter-hose connectors as well as a way to connect to your water source.
Take a look at Watering Your Foundation to see a semi-permanent installation guide to foundation watering.