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Although concrete appears to be solid and impenetrable, the opposite is true. Concrete is porous, and water can seep into it. So if water gets into a foundation, can it destroy a foundation? And if so, how long before the foundation is damaged beyond repair?
Water can destroy a foundation in months or years, depending on how much water enters the foundation and how soon the problem is corrected. If the issue is addressed early, damage can be limited. However, if the water problem is not dealt with, it can do serious damage to a foundation.
Excessive water can be a destructive enemy to a foundation. Unless it is treated when signs first appear, the consequences can be serious and expensive. This article explores the dangers and how to mitigate the damage.
How Long Does It Take Water To Destroy a Foundation?
In scientific terms, foundation damage is called hydrostatic pressure, or the force that water brings to bear against a foundation. If the soil surrounding your basement becomes saturated, the hydrostatic pressure will be increased.
It can take water 72 hours to destroy a foundation, although it may often be a more gradual process. Additionally, the signs of damage can go unrecognized until extensive (and expensive) repairs are required.
A square foot of soil can weigh anywhere from 74 to 110 (33 to 49 kg), depending on the type of soil and its moisture content. Water, meanwhile, weighs around 62 pounds (28 kg) per cubic foot. Soil already contains some moisture, so the extra weight will be less than 62 pounds (28 kg).
Still, imagine a permanent 30 pounds (13 kg) of pressure per square foot. Over time the foundation will begin to buckle under the additional pressure. When that happens, small cracks will occur. Water will eventually find small cracks in the foundation. If the pressure is not decreased, the cracks will grow larger.
Weather and soil types affect how much additional hydrostatic pressure the foundation will endure. Clay soil tends to hold more water, causing further stress over time. Temperature affects the weight of water, so regions with hot summers and cold winters will see more significant hydrostatic pressure.
What Are the Signs of Water Damage?
The signs of water damage come in two categories—obvious and hidden. Hidden signs are often early warnings, and the obvious ones need to be dealt with. The sooner water damage is diagnosed, the less damage is done to your foundation.
The following are some signs that could indicate foundation problems:
- Even if you can’t find cracks in the foundation, one hidden sign of foundation damage is uneven floors. If your floors are sagging, dipping, or aren’t level, this could signify that your foundation is shifting. As a home settles, some floors will gradually become uneven. However, if these symptoms seem to appear overnight, they could be an early sign that your foundation is shifting.
- Leaning walls are another sign that your foundation is moving. Warped walls can eventually collapse. Unfortunately, leaning walls are difficult to spot since they don’t happen overnight. If your walls appear to lean or warp, don’t delay calling a professional.
- Sticking doors or windows that no longer open and close properly can be a sign that your walls are being affected by a shifting foundation. This can occur with either outside or interior doors. Of course, doors can malfunction due to humidity. However, if you’re noticing other indicators of foundation issues, it’s most likely not dampness causing the problem.
The following are more obvious signs that your foundation might be damaged:
- Both mold and mildew flourish in damp conditions and are a sign of water damage. If you spot gray, white, or green stains on your walls, your foundation might have water damage. Mold and mildew can cause structural problems to your home, including dry rot. In addition, mold can cause health problems, including breathing difficulties.
- Because concrete is porous, it can become stained when excess water lingers. These stains are caused by a buildup of minerals from the water. Stains on your walls or concrete might be a sign of a damaged foundation.
- Most of the time, cracks in the foundation indicate water damage. But they can sometimes be overlooked, especially if they are hidden behind bushes or other landscaping. Cracks in concrete foundations aren’t necessarily a serious problem, particularly in the first few years after your home is built.
- Horizontal cracks on foundations can signal that serious damage has occurred. So if you find a lot of horizontal cracks, you should probably talk to a foundation repair professional.
What Should You Do if You Find Signs of Water Damage?
If you find signs of water damage early enough, steps can be taken to ensure the damage doesn’t become permanent. However, if these steps aren’t taken, the damage will become serious.
Sealing cracks in the foundation walls with applications of hydraulic cement is essential. However, the cracks must be expertly sealed so that water doesn’t work its way through the cracks again. This is a task that should be left to foundation repair experts.
If your crawl space does not have a vapor barrier, a 20-mil plastic barrier should be installed. Most homeowners can do this—if they are willing to crawl around under the house.
Unfortunately, most foundation water problems require at least an inspection and consultation with an expert in foundation repair. Your house sits on the foundation, and unless repairs are done correctly, the damage to your home can become serious.
How Can I Prevent Damage to the Foundation?
You can prevent damage to the foundation by keeping it as dry as possible. Obvious leaks, such as those from water pipes, should be repaired immediately. However, you can take other steps to keep a foundation dry.
- Maintain and clean your gutters. Gutters are supposed to catch rainwater on a roof and direct it away from your home. Improperly maintained gutters let rainwater seep into the ground next to the foundation. Sealing cracks, installing French drains, or adding gutter guards can be DIY projects. However, replacing gutters should be left to professionals.
- Build a gradual slope away from the foundation. You might want the look of a nice flat yard, but a yard should slope away from your house so that water drains away from the foundation.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter how long it takes water to destroy a foundation. It is more important that you act quickly to deal with the damage before it becomes serious. Of course, you can take steps to prevent damage to a foundation. But if you spot signs of foundation damage, they need to be dealt with sooner rather than later.