Look down, look down. Look down and save your basement if you can.
That might be the tune sung by Larry Miller, owner of Regina’s SlabMaster Ltd. Through the company, Miller has been helping homeowners with concrete troubles for more than 30 years.
He says people can easily recognize when they might have foundation problems. “You’ll find doors and windows not closing properly because the house is settling. There may also be cracks in the walls, ceiling and floor.”
In the basement, homeowners should look for cracks in the wall – these can be either horizontal or vertical, which means different things. “Horizontal cracks in the wall mean you have ground pressure from water,” Miller explained. “Vertical cracks means the house is settling.”
With basements that are already finished, Miller says owners can look at the exterior of their homes. “Look at the parging, which is the mortar coat on the wall. If the corners of the house are level with the parging but the centre is in an inch or so, then you know you’re getting ground pressure. You can also tell if you have two cracks – one in each corner of the outside wall.”
Like most home problems, he says, these problems can be prevented. “In many cases, problems happen because water gets in due to the home not being landscaped properly. I recommend a good clay-based material underneath the topsoil and sod.”
After that, he says to make sure the ground around the house is sloped properly to ensure that runoff from rain and melting snow is being directed away from the home. The sloping should run 10 to 15 feet away from the house – homeowners also need to be sure they’re not just draining the water into a neighbour’s yard.
Miller isn’t a huge fan of weeping tile. “If water gets into the ground and starts creating pressure against walls, the weeping tile really won’t help until it gets to the bottom. It also won’t deal with all of the water, so there will still be problems.”
Clay-based material around the house and proper sloping, again are the answers. If water is pooling anywhere in the yard, it’s a sign that the home wasn’t properly landscaped.
By properly draining their yards, he notes homeowners can save themselves much money. “Foundation repairs can start at $6,000 to $7,000 and can be over $30,000 when you’re talking about lifting a house with a double-car garage. One wall alone can be over $12,000.”
Some repairs can be as drastic as building a new wall, at which point engineers should be involved, Miller said. “If you’re doing anything major, you want an engineer’s report because it will help if you ever decide to sell your house.”
While it may be more common in older homes because of time and wear, Miller has seen several newer homes where floors have had to be re-poured and walls rebuilt. “Many people move in and don’t think of the landscaping until they have a problem.”
Problems are commonly the result of extra moisture in the ground but he says they also can happen during dry years. “If the ground is too dry, the dirt around the house will turn to powder, which may also cause shifting and settling problems.
“About 80 to 85 per cent of what we do is mudjacking,” Miller reports of SlabMaster. This is the process where concrete that has sunk can be lifted to slope away from the foundation.
“Patios, driveways, garage and basement floors can be lifted this way. We also offer compaction grouting, which is inserting pipes under the footing or piles to lift it back into place,” said Millar.