The Un-SEXY, Most Valuable Home Repair

If you have watched any home repair shows on TV the Sexy home improvements get a lot of hype. With some paint and new flooring you can make dramatic changes. Then you can invite your friends over to sip a glass of wine and tell you how beautiful your project turned out.  But what they might not see is your foundation is deteriorating beneath them.  

 

Sadly the most important home repair will not WOW your friends, but will save you costly future repairs and contribute to the overall value of your home.

 

I have seen a lot of potential buyers walk away from some very SEXY houses because of signs of a neglected foundation.   Basements that have: Efflorescence (white powdery/chalky residue forms on basement walls), cracks and/or signs of movement, mold and standing water.

Today’s topic is about foundation protection. (sexy right?)

 

What is the problem?

The part of the country I live in has very heavy clay soil.  When the hole is dug for the foundation it essentially creates a large clay bowl.  The foundation is poured and then some sort of fill is put in around the house between the “clay bowl” and the foundation.  When moisture penetrates the fill, it has nowhere to go because it is in the “clay lined bowl”.  The ground freezes and thaws adding insult to injury.  

Number one enemy to your foundation is moisture.

 

What is the cure?

The most effective cure is to create a slope of topsoil away from your house.  This is known as grading.  Of all the homes I have sold that the buyers have had a home inspection, 99 out of 100 get tagged for negative grading.  Which means the soil slopes toward the foundation instead of away.  It may have been graded properly at some point, but over time the backfill settles to create the negative grade.

 

What is the process?

Wayne Allen, from Wisconsin Basement Inspection Services, LLC gives the following instructions:

 

  1. Depending on the elevation of your house you may need to install window wells so you can build up slope around basement windows.
  2. Use pulverized topsoil to build the positive grade of a 4-inch drop over four feet (an inch per foot). Leave soil a minimum of 1-2’ below your siding.
  3. Thoroughly tamp the soil either with a hand tamper or a rented gas powered tamper, which is faster and more efficient. You’ll notice the soil will compress with tamping immediately. Add more dirt and repeat until the downward slope is accomplished.
  4. Cover the tamped soil with 10 mil+ plastic sheeting up to the basement walls and up on the walls 1-2 inches. Secure the plastic sheeting with plastic spikes (staples) from a hardware store every two feet along the wall or walls in question.
  5. Then cover the plastic sheeting with decorative stone to your liking. Remember the stone only has to cover the plastic so it looks good, it doesn’t need to be several inches thick.  Stone is preferable to mulch because it: does not attract bugs, stays in place during heavy rains and is easy to blow debris out with a leaf blower.
  6. General items: Replace or level all concrete that slopes toward a foundation wall.  If you do the work yourself it costs much less or hire a local handyman the cost is more but still much less than a landscape company. If a decorative border is used at the lower end of the grade don’t make it a dam. Have occasional breaks like you would have with paver blocks to let water escape during rain or snow melt so it continues away from the structure and can evaporate or follow the path of least resistance away from your home. If there is a crown that sends water back to the graded area it should be cut down or a swale put in to move water away from the area.
  7. Final step is to make sure sump pump discharge and gutter downspouts extend well beyond the 4 foot slope

For the price of some dirt, plastic and decorative stone you can avoid thousands of dollars (easily up to $25,000) in costly basement repairs. After you are done invite your friends over anyway- maybe they won’t marvel at a perfectly graded home, but they may need to do the same to their home.

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