How Droughts Can Damage Your Home’s Foundation

Defining Drought. Drought is generally defined as “a deficiency of precipitation over an extended period of time (usually a season or more), resulting in a water shortage.” The below picture shows Missouri and its current drought conditions (origin of citation:  https://www.drought.gov/states/missouri ).   

One of our recent customers assumed her Kansas City suburban home was simply settling when cracks appeared in the walls. When she noticed huge gaps between her fireplace and ceiling, and that her family room was starting to tilt, she knew she had bigger problems.

Like thousands of other Americans getting stuck with huge repair bills, our customer learned that the intense drought baking much of the country’s lawns, fields, and forests this summer has also been sucking the moisture from underground, causing shifting that can lead to cracked basements and foundations, as well as damage aboveground. Repairs often cost tens of thousands of dollars and can even top $100,000, and they are rarely covered by insurance, as shocked homeowners have been discovering.

Let’s Talk Soil….

The soil beneath your home is just as important to consider when severe droughts are occurring. All homes have a foundation, which can be determined by looking at the concrete slab in question – but what about all of those other parts? Soil type matters too! Some varieties react differently under various conditions and will change how well they hold water against variable weather events like rainstorms or snowfall because each one has its own unique properties that determine durability over time; this means some types may actually benefit from long periods without watering while others need more frequent attention depending upon where you live (or perhaps even alter planting techniques).

So, what are the different types of soil? Without digging too far into geology, you can divide soil into three basic categories based on the particulate size and mineral composition: sand, silt, and clay. More often than not, the soil beneath your house will be some mixture of the three. As you can imagine, some types are better suited for construction than others. When you have soil that is high in sand, rainwater easily drains through and out without causing any major changes. However, when you have soil that is mostly clay, water tends to become trapped within the granules. The result is that clay-heavy soil can often expand significantly as it fills up with rainwater. This is what is known as “expansive clay” and unfortunately, it is everywhere in Missouri.

Droughts are an inevitable part of life, but they don’t have to keep you up at night. Unpredictable rain or hot temperatures can make your home’s foundation grow unstable with moisture-filled cracks that lead from the surface all throughout its walls and ceiling—even above ground level! Not only is this dangerous for people living there; it also means any project undertaken on top could cause serious damage when completed (think about adding another story to your home).

After learning what causes these problems in our soil types let’s take a look at how we might prevent them before anything bad happens…

Droughts cause soil to shrink

After long periods of time without rain, the water within clay begins evaporating causing it and any foundation underneath them (such as cracks) can become much more susceptible to settling caused by gravity. Drought is bad because not only does this happen at an accelerated pace but also with larger gaps between layers due to these shrinking cavities or spaces that were once filled up before they did so during heavy downpours after being dried out again quickly afterward; these newly created slits allow cracks to appear.

Identifying drought damage to your foundation


Once your house has begun to settle and the cracks begin to appear in your foundation, affordable remedies become few and far between. Professionals may have to come out and essentially lift portions of your foundation back into place. There are a number of methods, but the two most popular are known as “slabjacking” and “piering” (sometimes called hydraulic jacking). As you can imagine, nothing about these options is cheap or simple. 

So how can you tell if your foundation is suffering from drought shrinkage? Even without professional help, you can inspect your slab and your home for a number of signs and symptoms, such as:

  • Small cracks in the concrete foundation, steps, or even nearby sidewalks.
  • Cracks in the exterior walls, bricks, or siding.
  • Cracks in the interior walls, crown molding, or plaster.
  • Doors and windows not seating properly in their frames.
  • Uneven floors.

How to prevent drought damage to your foundation

Water Water Water!!!!
Fortunately, this kind of foundational damage does not take place overnight. If over time it begins to look as though you are in the midst of a drought, there are things you can do to mitigate shrinkage and potentially prevent the damage if you act early enough.

The best way to make sure that drought doesn’t do damage to your home is to keep the soil around your house sufficiently hydrated. You can do this several times a day by running a soaker hose or drip hose a few feet away from the foundation, allowing time in between for the water to thoroughly soak into the soil

During times of severe droughts, local governments may place restrictions on the amount of time and hours of the day that you are allowed to water. That’s why it’s important to be efficient when watering and make sure that there isn’t significant runoff. Watering with multiple short cycles rather than a single long one can help you get the most out of your water usage. 

While you don’t want large trees with extensive root systems too close to your foundation, having shrubs around the soil can help shade it and prevent evaporation. Furthermore, a good mulch can help keep the soil’s moisture content from dissipating so quickly.

For more on drought conditions, check out these 2 posts from 2014 during the previous drought.

Drought Conditions Affect Foundations

Drought Soil Conditions Affect Stability

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