Drought brings city foundation fears

Shrinking soil a growing problem


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DROUGHT-PARCHED soil may sound like an agricultural problem, but it can cause damage inside a city, too.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/07/2021 (612 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

DROUGHT-PARCHED soil may sound like an agricultural problem, but it can cause damage inside a city, too.

Anthony Zappitelli, president of Belvidere Construction in Winnipeg, said his company is taking up to 50 calls per day from people saying there’s something wrong with their house foundations amid the long-running dry spell.

A couple years ago, the daily number of calls hovered at about 15, said Zappitelli.

Two other local construction companies said they’ve been fixing more foundations lately, too, with one estimating a 30 to 40 per cent increase over the past two years.

“What happens is, when it’s very dry like this, the soil and clay will shrink,” Zappitelli said. “It creates a gap underneath your house. That gap can lead to your house falling.”

All of sudden, people will notice a floor slope, doors sticking or cracks running up the wall — all signs of a problem with the foundation, he said.

Because dry soil has often been the culprit in cracked foundations, some homeowners have taken to watering the edges of structures in the belief it will prevent the ground from drying out and protect the foundations.

“That’s not accurate at all,” said Zappitelli. “You’d need to water around your house for 10 to 15 hours a day just to keep up with this heat. It’s not realistic.”

Instead, homeowners would do better to keep a close watch on any new issues and, if worried, enlist the help of a professional.

“Sooner they get on it, the less expensive of a fix,” he said. “Unfortunately, things like this don’t get better.”

Foundation work could range from about $3,000 for a small job, to a major fix on an average-sized home at about $60,000. Very large homes can range as high as $300,000, he said.

While watering the lawn around a house might not directly prevent cracks in a foundation, it could help ease the problem, said Gerry Bonham, owner of Abalon Foundation Repairs in Winnipeg.

Trees suck out moisture from the soil, and replenishing it with regular waterings can help, he said, adding the advice to plant trees as far away from a house as possible and keep the yard green. It may not prevent foundation problems, but it might slow them down, Bonham said.

That’s exactly what Robyn Rypp was doing Wednesday outside her home in River Heights. She was watering the lawn, largely because she likes it green and lush, but also partly because she’d heard it can help protect the foundation.

“This whole River Heights crescent, the foundations are not great,” Rypp said.

Mostly, though, she was trying to keep her plants and grass alive in the hot and arid conditions plaguing southern Manitoba. Rypp said she waters her lawn twice a week.

Green Blade Lawn Care owner Tim Muys said that’s the ideal amount if you want to keep it green. He said a common trick to know how much water to use is to set down a tuna can in the spray zone and water the lawn until it’s filled.

He also cautioned against cutting grass too short. Longer grass has longer roots, so it has better access to water. Longer grass also shelters soil from the sun, which helps retain moisture, Muys said.

“The big thing is to resist that urge to cut your grass shorter than it needs to be,” he said. “This is exactly why we give that advice, and a lot of our customers right now that don’t follow that are finding out why.”


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