How Droughts Impact Your Home And How To Protect Your Foundation

Thursday, September 1st, 2022 by Hannah Holland


Drought, cracked soil and dying plants

When you think of a drought, what's the first thing that comes to mind?

Cracked soil? Dying plants? The entire state of California?

Well... there's another major issue that happens when there's a drought that people usually aren't even aware of. One that directly affects your home. 

Here it is: your home's foundation has a high risk of settling due to the drastic changes in soil composition.

And just to clarify, when we're talking about droughts, we're not referring to a 1930s dustbowl, grab-your-camel situation. Droughts are defined as a period of time (as short as three weeks) with no rainfall and high temperatures. 

So how do droughts impact the soil around your home? What kind of damage can they actually do? And is it even preventable? We go over all of this and more in this blog. Let's get into it.

How is soil affected by a drought?

Let’s give you the dirt on dirt. The low-down on what’s down low. The way of the clay… okay, sorry we’re done now.

To understand how a drought can affect your home, we first need to understand the geology and composition of soil.

The soil underneath your home is made up of three components: sand, silt, and clay.

A photo of dirt, made up of sand, clay and silt

If soil is high in sand, rain will drain easily. However, if it is high in clay, rain will get trapped. And when clay-heavy soil fills up with rainwater, it expands and turns into expansive soil.

Expansive soil is not ideal. It can expand and contract depending on how much moisture is in the dirt. And when we’re in a drought, that soil then shrinks because the water it contains evaporates.

Expansive soil shrinking because of lack of water

How do drought-related soil changes affect your home?

Soil shrinkage can leave voids or gaps between your foundation and the surrounding soil. And that is where foundation problems happen.

The dirt beneath your home is made up of: clay, sand, and silt

Soil offers a lot of support. It’s what your house sits on. When voids appear in the ground because of a drought, your foundation loses that support. And thus, gravity will do its job and drag your home’s weight into the newly created cavities.

Shallow foundations are more vulnerable

Shallow foundations are more at risk of soil shrinkage.

Foundations are only a few feet deep under porches, garages, and crawl spaces. This means that when soil contracts and pulls away from the foundation, there’s a lot less depth and a higher chance the soil will pull away from most of the foundation. Resulting in more voids and a higher chance of your home settling.

Crawlspace foundation

On the other end of the spectrum, you’re less likely to experience soil shrinkage if you have a deep foundation. With a basement, your foundation is around 7-10 feet deep. The deeper your foundation is into the earth, the less likely the soil will dry out, and the safer you are.

How can you protect your property from drought damage?

So here’s the burning question. How on earth (pun very much intended) are you supposed to prevent this from happening?

We have good news. Foundation damage caused by droughts doesn't happen overnight.

Chances are, you’re aware if you are in a drought or not. And the best thing to do if you are is to ensure the soil around your home is hydrated.

Drought impact foundation - Image 6

Yep, just like humans need to drink eight glasses of water a day to stay healthy, soil needs a certain amount of water to prevent your house from sinking.

Watering the soil around your foundation is the best way to avoid soil shrinkage.

Now, it’s important to note that this is a fine line. It needs to be just enough water to stop shrinkage. But (and this is a big but) not so much that it causes hydrostatic pressure, which is when soil swells and causes foundation walls to cave inwards.

Soaker hose around perimeter of house to prevent soil shrinkage

The best and safest way to do this is to run a soaker hose for an hour every evening.

But before you do this, please check if your community is under any water conservation plans. You don't want to be that guy.

Landscaping matters too

Another preventative measure you can take is intentional landscaping.

Avoid large trees around your home. The tree's roots will absorb more water from the soil, especially in droughts.

With that said, planting shrubs around the perimeter of your home isn’t a bad idea. It’ll offer shade over the soil and prevent moisture from evaporating. Adding mulch can also help level out the soil’s moisture content.

Shrubs around home to protect soil moisture content

Maintain your gutters

Rain after a drought is bad for your foundation, too. The expansive soil will quickly absorb the water and do what it does best: expand. That expanding soil will push into your foundation walls, causing them to crack and bow inside your home.

Saturated soil pushing into a foundation wall

Making sure your gutters are working correctly and clear of debris will prepare your home for that next rainfall and, possibly, save your foundation.

And P.S. if you are dreading the idea of cleaning your gutters, gutter guards are a maintenance-free option that attaches to your existing gutters and filters out all debris that falls from your roof. 

Signs you already have foundation problems caused by drought

These are the major warning signs of your foundation deteriorating because of a drought:

Cracks. Cracks are the biggest sign your foundation is dealing with drought shrinkage. Inspect your home for cracks, specifically in the concrete foundation, exterior and interior walls, crown molding, brickwork, tiles, and chimney.

Drywall crack from foundation settling

Shrinking soil can also cause cracks in sidewalks, driveways, and patios around the house.

Uneven floors. Sloping floors are another big sign your foundation is settling into the soil. This isn’t super easy to detect. But there are a few ways to determine if there’s an issue:

  • You can look for cracks in the basement floor or ceiling
  • Use a bubble level and place it on the floor where you think it's sloping
  • Put a marble on the floor and see if it rolls to one side

Uneven floors from settling foundation

Sticking doors and windows. When your foundation settles, gravity pulls the weight of your house down. This causes door and window frames to get out of alignment, which causes the windows/doors to get stuck and not latch correctly.

If you’re still unsure if your foundation is suffering, you can also inspect the soil around your home. Look for any gaps between the ground and your foundation. Depending on how much landscaping work you have on the property, you might be able to see signs of soil shrinkage visually.

Soil shrinkage around a home's foundation

What to do if your home is settling

If you are worried your home is showing signs of settling, it’s best to get a professional opinion. These problems don’t go away with time; they only get worse.

If you need a foundation contractor and live in our service area, please reach out to us. We’ve fixed thousands of foundations and saved homes across the Midwest since 1975. For foundation concerns, schedule your free full home inspection today by calling 1-844-948-3306 or filling out our online form. We’d love to help you and your home.

About the author

Hannah Holland, Content Marketing Specialist

Hannah Holland is our Content Marketing Specialist, where she focuses on educating, guiding, and helping homeowners make the best decision for their homes.