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‘DIY: Checking Your Soil Moisture Levels’

In the very first post on this blog we talked about soil behavior, which, long story short, is responsible for foundation damage to our homes. To recap: soil plasticity in Texas is very high. What this means is that with the changes of humidity our soil swells and shrinks back and forth. This is mainly caused by seasonal weather changes, but there are other reasons too. In essence, what happens is that when the moisture gets too high, the soil expands or swells; and when it dries up it shrinks or settles. Basically what happens is that with the swelling and contracting the soil pushes and pulls the foundation, which crates too much strain and brings upon all the problems associated with it.

Now most of the time this situation might be unavoidable, but we will teach you a couple of ways you can try to mitigate this problem, which in the long run might help keep foundation problems at bay.

First there are a few things that you should do: make sure that your sewer and water pipes are not broken, nor do they have any leaks. Also make sure you have the proper drainage systems around your home: standing water will also cause the soil to be saturated, making it swell. French drains, retaining walls and gutters are ideal to alleviate these problems.

Also, beware of large trees around your property as they can potentially cause problems in one of two ways: first they might lower the moisture content of the soil as they suck up the water around it; second the might push its roots into the house foundation, breaking the pipes as it does so.

A proper grading of at least 5% is also ideal to make sure water flows away from your house. In case you don’t have a positive grading around your house you can always install a drainage system or a water pump to help you out.

If your house already has all these precautions and services in place one more thing you can do is to keep an eye out for the moisture content on the soil around your house and try to keep it at the same percentage through out the year. Now for gardening it is recommended that the moisture level ranges between 20% and 60%, but in our case the percentage really doesn’t matter. The trick here is to maintain the same levels of humidity throughout the year. Now the 20%-60% range is good advice; after all we want to keep the soil neither completely dry nor too moist. And in case you have a garden this will definitely be beneficial for your plants too, so it’s a win-win.

One thing to take into account is that if your house has a pier and beam foundation, the humidity levels inside your crawlspace should be between 30% and 50%, as mold starts growing once your humidity level crosses the 60% mark.

But back to the soil around your home; one really easy way to check on your moisture levels is to get a soil moisture meter. There are some that are 20 bucks or less, while others are a bit more expensive, but the truth is you don’t really need to shell out too much cash to get one that will perfectly fit your needs.

Once you have the soil moisture meter in your hands you have to insert the probe into the soil at a depth of 6 to 8 inches, and remember to check the moisture levels every few yards in order to get a better idea of the humidity levels around all of your house.

The question now is what to do with the information thrown out by the moisture meter. As we mentioned earlier, the idea is to keep the same levels throughout the year, so writing down the results might be a good idea. Now let’s say that the moisture levels are much lower in comparison to the readings of a couple of weeks ago. (It is generally the dry times / droughts that cause most problems, btw) What do we do now? The answer is simple: watering.

Watering your lawn will help regain that lost humidity. But make sure to do it gradually, in order for the water to reach deeper into the soil and not create a swampy mess on the surface. Once you’ve watered the entire surface you can always take a new reading and compare the humidity levels again.

Also, if you have a pier and beam foundation be on the look out as extra watering could make another swampy mess inside your crawlspace and this could definitely lead to much bigger problems.

Now in case the readings show that the humidity levels have increased you have to ask yourself why this might have happened. If it is a seasonal occurrence there is not much we can do; but if it’s not we recommend you try to find the source of that extra water and act upon it.

One other action you can take is mulching. A mulch is a layer of organic matter that is applied on top of the soil; it has many benefits ranging from controlling weeds, preventing erosion, maintaining nutrients, controlling pests and enhancing the visual appeal of the area; but what interest us the most is its capacity to retain moisture; so there’s quite a few reasons to consider mulching your lawn.

With these few actions you can take great steps to avoid, or at least mitigate, possible foundation damage brought upon by the high soil plasticity of our state. In case you suspect damage may have already occur, or that you notice you might need any additional services to prevent this situation, do not hesitate to call us; after all, we are the foundation repair experts.

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