17 August 2022
By Chris Jakovljevic
So, if the Bureau of Meteorology is to be believed – let’s not talk about the accuracy of weather forecasters – then this summer on the east coast of Australia is going to be wet. A third La Nina event for the year is poised to hit us, which given the downpours and floods, is far from great news. Houses, apartments, commercial buildings, and all other buildings have copped their fair share already and it seems that this will only get worse. However, aside from floods, water leaks, and increases in mold, the increased rain has – and is likely to again – stress building foundations to some extent too. From our own perspective, we’ve already experienced a rise in the number of foundation repairs call-outs (as we also discussed in our other blog on the effects of rain on waterproofing), but we expect there are many more buildings out there that may need attention. So, here are our top tips on what to be aware of and why you need to tackle the issue head-on.
Some simple truths about structural foundation issues
Like most things related to structural repair, deferring repairs on your structural foundations at the first signs of an issue can lead to an escalated mess. Thus fixing the issue is imperative. What caused the issue, however, can vary, and whilst we referred to rainfall, there are a few other things that can cause issues and the need for foundation repair.
1 – Significant volumes of water can weaken foundations
You do not have to experience flooding, but heavy, sustained rains can and do cause the ground to become water logged. Depending on what your structure is built on, the ground can experience movement and some subsidence. This weakens the foundations and should be something you look to rectify quickly.
2 – Drought conditions can cause structural concerns
Yes, a complete paradox of too much rain is that too little can cause the ground to dry out. As the ground dries up, different elements in the ground (clay, soil, rock etc) dry out at different rates. If this happens, some areas may move at different pace to others, thus causing structures built above to move slightly through something akin to torsion.
3 – Leaking pipes can affect building foundations
In a large residential or commercial building, the volume of water that flows through the service pipes is significant. Whether it is waste water, sewerage or freshwater, a leaking pipe has the potential to cause untold volumes of water to accumulate where they should not. Water will always look to flow to the lowest part of a building, and as it works its way doen into the foundations, it can cause ongoing issues, either by virtue of the fact that it causes structural steel elements to rust, and cause concrete cancer, or because it directly erodes soil and other ground elements to erode away.
4 – Significant groundworks in adjacent buildings can cause structural issues
If your building is next door to a construction site, or downhill from one, there is a chance your foundations – especially in older buildings – may be affected. There are a different reasons for this:
- Water that was once absorbed into the ground where the building is/was may now flow off differently from how it once did. This can cause issues within the ground which, per the above, can lead to issues for you
- Significant rock cutting works or jackhammering can lead to stress fractures in your building due to reverberation
The issues with weakening foundations
Irrespective of what has caused your foundations to weaken, there are a few issues that can arise as a result. Here are a few things to keep your eye out for:
- Ground movement can cause your pipes to be put under stress, causing them to leak, move or otherwise operate at a sub-optimal level
- Doors and windows that start to not fit as they should. If the building starts to move, then windows and doors may no longer be plumb, causing issues with heating and cooling
- Rodents. Yes, it may seem to be unlikely, but movements within the foundations or deterioration of them may lead to spaces that allow rats and mice to infiltrate and breed
- Walkways that are no longer flat due to shifts in the building
- Cracks that step up the wall. Called stair-step cracks, these look like they sound – like steps in your wall. These are generally signs that elements of your building have shifted differently to other parts. Small cracks can be expected, but if these are large, grow or multiply, then you have an issue you need to correct sooner than later.
- Cracks can lead to areas water can get in. Water can then accelerate and exacerbate the issue.
Fixing poor foundations
There is good news. Undertaking proactive maintenance inspections, and/or rectifying issues sooner than later can both head things off before they get too bad, and reduce the cost of repairs. And the less money you need to spend on repairs, the more money you have left to put into upgrading and increasing the value of your property. Depending on the extent, location and type of foundation repairs you need, there are going to be different solutions available to you. Reaching out to an expert who can work with an engineer to devise a solution is essential. If you would like to discuss or be put in touch with the right experts, contact us today and let’s figure out how to help you.
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