I recently purchased an older home in the Wolseley area and am wondering what preparations I should be doing before winter to avoid problems with my foundation due to the moisture content of the soil. It has been suggested that I water around my foundation. Is this necessary and is it a good idea at this time of year?
There are several things that should be done to prepare your house for the winter and the snow and frost that come with it. Water intrusion into foundations is not uncommon in the spring as the snow melts and the frost leaves the ground. To help fight any potential problems, a few basic checks should be done. Defects in the following areas are the most common causes of moisture seepage into basements.
The first area to check is the roofing and its drainage system. Go up on a ladder or the roof and check for loose or missing shingles and gaps around any protrusions such as attic and plumbing vents. Look for any flashings lifting or any visibly worn roofing cement or caulking. Problems in these areas can usually be patched with inexpensive roofing cement or sealant. Check the eaves troughs for debris and clean out gutters and openings for downspouts. If any loose fasteners are found on the trough or downspouts, they should be re-secured or replaced. Lastly make sure that the downspouts are extended away from the foundation 3-5’ for proper runoff.
The next place to inspect is the grading and vegetation around the foundation wall. This soil should have a noticeable slope away from the foundation and vegetation should be trimmed away from the house. This is particularly important in older homes such as Mr. Siemens’. Most older homes have clay weeping tiles, or drainage system, near the footing of the foundation wall. These tiles get plugged and lose their effectiveness over time. When this occurs, the built in drainage for excess soil moisture is lost. A test to see how functional your weeping tile remains, is to look in the basement floor drain during a heavy rain. There should be water dripping or running continuously from the holes in the side walls of the concrete around the floor drain. If they are dry, then the tiles are effectively plugged. This test may not apply if you have a sump pit and pump.
In Manitoba, we have “expansive clay soil” which shrinks or swells with changing moisture levels and is compounded by our freeze-thaw cycle. The amount of moisture in the soil around the foundation is very important in maintaining a solid and dry foundation. Too much moisture may cause frost heaving when the moisture in the soil expands, as it freezes or thaws. This may put excess pressure on the foundation walls and cause cracking, or force water through small holes and cracks already existing. Too little moisture and the soil will shrink away from the foundation and allow for easy water intrusion or other damage.
Watering around the foundation in the dry fall or late summer is a good idea to maintain a reasonable soil moisture level. Care should be taken to do this slowly and not directly on to windows, window wells, or foundation walls. If the soil is sloped in toward the house, it should be built up and seeded with grass before watering. This year has been exceptionally wet, in many parts of the province, and adding water to the soil should not be necessary, or may be detrimental. Check the soil immediately next to the foundation wall. If the ground is nicely sloped away and still reveals a noticeable gap, then get out the hose.
Trying to regulate the amount of moisture in the soil around a house is very difficult and often a guess, at best. Common sense, taking into account yearly rainfall, temperatures, and condition of the grass and vegetation in a yard, should help you determine whether watering is needed.