When it comes to the foundation of your home, mistakes and errors are a scary thing to think about. After all, repairs are extremely costly and extremely involved. Even worse, damage to your foundation is hard to spot, and by the time you notice it inside your home, that damage has become severe.
Thankfully, there are some simple guidelines to remember which can help you avoid the most common foundation mistakes. Even though the work needs to be done by professionals, it never hurts to be aware of the process and any potential missteps. If you see any mistakes being made, don’t hesitate to speak up. A good contractor will be glad you alerted them to an issue. It’s your home, after all, and you have every right to insist on proper installation. This is true with any home improvement project, but when you’re dealing with something as fundamental to your home’s structure as the foundation, only the best is acceptable.
In this article, we’ll explore the most commonly made mistakes during the installation of a new foundation. In order to save you time and money, we’ll also let you know how to avoid these expensive errors.
Failure to Waterproof
Waterproofing your foundation may be single most important factor in retaining its integrity. Most foundations are made of cement or concrete, which is extraordinarily durable but porous. This means that water can penetrate the foundation. Over time, water inside the foundation will contract and expand as it freezes. Even if you live in an area which does not experience regular freezing temperatures, water will still weaken and slowly break down your foundation.
Failure to waterproof your foundation is the biggest foundation mistake around, and it’s one that can cost you literally thousands in repairs. If water damage is left unchecked, it can destroy the foundation over time. In extremely severe cases, homes have been leveled because the foundation was unrepairable due to water damage.
If you’re constructing a new home, you’re ahead of the game. Tell your contractor that you want your foundation waterproofed. Be aware that some contractors will try to cut corners and save you money by using products which “damp proof” a foundation. Insist on waterproofing. In most cases, this will involve liquid rubber or other waterproof compounds which are applied to the finished foundation like paint.
If your home is already built but you know that the foundation was not waterproofed, don’t make the mistake of merely hoping that water damage won’t be an issue. Although it’s time consuming and tedious, start making plans to have your foundation dug out and waterproofed. It’s a small step in the big scheme of things, sealing your foundation against water for years to come.
Failure to Seal Inside Leaks
If your foundation was not waterproofed at the time of its installation, or if you live in an older home, you may have noticed cracks in your basement walls. Of course, these are only noticeable if your basement is unfinished and has no drywall in place.
Ignoring these cracks is another very common mistake, and just like failing to waterproof, it can be a very costly one. Allowing water to seep into your home, especially if your basement is finished, creates an ideal breeding ground for mold, mildew and fungus. If these conditions are allowed to continue, you will soon notice a musty smell in your basement. As time goes by, your household will be at risk for lung problems as a result of breathing in contaminated air.
Sealing leaks has its ups and downs. Yes, you’re preventing moisture from creeping further into your home. At the same time, however, you’re sealing that moisture inside the very foundation of your home.
In cases of water damage severe enough to be seen from the inside of your home, it’s best to call in an experienced contractor with knowledge of basements and foundations. They will advise you, based on a thorough inspection, whether sealing leaks is your best option, or whether you may be looking at a more costly repair.
Whatever the outcome may be, don’t make the mistake of simply ignoring basement leaks. They are a sign of water damage and can’t be ignored.
Pouring a Foundation in Inappropriate Weather
Concrete and cement are extremely durable materials. However, a big part of their eventual strength depends on being allowed to dry properly. Immediately after pouring, a cement or concrete foundation needs adequate time to dry. Your contractor will know the exact amount of time needed, since drying or curing times vary depending on the particular mix used.
Not giving a foundation adequate time to dry can lead to a host of problems. The foundation will settle, crack, sag and not be able to support as much weight as it would if it had been allowed to dry properly. This is one of the most grevious errors that can be made during the installation of a foundation. Talk to your contractor to ensure that their crew is experienced and knowledgeable.
In addition to inadequate drying time, other factors can cause a foundation to dry improperly. The biggest of these factors is the weather. Ideally, a foundation should be poured on a pleasant day with no threat of rain. Pouring a foundation during the winter months is not recommended. On a humid day, a foundation will most likely require more drying time due to the excess moisture in the air.
Scheduling your foundation for a pleasant time of year is all you can do, since nobody can control the weather. However, don’t make the mistake of asking your contractor to work on a rainy day. They know which conditions prevent proper drying, and ignoring their advice could cost you a great deal down the road.
Attempting to DIY
In today’s economy, it’s natural to want to save money. While there are a great deal of home improvement projects which can be done on a DIY basis, pouring a foundation is absolutely not one of them. The heavy equipment involved and the specialized product knowledge required make this a professionals-only undertaking.
If you are trying to save money on your home building project, ask your contractor if there are small jobs you can do. This might alleviate the need for a paid worker, at least for a few hours or a day. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s all that an unskilled amateur can do without jeopardizing the entire project.
Failure to Keep Your Basement Dry
Once your foundation is properly poured and fully installed, your home will be built. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your job is done! Properly maintaining your basement can go a long way toward keeping your foundation, and therefore the integrity of your entire house structure, solid and strong for many years to come.
Far too many homeowners neglect their basements. This is why so many of us associate a damp, musty, unpleasant smell with all basements. A basement doesn’t just naturally smell this way – that smell is a sign that moisture has penetrated the foundation and is allowing mold and mildew to flourish.
Proper basement care and maintenance begins as soon as your new home is finished. Controlling the moisture levels in this area of your home is easier than you may think. Since you’re constructing a new home, strongly consider having a moisture control element installed in your heating and cooling (HVAC) system. This type of automated moisture control is ideal. It allows you to set an acceptable and comfortable degree of moisture in the air. When the moisture levels rise above this pre-determined point, a dehumidifying element will draw moisture out of the air until the desired level is once again reached.
If you’ve already installed your HVAC system and it doesn’t include a climate control element, you can still avoid the mistake of a damp basement. Free standing dehumidifiers can be found at any home improvement or appliance store, and they are quite reliable. You’ll have to remember to change the drip pans regularly, especially when moisture levels are particularly high. However, this is a very small inconvenience when compared to structural foundation damage.
Keeping your basement comfortably dry won’t repair or prevent foundation leaks, but it can help to minimize the damage done by moisture once it reaches the interior of your home. Mold, mildew and fungus can’t grow without a certain level of moisture, which means that a dry basement is healthier for your entire household. Consult a contractor or other expert to determine what your next step should be if you notice water leaks inside your basement.
From the moment you begin planning a new construction, it’s important to keep your foundation in mind. With proper installation and maintenance, a good foundation will help to keep your home structurally sound for years to come.