What is a Pier and Beam Foundation?
Pier and beam foundations are one of the oldest types of foundations, typically built prior to the 1960s. With this type of foundation, the floor of the home is elevated around 18 inches off the ground, supported by concrete piers or blocks. This space creates what is typically called a crawl space.
Pier and beam foundations were far more common 60 years ago than they are today. Most homes today are now built on modern concrete structures on account of their low cost and efficient design. But in many parts of Texas, pier and beam foundations are a necessity, especially in areas that receive heavy rainfall, seasonal moisture, and flooding.
There are several benefits to a pier & beam foundation, such as easy access to plumbing and electrical systems underneath the home, protection from flood waters and lower energy costs in the hot summer due to better airflowunderneath.
While it is true that maintenance is key to keeping your foundation healthy regardless the type, pier and beam homes have unique challenges that homeowners should be aware of in order to have a strong and healthy foundation. Below are tips on how you can keep your pier and beam foundation in great shape:
Look for pooling water around your foundation & underneath your crawlspace.
The soil in Texas is primarily made of expansive clay soil. It is very similar to a sponge, it shrinks when it is dry and expands when wet. The constant hot/cold weather that is typical for Texas, means the soil underneath is moving often. You can imagine how much movement is happening underneath your home. Look around your pier and beam home when it rains. Does water collect underneath your crawlspace and around your foundation? Too much water is especially detrimental to pier and beam homes, not just for shifting foundations, but it can contribute to rotting of the wood underneath, and possible mildew and mold. If this is the case, you will need to contact an expert on mold removal and look into having the weakened part of your crawl space replaced or reinforced.
Gutters and Drainage. Gutters are often an easy solution and can make a noticeable difference in controlling the moisture level around your home. Not only should you make sure your gutters are properly cleaned and well maintained, but we recommend they extend at least 5 feet away from the foundation, draining away from your house. This could mean getting a gutter extension which should be easy to find at a local hardware store. It is a relatively easy and inexpensive step that can greatly improve your drainage.
In more serious situations, you might need to look into installing a drainage system, such as a surface drain or French drain. Depending on the home’s situation, we might recommend one over the other after a complete evaluation of your home.
Landscaping. Landscaping also comes into play when it comes to accessing the moisture content around a home. Shrubs or flowers that are too close to your home can potentially cause a problem. It is recommended that your planting beds slope down, away from the house, which will allow rain and groundwater to drain the opposite direction of your foundation.
Additionally, trees are a common culprit of foundation trouble. Tree roots are consistently seeking moisture and can extend very far from the trunk. In the summer, when Texas weather is usually very dry some types of trees can take up 150 gallons of water daily. This can be dangerous to your foundation if the tree is too close. Before planting any new trees make sure you learn about the root systems. How close is too close? A good rule of thumb is the distance should be farther than the height of the tree.
Visual Inspection of Crawl Space
Your crawl space is probably not something you regularly check, however looking underneath your home on a regular basis is important. Look at the ground underneath for several months- does it consistently look wet? If that is the case, you can look into installing a heavy duty liner and de-humidifier. This might be necessary for locations that experience high humidity. Likewise, if your crawlspace consistently looks dry- especially in the hot summer months or during a drought- watering your foundation is important. We recommend installing sprinklers at least 5 feet from the house and make sure the water sprays away from the foundation.
The goal is to keep your crawlspace dry enough that mold and mildew can’t grow, but not too dry that the soil shrinks in the hotter months.
Crawlspaces should have some holes for ventilation to allow airflow through, but also not a big enough space for animals and rodents to get inside. Animals can cause damage by chewing through the wood and wires. Walk around the perimeter of your home and seal off any holes big enough for animals to come through.
Visual Inspection for other signs of foundation movement
What if you have checked out your gutters and drainage, as well as underneath your crawlspace but still not sure if you are experiencing foundation trouble? When your foundation is shifting, you usually will see certain tell-tale signs.
Inside Signs. Walk around your home going from room to room. Look for cracks in the walls and around doors, these might be an indication of movement. You might notice doors, and windows are sticking making them hard to open or maybe you see gaps around your door as it suddenly doesn’t fit in the door frame correctly. When you walk across the room, does the floor feel uneven? Floor cracks are a common occurrence and many times go unnoticed until flooring repairs are done and the carpet is lifted up.
Outside Signs. On the outside of the home, you might see cracks in the brick. Small hairline cracks usually are not an issue, but any stair-step or vertical crack will need a professional inspection. An uneven or detached chimney or gaps in the fascia are warning signs as well. A regular check on the inside and outside for these signs can help diagnose trouble before it gets out of hand.
Pier and beam foundations are known for being robust and long lasting, but no foundation is immune from the shifting Texas soil. However, homeowner’s who are diligent in looking for signs of foundation trouble have the benefit of catching problems before they get out of control. Putting off foundation repair can be an expensive mistake. If you think you might need a foundation inspection, don’t wait-schedule a no charge evaluation today.