Anyone who lived in Chicago during 2012 can recall the year with two words: “hot” and “dry.” Besides parched lawns and overtaxed air conditioners, the drought that began last year also had a disastrous effect on basements and foundations.
Although the lack of rainfall may have hidden evidence of damage to Chicago foundations, the drought that caused the desiccation of soil around them contributed to wet basements every time it has rained since. Some climate experts have predicted normal-to-slightly-above precipitation for 2013, so the problems are over, right? Well, they may actually just be beginning.
The drought that became noticeable to Chicagoans early in 2012 affected most people’s lives in some way. Temperatures rose unseasonably early with some T-shirt weather occurring in March. Rainfall in June, July and August was well below normal and was, in fact, below the rainfall levels of Chicago’s driest year on record, 1962. Water levels in area lakes and reservoirs dropped and use of water for lawns and outdoor plantings was severely restricted.
The coming of winter didn’t change much. It was widely reported that Chicago finally broke a record snowless streak of 335 days with a 1-inch snowfall in late January. It’s snowed (and rained) enough since then to boost the city’s January totals to near normal but Chicago’s a long way from making up for the losses of 2012.
Even if the drought is over in Chicago, the aftermath may not be pretty for some homeowners. The heat and lack of rain that characterized 2012 wreaked havoc with basements and foundations and caused problems that 2013’s more normal predicted rainfall will expose.
For example, drought conditions caused plants and trees near houses to extend their root systems in search of water to survive. These roots drew water from deeper and deeper sections of the subsoil than normal and, when the water had been removed from the mostly clay soil around Chicago, it contracted and shrank.
When this soil shrank away from foundation walls it caused cracks to occur when walls were no longer under lateral pressure from the soil. Also, it created pathways for rain water and snowmelt to run down alongside the foundation walls and into the basement through new or existing cracks, poorly sealed openings for windows, pipes and other utilities or through the cove joint.
At homes with basement windows, the shrinking of outside soil may also have allowed window wells to pull away from the foundation, exposing windows to seepage that hadn’t occurred before.
Lastly, the lack of rain has caused many Chicago homeowners to conveniently forget about normal home maintenance like cleaning gutters and making sure downspouts are discharging away from the foundation.
As long as the dry weather persisted, none of these presented a big problem. But as soon as snow melted and rains came, and throughout the year ahead, those cracks and gaps are seeping water into basements all over Chicago. Even basements that have always been dry aren’t immune from the ravages of an unusually severe and lengthy drought.
Now that Chicago homeowners know what’s coming, what can they do to prevent it? They can try to spot new cracks and prepare their basements for the inevitable by moving furniture or stored goods but the best thing they can do is to call in an experienced basement waterproofing contractor that is familiar with effects of extended drought and who know the basement water problems common to Chicago homes.
At U.S. Waterproofing, we’ve not only been called on to give an expert opinion on the effects of the drought by one of Chicago’s leading news organizations, but we’ve been keeping basements dry in and around Chicago for more than 55 years. Why not ask us for a free consultation on how the drought may have affected your basement?
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