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The Drama and Devastation of a Hurricane

As storms go, few are quite as dramatic as a hurricane. Powerful and destructive, hurricanes combine the high winds of tornados with the eroding power of floods and the ruinous impact of landslides for a perfect combination of devastating damage. When a hurricane approaches, those in the path of the storm go through the checklist to prepare their homes, but one part of the house that is often overlooked is the foundation. It’s easy to forget this seemingly indestructible concrete slab while you’re boarding up windows and gathering your belongings, but what you may not realize is that few foundations are actually hurricane-proof. Here, we look at the impact hurricanes have on foundations, how different foundations are affected, and how you can diminish hurricane damage to your foundation.

How Hurricanes Cause Damage

When a hurricane hits, it’s like nature is throwing all of its most damaging elements at a home. High winds blow off shingles, debris knocks out windows, flooding leads to mold damage, and sometimes, the whole house is just lost. Sometimes, you’ll see photos of homes destroyed by hurricanes, and only the foundation remains. Does that mean the foundation is impervious to damage? Not at all. Just because the hurricane can’t blow away your foundation, it doesn’t mean foundations aren’t damaged in other ways.

  • Water can wreak havoc with a foundation. Hurricanes can cause sea levels to rise by as much as 20 feet, and even homes that are nowhere near the cost can be pounded with intense rain. If your property is hit by a storm like this, the soil will absorb all that water, and this makes the soil swell and expand. The expansion of the soil creates hydrostatic pressure, pushing on the walls of a foundation so that they bow inward, crack, and lose structural integrity. Why aren’t foundations designed to resist hydrostatic pressure? Well, they are. However, the amount of hydrostatic pressure a hurricane creates is so far above the normal pressure that standard design often does not handle it. During a hurricane, your home is at great risk of a cracked foundation, and it’s unlikely to be covered by homeowners or flood insurance.
  • Wind damages foundations more than you might expect. This damage is largely indirect, because when wind dislodges gutter systems, destroys turf, displaces topsoil, and creates debris, it causes situations that lead to hydrostatic pressure. Improperly functioning drainage systems and shifting earth can cause pooling water and foundational movement that can cause great harm to a foundation.
  • Hurricanes can cause weight damage to your foundation. You may not have thought about this, but water is heavy. In fact, at 70°F, a cubic foot of water weighs about 62 pounds. Imagine the impact of a flood, in terms of the weight it puts on your foundation! Let’s imagine your 16 feet by 20 feet living room is holding two feet of standing water. That’s 640 cubic feet, or 39,000 pounds of water, just in that one room. Even if you don’t take into account the weight of waterlogged walls, carpets, and support beams, that’s enough weight to cause a foundation to crack under pressure.

Different Foundations Respond Differently to Hurricanes

Does the type of foundation you have factor into the amount of damage a hurricane can cause? Absolutely. Here’s a look at some common foundation types and how they fare in a major storm.

  • Cement and concrete foundations are the most common foundations in American homes. In fact, about 65 percent of new single family homes used concrete foundations. These foundations are sturdy enough for most types of soil, can stand up to increased weight, and are resistant to high winds. Sadly, water is their downfall. When the soil around a heavy concrete foundation shifts, the foundation is likely to shift and crack. High amounts of water cause this shift, and hydrostatic pressure can do major damage.
  • Basements are extremely vulnerable to flooding. Have you noticed that certain states, like Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida don’t have basements? These states are prone to damp soils and are so close to sea level that they are very prone to flooding. Having a basement invites water to enter the house during a storm, and this can lead to problems like foundation cracks and bowing, mold growth, and electrical failures. Additionally, all that empty basement space inside a foundation makes it more likely to collapse and crack under pressure.
  • Pier and beam foundations raise homes off of the ground. This makes them a good defense against flood water, which can flow underneath the house. However, even if the house doesn’t flood, the crawl space can hold water, which can lead to mold, rot, and pest issues.
  • Crawl spaces are the worst for flood damage. Because crawl spaces only elevate the house about two feet, it’s not enough elevation to prevent flood damage. However, they can hold water, and because they’re typically made with wooden supports, crawl spaces often have mold, wood rot, fungus, and pest problems. If the wood of the crawl space is weak, the winds of a hurricane can shift the house and cause it to collapse.

Preventing Hurricane Damage

What can you do to protect your foundation from a hurricane? Unfortunately, as a storm approaches, there’s really very little to be done. FEMA recommends preparations like replacing gravel and landscaping stones with lighter-weight materials, cutting weak, low-hanging branches from trees, installing storm shutters, hurricane-proofing exterior doors, and sealing outside wall openings like vents, electrical outlets, garden hose bibs, and openings for cables or utility lines. However, none of these measures address the foundation directly.

The best thing you can do for your foundation is to be proactive, well in advance of hurricane season. Have your crawl space encapsulated to keep moisture from accumulating and damaging your foundation. And, if you have a basement, seal any cracks and consider installing a sump pump system, to effectively remove excess water and prevent it from pooling in the basement. Most importantly, have your foundation inspected, not just after a hurricane, but regularly, so that small problems can be caught and repaired before they cause major issues with your foundation’s structural integrity.

Trust the Foundation Experts at Budget Basement Waterproofing

If you are looking for a Maryland company with the experience and know-how to restore a damaged foundation, proactively protect a foundation against damage, or keep your basement clean and dry, Budget Basement Waterproofing can help. In addition to waterproofing services, we offer foundation repair that goes beyond patching cracks to find the source of the problem. We also offer installation of the EZ Breathe home ventilation system, to clean the air inside your home. At Budget Waterproofing, we’ve got more than 55 years of experience servicing both commercial and residential customers throughout Maryland. We’re proud of our craftsmanship and confident in our skills, and all of our technicians are fully licensed and insured. We also hold an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau of Maryland. Whether you need foundation repair, basement waterproofing, a drainage system, crawl space waterproofing, or egress window installation, we’ve got you covered, with the experience and skills necessary to improve your basement and protect your property today and in the future. For more information, call 410.690.4970 or contact us through our website.