This year's unprecedented drought created problems for many Missouri homeowners, says Michael E. Goldschmidt, University of Missouri Extension specialist in housing and environmental design.
Homeowners should be alert to changes in the foundation, walls and ceilings and act quickly to avoid serious damage and costly repairs in the future, Goldschmidt said.
Missouri's clay soil, known for expanding and contracting as moisture increases or decreases, make homes particularly susceptible to foundation shifts and cracking, he said. Older home foundations of stone or concrete generally were built without rebar reinforcements, making them more prone to damage when moisture is sapped from the soil during a drought.
"When we went through this unprecedented drought, the soil moved," he said.
As a result of shifting and cracking, the foundation of the home may pull away from the soil. Basements, crawl spaces and slabs may all be affected.
Goldschmidt urges homeowners to inspect all sides of their homes for gaps between the foundation and the ground before soil freezes or spring rains hit.
Homeowners may see cracks in their drywall and molding, or find doors and windows hard to open as a result of shifting. Nails may even pop out, and homeowners may hear noises as the house shifts. Visible signs of damage on the inside of a home generally are indicators of bigger problems in the foundation.
Goldschmidt said small cracks can often be repaired by waterproofing the inside foundation with a special coating available at home-improvement stores and lumberyards. The severity of the crack can be viewed from the outside by digging down about one foot at the estimated point of cracking. He urges homeowners to dig with caution, as settling may increase as a result of the soil disruption.
If the crack is substantial, Goldschmidt urges homeowners to contact a basement and foundation repair professional immediately. Many companies will give free estimates, and timely repairs can slow or halt the progression of foundation problems.
If foundation damage isn't repaired quickly, a minor problem can turn into a major one, with repairs costing as much as $15,000 to $20,000 for an average home.
"It is better to have an expert look at it before trying to do repairs yourself," Goldschmidt said.
In Missouri, torrential rains are typical in spring. If homeowners do not act now, heavy rains will put pressure on the foundation and cause basements to swell and bulge. Signs of damage include water in the basement and sticky doors and windows.