Last summer, Susan Recker and her husband, Robert, were fortunate to avoid severe flooding at their lake home just off of Lake Manawa in Council Bluffs.
As levees strained and rain continued to come in waves, Recker thought for sure that they were going to lose the house. But the floods were held at bay and the house remained intact.
That is, until this summer.
Months of heat and drought that scorched much of the Midlands this summer took its toll on the Reckers' second home on the lake. In late July, Susan spotted a significant crack in the home's foundation. From inside a crawl space, the crack was wide enough that a sliver of light shone through.
“I truly didn't know what to think,” Recker, 72, said. “I thought a drought is terrible, but I had no idea something would happen to our house.”
While precipitation has increased and temperatures have grown more temperate recently, drought conditions have sapped Midlands soils of moisture. Those ongoing conditions are costing homeowners bundles of money as their foundations crack, shift or crumble because of the clay-heavy Midlands earth pulling away from homes because of a lack of moisture.
Repairing damaged foundations can cost from $5,000 into the tens of thousands, depending on severity, area basement repair experts said.
About 70 percent of Nebraska is in the worst category of drought, while about 60 percent of Iowa, including most of western Iowa, is experiencing extreme drought, the second-worst rating by the National Weather Service.
Even though more than an inch of rain fell on much of eastern Nebraska and western Iowa in the past week, that precipitation won't put to rest concerns over foundations, said Steve Gnader, owner of Quality Foundation Repair.
Gnader said the rain penetrated about six inches into soil in the Omaha area. “The water can't get that deep.”
Fixing the crack in the Reckers' home and adjusting the foundation of the home's crawl space was a “straightforward” repair, said Dan Thrasher, vice president of Thrasher Basement Systems. It cost the couple $5,500.
If the Reckers would have waited, the damage would have been more serious and more costly.
“We want to try and catch it as quick as we can, so we don't have any other damage to the rest of the house,” Thrasher said. “I think people do have a certain sense of urgency to get these kinds of things fixed, but it's not the kind of expense anyone looks forward to.”
Andrew Kolakowski learned the hard way what happens when you wait to act.
A couple of years ago, Kolakowski, 58, started noticing small cracks around the frame of the front door of his Papillion home. This summer, the cracks got worse, radiating from the door into the home's drywall. Kolakowski started having difficulty locking the door. Eventually, he couldn't even open it.
As drought dried up the soil around his house, the ground pulled away from the home's foundation, causing it to tip.
The estimated price to fix the shifted foundation with in-ground piers that will permanently prop up Kolakowski's house? $16,000.
As in most cases like this, his homeowners insurance didn't cover the damage “because it's not a sudden accident or event,” Kolakowski said.
“I was kind of surprised ... but yeah, I was kind of shocked,” he said with a chuckle that hinted of disbelief. “I was hoping or thinking maybe five or six thousand.
“My reaction is: I hate to do it, but it's something that needs to be done. It is the home.”
Despite the urgency of Kolakowski's situation, the earliest a repair firm could confirm an appointment was November, underscoring the pressure the drought is putting on basement repair firms.
The increase in drought-related damage has been a boon for them, but it also has strained their workers, causing some to work seven-day weeks and extra hours.
Thrasher said the number of foundation repairs tied to the drought have been at least three times higher than during a normal summer. Typically, the company's seven three-man crews have their work split between drought repairs and waterproofing jobs.
That's not the case this year. “We're fortunate that waterproofing is a lot slower because crews usually doing waterproofing are doing drought repairs.”
Still, he said, “It's getting to the point now where people are going to have to start waiting a couple weeks to get an estimate.”
Jim Zocelka, sales manager at Jerry's Basement Waterproofing and Foundation Repair of Omaha, said that although his workers have been swamped, business has been lucrative.
Zocelka said much of the business uptick has been in Council Bluffs, where, as with the Reckers' home, ground moisture increased during flood conditions last summer, then rapidly contracted after high heat and little precipitation this summer.
“There are more problems from being swelled up last year then having the opposite this year,” Zocelka said. In Council Bluffs “they just took off a lot faster.”
Tips about foundations
Concerned about drought-related home foundation damage? Here are a few tips:
» During periods of serious heat or lack of precipitation, water occasionally with soaker hoses a few feet from the house to keep the ground saturated.
» If you've let your lawn go dormant and haven't been watering, watering for four hours a day for two or three days could help.
» Watch for cracks in basement walls or floors, drywall and ceilings; soil separation around the foundation; windows and doors that stick or have gaps; water leakage.
» If you do spot damage, get help as soon as possible. Typically, the sooner you catch the problem, the lower the cost of repair.
» Use a local, reputable repair company and check how long it has been in business and its track record with the Better Business Bureau.
Sources: www.myfoundationrepairs.com, Better Business Bureau
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