I never really thought that Austin foundation repair would be all that active of a
market or needed by that many homeowners because of the way I think of the
terrain and the soils there. After all, Austin and Travis County are part of the “Texas Hill Country.” You see lots of bluffs, rock outcroppings, chalk and limestone formations. I know a homeowner who had to import top soil to lay over his rocky back yard to get some landscaping going. That is not the kind of soil that causes foundation woes.
However, a look at a soil survey map for Travis County tells a more complete story and why there is a need an Austin foundation repair community. It turns out that Travis County bridges an area of dramatically changing soil types.
The western part of the county is home to the edge of the Edwards Plateau with lots of limestone. The central part of the county has limestone, chalk and some areas of shrink-swell clay associated with the Colorado River drainage system. The eastern part of Travis County and Austin blends into black land prairie with plenty of areas of sticky gooey clay that is hard on slab foundations.
The soil survey map for Travis County and Austin shows the area to be an alphabet soup of soil types. You’ll find everything from shallow loam soil over limestone to deep areas of the dreaded Houston Black clay with the shrink-swell action that can cause slab-on-ground foundation problems.
So your need to call an Austin foundation repair company largely hinges on what type of soil your home is built on. Although slab leaks and poor foundation design and construction on any type of soil can cause problems, in Texas the majority of concrete slab foundation issues are blamed on shrink-swell clay soils.
The engineering section of the Travis County soil survey map had this to say
Shrink-swell characteristics of the soil need to be considered in designing a
building foundation, particularly if piers are not used below the slab. Such clay soils as those of the Houston Black, San Saba, and Ferris series are particularly poorly suited to building sites. They swell when wet and shrink when dry. This shrinking and swelling exerts such pressure that walls and foundations crack unless they are specially reinforced, sidewalks and driveways crack, and streets and sidewalks deteriorate more quickly (plate V).
If you have a house with a slab foundation in the Austin area that sits on clay soil it’s a good idea to keep the amount of moisture around the foundation uniform with soaker hoses.
Nearby trees and large shrubs can remove large amounts of water
from under the slab. Installing root barriers can help protect the foundation.
The classic signs of foundation problems are cracks in the walls, doors and windows that stick and gaps around the casings. If your floors are so uneven they remind you of a too-long night on Sixth Street, it’s time to call in the pros.
Start with an inspection by an independent licensed civil or structural engineer who has experience in residential foundations. The engineer should have no financial ties to any Austin foundation repair contractor or lender. They can recommend contractors if needed as part of their report but only because of their professional opinion but not because of kick-backs or commissions.
If you skip that step, get bids from at least three foundation repair contractors. Keep in mind that some Austin foundation repair companies will specialize in only one type of pier while other companies are more flexible with their repair methods.
Texas is home to the Foundation Performance Association (FPA) “a non-profit
professional organization dedicated to advancing the knowledge and professional standards of light foundation design, engineering, construction, inspection and repair.”
As an Austin area home owner, you can find engineers and foundation repair
contractors listed on the website.
Good luck and remember to keep Austin weird.