Foundation Repair Business Soars as Drought Hits Homes

By Miguel Llanos, NBC News

As if shriveled crops, dead fish, water rationing and brown lawns aren’t bad enough, some residents across the Midwest and South are seeing the drought in their own homes as foundations shift in dried-up soil.

Sometimes they’ll even hear the shift.

“We will get calls where homeowners hear a loud pop,” John Clark, general manager at Indiana Foundation Service, told NBC News. “They’ll explain that they’ve heard the house move.”

Adding insult to injury, insurers typically consider such damage an “act of God” and thus homeowners are on the hook for funding repairs.

Clark said drought-repair business in and around Indianapolis is booming, with calls almost doubling in the last month and his crews doing about 10 home repairs a week.

Competitors are just as busy.

“I’ve never seen it to this magnitude, this early in the season” said Tim Combs, vice president at Helitech, a foundation and waterproofing specialist based in St. Louis, Mo. “I’ve been at Helitech for 19 years, and this is the driest ever.”

Between 60 and 70 percent of Helitech’s customer calls involve foundation repairs, Combs told NBC News, when typically it’s half foundations and half waterproofing this time of year.

The problem is everywhere Helitech operates — Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky. “The drought is so widespread that it’s really balanced” as far as repair work, he said.

Some homeowners report new cracks, Combs said, while others say small cracks have gotten worse with the dry spell.

The foundation damage is on top of drought problems that include lost corn and soy crops, fish killed by low oxygen levels in lakes and rivers, and water rationing in some cities.

In Illinois, NBC affiliate WEEK-TV reported Wednesday that the drought is causing home damage in the Peoria area.

Similar foundation issues exist in Little Rock, Ark, NBC affiliate KARK-TV reported Monday.

Clark earlier told NBC affiliate WTHR-TV that foundation repairs tied to dry soil can cost anywhere from $1,000 up to $40,000.

Homeowners should look for “doors that are sticking, windows that stick and drywall cracks,” Clark said.

As for prevention, WTHR noted that some experts suggest a sprinkler around a home’s foundation — as long as no cracks currently exist.

Another approach is to water under an exposed slab area to beef up the soil.

“On shallow footings, crawl spaces, footings that might be under a slab of some sort you can actually water with a water hose and it can help that expansive soil swell and preserve that footing from settling,” Jeff Tharp, a specialist at Helitech, told WEEK.

In Indianapolis, however, that’s not on option: the drought has led to a ban on watering lawns this summer.