Lack of soil moisture leading to high levels of house shifting, cracking: foundation specialist

A local construction company says they're seeing a high number of off-season calls this winter thanks to Winnipeg's dry soil.

Winnipeg construction company president says they're seeing high number of calls this year

The Prairies saw dry, hot conditions last summer, as seen in this photo of a Saskatchewan field from August 2017. The ground continues to be dry in Manitoba, leading to cracks in house foundations, according to the president of a Winnipeg construction company. (Mike Zartler/CBC)

A local construction company says they're seeing a high number of off-season calls this winter thanks to Winnipeg's dry soil.

The lack of moisture around house foundations means the soil around some homes has pulled away, leading to severe shifting and cracking, said Anthony Zappitelli, president of Winnipeg's Belvidere Construction.

The company is seeing 15-20 calls a day right now for structural repairs to pilings and underpinnings, he said, which is unusual for late winter.

"People are noticeably seeing cracks show up in their homes, their doors aren't closing properly."

Some of the more affected neighbourhoods include River Heights, St. James and Charleswood, where older character homes are in abundance, Zappitelli said, though he's getting calls from all over the city.

"People in Winnipeg are extremely smart so they know what they're talking about already. They know that they're noticing some heaving in their floors, their floors are slanting in one direction, they see cracks that weren't there a little while ago. That's when they're giving us a call."

The province's Hydrologic Forecast Centre released a report last week showing soil moisture levels in the province as part of its monthly flood forecast. Winnipeg's soil is classified as below normal for moisture, with an above normal frost pack due to the lack of insulating snow.

The summer and fall also saw less precipitation than normal.

"For existing structures, Winnipeg went through a very dry summer last year," said Zappitelli. "And so the natural causes of the ground drying up just creates [a situation allowing] the foundation just to sink."

Water your foundation

Watering your foundation is not something most homeowners — and even gardeners — would think about, said Nikki Bouchier, owner and lead horticulturalist for Off the Wall Greenscapes.

"I wouldn't have known about that before I bought a house," said Bouchier.

"About six years ago my husband and I bought a house here, and a good friend of mine had told me immediately ... to water [our] foundation when it's a really dry season.

"I have gardens all up against my house so I water anyways, but I took that advice and made sure I was at least getting up against the house."

Unfortunately, there's not much homeowners can do on their own if the ground has pulled away from their foundation at this point during the year, said Zappitelli.

"You don't want to be running a garden hose right now up against the house."

If people are noticing severe shifting or cracking, they should call a foundation company right away to prevent worse damage when the ground begins to thaw, Zappitelli said.

Come summertime, if Winnipeg has another low-precipitation season, people should water the ground around their homes and yards weekly, he said — including the sidewalks.


Elisha Dacey


Elisha Dacey was a journalist with CBC Manitoba. She is the former managing editor of Metro Winnipeg and her work has been seen in newspapers from coast to coast.