A drought dries the soils to the point where severe settlement of the home can lead to serious structural damage. During severe droughts, water may be rationed for human use only, and your garden and yard may suffer soil shrinkage.

Q: Should I water the soils around my house during a drought?


A: Yes, if water is available. A drought dries the soils to the point where severe settlement of the home can lead to serious structural damage. During severe droughts, water may be rationed for human use only, and your garden and yard may suffer soil shrinkage.


For instance, most of us are aware of the ongoing drought in Texas, in fact, the central part of Texas has already implemented a stage 5 water-rationing program.


Information in iSurf Temple (http://www.isurftemple.com) a community news website based in Temple, Texas, explains the levels of rationing communities often take:


-- V: Voluntary. Water supply suggests that customers limit water use to avoid further restrictions.


-- 1: Mild rationing. Usage of water for outdoor purposes, such as lawns, gardens, and car washing, can be restricted by the utility.


-- 2: Moderate rationing. All outdoor water usage is prohibited, except by hand-held hoses with manual on/off nozzles. Water usage for livestock is exempt from this restriction.


-- 3: Severe rationing. All outdoor water usage is prohibited; livestock watering may be exempted by the utility. All consumption may also be limited to each customer in specific ways.


-- 4: More severe rationing. Similar to Stage 3, except penalties are more severe. No outdoor watering, no swimming-pool filling, no car washing.


-- 5: Extreme rationing. Residents are asked to cut household water consumption by up to 50 percent with surcharges added for overuse.


Improper grading of a yard, installation of a sump pump or directing gutter drains away from the foundation of an older existing home can also dry the soil around foundations.


Changing the amount of water in the soils will alter the soil's characteristics. Without water, smectite clay soils, which are found in all the continental states, will shrink, leaving voids under the supporting foundation. The voids can lead to foundation settlement, which could then cause major structural damage to the foundation and structure.


According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, about half of the houses built in the United States each year are located on unstable soils, and about half of these will eventually suffer some soil-related damage.


There's not much you can do during a drought if water use is restricted, unless you can reduce personal use or pay a surcharge.


However, if this is an annual occurrence, you might consider a well to maintain the soils with a foundation watering system.


If your home is already damaged, a series of steel piers or helical piers can be installed to support the foundation independent of the soils. Both solutions are expensive and you should investigate the availability of a sufficient supply of groundwater before making any decisions.


Contact a structural engineer before deciding on the foundation piers.


Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors. Write to him with home improvement questions at C. Dwight Barnett, Evansville Courier & Press, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, IN 47702 or email him at d.Barnett@insightbb.com.