Some home truths

We’ve learnt a lot about reactive soil since we moved into our own home in 2007.  The dream house we chose to buy has been wonderful in most respects, but we didn’t realise at the time (1) why our suburb was only recently built although so close to the city, and (b) that our changing climate and 10 year drought had just started to bite.

NE corner, 2007

Reactive soil contracts and swells depending on its moisture content, and depending on its depth will lift whatever is built on it.  Certain types of clay are the most reactive, and sand perhaps least so.  We knew that most of Adelaide is built on clay soil which is reactive; our home in Campbelltown had some minor cracking because of this; it was easily patched up before the church sold it in 2007.

Our new home was only a few years old and a licenced builder and friend found it to be in excellent condition when we bought it.  But quite soon after moving into the first house we’d ever actually owned as well as occupied, the fine, dense, black soil hidden under the grass and topsoil started to show it had now dried out more than it ever had since the house’s construction in 1999.

2008 photo

The first thing we noticed was that the pavers in the paths surrounding the house foundations were dropping in level and moving away from the walls.  Then we started hearing creaking and bangs from the roof space in the house’s middle, and a 1 cm gap slowly developed across the ceiling there.  At the same time a line of tiles across the stone floor were starting to lift and some to crack.  And the doors at the centre of our house were jamming.  Saving much of our waste water for the house surrounds has not made a noticeable difference – although it must help.  Not a happy time.

We contacted the builder, consulted the web and phoned the local council.  We spoke to several house builders and an architect and paid for an inspection and report from consulting engineers who specialise in this aspect of the Adelaide scene.  We found (1) that there is no liability (let alone insurance cover) for building construction problems after five years, (2) that our problem was not regarded by the professionals as severe, certainly not sufficiently so to warrant the expense of underpinning, and (3) that our block’s soil problem is exacerbated by the trees behind our back fence and the vibration from the main road there – and that we could not expect the authorities to remove these trees.  So what do you do now that you are retired, guys?

The good news is that we can do a fair bit to remedy the situation, helped by the spare time and energy we have being healthy and living in retirement.  And by our careful saving for retirement.  So we’ve developed a plan.

2011 photo

The ceiling crack has become a control joint: a covered line in the ceiling that can flex with the seasons.  We’d love to think the floor problem could be fixed with a control joint also, but are still investigating that.  The doors have been brought back into alignment and use, but will also need continued attention.  And we have started by levelling the surface and relaying the pavers around the house, something we’ll no doubt need to do regularly.

Next, the good-looking but inflexible and cracking floor tiles will probably be replaced by timber flooring.  And we’re investigating the practicability of putting a 1 metre underground barrier across the back of our block to reduce the effect of the ever-thirsty eucalypts gracing the main road behind our rear fence.

I’m grateful that this disappointment, frustration and unforeseen expense have not affected us too much.  We continue to enjoy our freedom and ability to do some volunteering and a little paid work, to pursue some of our many interests including my blogging, to see more of our family and friends interstate and even overseas, to support our local church, and to maintain our fitness and health.  Helen and I realise full well that we have been blessed far more than most.  God is good.


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