Foundation Erosion and How to Deal with It

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This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Trouble in Paradise

Foundation erosion is a common problem in Hawaii.

For a number of reasons, not the least of which are rising sea levels and frequent flash floods. Whether your property is beachfront or inland, and no matter which island you live on, foundation erosion is one of the most devastating things that can happen to your home — and many homeowners don’t even know it.

Fortunately, there are a number of preventative actions that you can take to protect your home. The following are some proven methods to prevent foundation erosion; take note of them today to avoid tragedy tomorrow.

Maintain Your Drainage System

Keep an eye on your gutters and downspouts and remove any blockages that might prevent proper water drainage. Rainwater should always drain away from your house so that the soil under your foundation remains firmly in place. If you suspect that your gutters are undersized for the home, have an expert look at them. You may need to replace them.

Fix Cracks Immediately

Repair any cracks in your home’s foundation immediately. Cracks will allow water to seep into the inside of your home’s foundation, eroding it more quickly; additionally, internal deterioration will be harder to detect until it’s too late.

Plant Wisely

Certain types of grasses and bushes can more effectively hold soil in place. You may also need to use a special type of compost if your soil is sandy. Even so, using plants to protect your foundation from erosion is often cost-effective and cost-efficient.  It can also be aesthetically pleasing.

What If I’ve Already Noticed Erosion?

Illustration of micropile repair due to foundation erosion.Many foundation erosion problems can be repaired using micropiles. Micropiles are created by drilling a hole into the soil, inserting a strong bar or pipe, and filling the hole with grout. These holes can be anywhere from two to eight inches wide depending on the size of the property and the damage incurred. A good foundation repair contractor will use micropile technology in conjunction with other foundation repair techniques (such as slab leveling, slope stabilization and tieback anchors).

However, if your home has serious foundation erosion problems, you may need to consider “amputating” a portion of your house and replacing the foundation to protect the rest from further damage. Of course, this is a last resort that should only be done in consultation with an expert, as it’s expensive and time-consuming to remove and rebuild a portion of your home.

Foundation erosion can cause significant damage. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to do everything possible to prevent erosion on your property. Planting the right vegetation, maintaining your gutters and drainage system, and regularly inspecting your foundation for cracks can prevent headaches and hardship.

At the same time, discovering signs of potential foundation erosion doesn’t mean you’ve lost your house. Seal the cracks and establish sturdy erosion control barriers (such as concrete pavers or liners). Then talk to an expert to see what type of foundation repair is in order to prevent more home damage.

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How to Keep These 5 House Pests Out of Your Home

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This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Trouble in Paradise

Hawaii’s rich biodiversity and unique wildlife are among its most attractive qualities. The tropical climate on the islands is heaven for over 3,000 native species of plants and animals. As a homeowner, however, you probably want to keep nature where it belongs: outside.

Here are five house pests you’ll likely encounter in Hawaii, and a few tips on how to keep them out of your home.

  1. Centipedes

​Hawaii is home to three species of centipedes: the stone centipede, the tiny Mecistocephalus, and the Chinese Red Head. While all three are common household pests, homeowners need to be particularly wary of the last one. Also known as the Vietnamese Centipede, the Chinese Red Head is one of the largest centipedes in the world. They often growing up to 8 inches long. This species preys on nearly everything and can even attack when provoked. Although not poisonous, the bite from a Chinese Red Head centipede is extremely painful.

Because centipedes prefer dark, damp places, you may find them in closets, hiding in yard clippings, and even creeping in crevices in your lanai. In order to reduce the number of potential hiding places, keep clutter and debris away from your home and caulk any cracks or open spots.

  1. Cockroaches

Another extremely common house pest in Hawaii is the cockroach. The three species you’ll most likely encounter are American, German, and Surinam (or “burrowing”) cockroaches.

Dead Cockroach House Pest
Photo by Steve Snodgrass

Cockroaches breed in warm environments and can enter your home through even the smallest openings. You can encounter them everywhere from kitchen floors to boxes of clothing. Since cockroaches can adapt to almost any surrounding, they are notoriously difficult to eradicate. However, proper sanitation and simple Borax traps have proven very effective in keeping these crunchy crawlies out of your home.

  1. Spiders

Spiders feed on a number of insects and can help lower the number of pests in your home. However, be on the lookout for two poisonous species in Hawaii: the black widow spider and the brown violin (or brown recluse) spider.

Although a few people die every year from the bites of these spiders nationwide, these house pests are usually not aggressive unless attacked or threatened.

If you see an unusually high number of spiders in your house, you should seal any holes or cracks you can find around your doors, windows, and crawlspaces. It’s also a good idea to keep any shrubs or bushes well-trimmed and away from the siding of your property.

  1. Rats

If you see a rat in your home or scurrying across your lanai, it’s most likely a common house rat. Averaging from 5.5 to 7 inches in length, these rodents are usually gray or brown with light tan bellies.

The common house rat is a “commensal creature”. This means they like to be near humans, entering homes through cracks to seek shelter and have a steady supply of food. They also have extremely sharp and strong teeth that can gnaw through electrical wires, wooden doors, walls, and more. While rodent control services are your best bet when it comes to ridding your property of rats, home renovations can be employed as a preventative measure.

  1. Ants

Ant infestations are among the most commonly reported pest problems in Hawaii. Since ants are social insects that live in enormous colonies, if you see an ant in your home, you can assume that there are hundreds more. On the islands, be on the lookout for carpenter ants and tropical fire ants.

Carpenter ants are reddish black in color and feed on wood, which means they can cause widespread structural damage. Tropical fire ants are tiny and bright red; they attack in swarms and have an extremely painful sting that can cause severe allergic reactions. Since ants enter your home through cracks around doors or windows, it’s important to seal all openings and renovate any old or decrepit structures.

Many of the household pests above can enter your property through cracks or unsealed openings. While poison traps and caulking may work in the short-term, renovations and remodeling can help you replace old features that leave your home vulnerable to annoying (or even dangerous) house pests.

Photo by Boston Public Library

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How To Protect Your Home From Flash Floods

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This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Trouble in Paradise

How To Protect Your Home From Flash Floods

Living in Hawaii may be paradise — but even paradise has its problems. Take flash floods, for example: flash floods can be extremely dangerous and devastating to both people and property, and anything that stands in the way of a flash flood is at risk of being destroyed. Flash floods are more likely to occur after it has already been raining for several days; however, one of the most insidious aspects of these floods is that they can occur even when there are no visible signs of rain.

Use the following tips to help you prepare and protect yourself and your home from flash floods:

Be Aware and Be Prepared

Follow these general safety tips to help stay ahead of a flash flood.

  • Listen for warnings from the National Weather Service whenever there have been heavy rains.
  • Also, check NOAA weather radio for updates.
  • Sign up for civil defense alerts to get automatic text updates about flash floods and other emergency situations.
  • Know how to shut off your utilities safely in the event of a flash flood.
  • Create a flood preparedness plan with your family.

Protect Your Home and Property

Like the old adage says, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The best way to prepare for flash flooding is to build or renovate your home with the possibility of flash flooding in the back of your mind. Here are some tips to protect your house and property against flash floods:

  • Know your elevation and flood zones: if you’re in a flood-prone area, you may need special building permits to build or retrofit your home.
  • Ensure that your property has adequate drainage. If water pools on your property with no place to run off, you should consider installing drains.
  • Be aware of nearby streams and gulches that are prone to flooding with heavy rain.
  • Secure any fuel tanks on your property.
  • Reinforce your roof.
  • Make sure your home’s foundation is solid.

Know When to Hire a Professional

If you plan to build or retrofit your home to protect against flash floods, a professional drafting service can save you a lot of time and money in the long run. These services use software that can help you anticipate any potential issues with a project before you start building, and an experienced professional can coordinate with structural engineers and government agencies on your behalf. Hiring a drafting service can also achieve a perfect combination of form and function, helping you build a house that can withstand the elements — as well as a home you want to live in.

Photo by Seattle Municipal Archives

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Home Improvement Projects…Ready for Yours?

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With spring arriving a lot of people are beginning to consider their next home improvement project. Maybe your kitchen needs an upgrade or you work at home and you want to spruce up your home office. Any home improvement worth doing is worth the time it takes to ask yourself these five questions before making that commitment.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Home Improvement Project

  1. Does the work require a permit or construction drawings?
    To comply with the codes some projects will need a permit to be legal, and others even require a license. Don’t ever try to complete a job without a license if the laws require it in your region. If you do need a permit you will almost always need professionally prepared drawings too.
  2. Do You Have the Technical Knowledge?
    At the end, when you are doing it yourself, there are several jobs around the house that need much more skill than others. For example if you don’t really know what you’re doing with mechanical or electrical systems, you may not only cost yourself a lot of cash, but you could also get hurt, or worse yet…killed. So think hard and long before commencing those type of home improvement projects on your own.
  3. Do You Have Enough Skill or Experience?
    A job that requires a lot of drywall or finish carpentry are not necessarily challenging to do in terms of technical knowledge, but they do demand a certain amount of talent and ability to make the finished product come out right and look good. This is important if you are concerned with how it’s going to look when it’s finished, so make sure that you have the experience before you start.
  4. Do You Have the Required Tools?
    There are several jobs around the house that need unique equipment to carry it through to completion. Naturally, you are able to rent almost any tool you will ever want, or to purchase it if you have other projects in the future to use it on too. Either way, it can become expensive very fast, so make sure that you’ve considered the price for any specialized tools beforehand.
  5. Do You Have the Time Available to Finish the Job?
    Many people have a tendency to underestimate the time it takes to do the work, especially when there is a fair amount of learning along the way. The duration of any project will depend upon your daily schedule. For those who have nothing but time, it may not matter how long this occupation takes. On the other hand, if you are doing this in your free time after your full-time job, then it could possibly pay you to have another person do some of the work while you stay in the office to make money to pay for the project instead. Just keep in mind that any home-improvement job is likely going to take you more to execute than the average professional, and you need to plan it that way.

How to Minimize Problems During Your Home Improvement Project

One of the greatest issues that homeowners face when they start out on DIY home improvements is the shortage of proper preparation. Nothing can be more discouraging that to run out of money or time before you finish or be faced with hiring a pro when you’ve already mucked things up a bit.

Scrambling for help half-way through a home improvement project will almost always add far more cost than you would have saved by doing it yourself. This leads to  a very frustrating and stressful situation real fast.

Don’t let improper planning ruin your project. Ask yourself the five questions listed above and they will help you to start out on the right path before beginning any home improvement project.

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