Fill­ing voids part of main­te­nance

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - ARI MARANTZ

QI was mov­ing some plants in a front flower bed re­cently and while dig­ging next to my con­crete steps I re­al­ized there was about an eight-inch (20-cen­time­tre) void be­tween the base of my steps and the soil be­neath. The steps have been re-capped re­cently but re­tain what I think is the orig­i­nal base. I know we had some red squir­rel is­sues a few years ago, but haven’t seen any re­cent ac­tiv­ity, so I’m not sure they’re the rea­son for the void or if it’s just a nat­u­ral oc­cur­rence with set­tling over a num­ber of years. Should I be con­cerned about the steps be­ing un­sup­ported? I don’t want to lose the in­vest­ment of re­cently re­paired stairs. Would it be of any use to try and back­fill un­der the stairs with crushed lime­stone? And, if the squir­rels are the root of the prob­lem, how best to keep them out from un­der the steps? Thanks for your time. Re­gards, Perry Favoni An­swer: Fill­ing in voids un­der steps, over­hangs, or other ar­eas around homes is part of typ­i­cal main­te­nance. There are a few rea­sons to keep these ar­eas from be­com­ing prob­lem­atic, not the least of which is preven­tion of pests nest­ing in these ar­eas. Try­ing to de­ter­mine the cause of the void un­der your front steps may be fruit­less, but suc­cess­fully fill­ing it in will likely leave you pest-free. It would be un­usual for red squir­rels, which nor­mally make their homes in trees, to build a nest un­der your steps but other ground squir­rels, chip­munks, and rab­bits may find the area ideal. Also, bees, wasps, hor­nets, and other sting­ing in­sects like pro­tected, damp lo­ca­tions like that for their hives. Keep­ing the area filled in, es­pe­cially with sharp edged stone, will pre­vent these crit­ters from get­ting too com­fort­able un­der your stairs. While that may seem like the pri­mary rea­son for your ef­forts, other con­sid­er­a­tions may be just as im­por­tant. When soil set­tles or erodes near your foun­da­tion, es­pe­cially un­der steps, ad­di­tions, or other over­hangs, there is much more chance of wa­ter pool­ing from rain and snow melt. When wa­ter pools against a foun­da­tion wall, it is only a mat­ter of time be­fore it will find a small crack, hole or de­fect in the damp proof­ing to leak through. Be­cause the soil in the void is be­low the level of the sur­round­ing earth it will tend to col­lect more than in other ar­eas. As far as struc­tural con­cerns with the dis­ap­pear­ing soil, that may not be as much of a prob­lem as you might sus­pect. Most con­crete stairs may ap­pear to be solid, but in re­al­ity are hol­low and rel­a­tively thin. If they were con­structed of solid con­crete they would be so heavy that move­ment would be a more likely out­come. Also, many stairs ap­pear to be sup­ported by the soil alone, but may have more sta­ble sup­ports at the front and rear. Some­times, deep con­crete piers, or piles will be in­stalled at the front corners of the stair land­ing to sup­port the en­tire assem­bly. Other times, larger con­crete foot­ings are poured for the same pur­pose. Al­ter­na­tively, many other sets are at­tached or con­nected to the foun­da­tion of the home to pre­vent move­ment. Los­ing some soil to nor­mal forces of na­ture should not cause the steps to be­come un­sta­ble. The next of your ques­tions to ad­dress is the proper ma­te­rial to use for fill­ing in the space in ques­tion. I of­ten get this ques­tion dur­ing the course of reg­u­lar in­spec­tions and my re­ply is that any type of fill that can be easily shov­elled or poured into this tight area is ac­cept­able. Soil, sand or smooth stone will fit in this cat­e­gory, but crushed lime­stone may be the best choice for a cou­ple of rea­sons. The sharp edges of the stone may make ex­ca­va­tion by in­vad­ing an­i­mals more dif­fi­cult, while it will be rel­a­tively easy to shovel into this tight area. It also com­pacts well, es­pe­cially if it is quar­ter or three-quar­ter down ma­te­rial, which con­tains stones of var­i­ous sizes com­bined with sand and other par­ti­cles smaller than the screen size it is named af­ter. Those prop­er­ties, as well as the fact that it will be­come fairly solid if wet­ted down, make it an ideal sub­strate for your pur­pose. Pre­vent­ing mois­ture from per­me­at­ing into the foun­da­tion of a house should be a pri­mary goal of any home­owner. Fill­ing in any large voids, like that un­der your front stairs, will go a long way in achiev­ing that goal. An ad­di­tional bonus will be pre­vent­ing pests such as rab­bits, wasps, or squir­rels from tak­ing res­i­dence in the pro­tected space. En­sur­ing that this is taken care of, on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, will help al­le­vi­ate these con­cerns even if struc­tural con­sid­er­a­tions are not much of an is­sue. Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home In­spec­tion Ltd. He can be reached at 204-291-5358 or check out

his web­site at trained­

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