The nation's widespread drought is forecast to be costly for Americans as the prices of fuel and popular grocery items spike. And adding insult to injured budgets, the extreme heat and suddenly arid climate in certain parts of the country have homeowners unexpectedly facing high home repair bills -- to the tune of thousands of dollars -- as well as the potential for increased home insurance payments for years to come.

The good news is the costs that rode in on the heat wave are avoidable if you know how to prevent drought-related damage to your home. In fact, there is one sure-fire way to protect your home from drought.

What Is Damage Caused By?

Heat- and drought-related damage to homes is common in Texas, Arizona and other typically dry states. Texas soils are known for causing serious foundation problems, said Shawn Lawson, owner of Perma-Pier Foundation Repair of Texas. That's because fluctuations in moisture in the soil bed under a home cause the risk of damage to the home's foundation and pipes.

'When soil is over-dry due to drought, the soil tends to shrink versus swell when it is wet,' Lawson said. 'That shrinking of soil, or soil movement, weakens the foundation's support structure.'

The shift in the soil as it shrinks also can cause a pipe to crack, leak or even burst. This summer's drought has left more than half of all U.S. counties designated as natural disaster areas, and now that type of home damage is no longer confined to the Southwest. Homeowners in areas that aren't typically dry -- like the Great Lakes and Northeast regions -- are racking up hefty repair bills for cracked fountains, burst pipes and other drought-related damages.

Signs You May Have Damage To Your Home

Lawson said signs the drought has damaged your home include:

  • Plumbing leaks
  • Cracks in sheet rock and walls
  • Cracks in brick work
  • Sloping or cracking floors
  • Doors or windows that won't open or are jamming
  • Window frame separation
  • Frieze board separation
  • Uneven doors/floors

'Foundation repairs can cost thousands depending upon the severity and location of the damage,' said Alex Roberts, national franchise president of the home repair service Mr. Handyman. 'According to our research, North Texas homeowners will pay around a staggering $5.3 billion in foundation damage costs over the lifetime of their home.'

The individual cost: about $5,600 per repair.

'It’s a real burden on homeowners,' Lawson said.

How To Protect Your Home

But there is a way to make sure you don't incur high costs during times of drought: Avoid harmful cracking in your foundation by keeping the moisture levels up. Here's how to do that:

  1. Control the moisture. Moisture must be evenly maintained around the home's perimeter. 'When a homeowner waters one part of the house but doesn't water the other, the differences in soil moisture will cause the home to shift,' Lawson said.

  2. Make sure the foundation and at least 2 feet of the surrounding soil gets watered evenly to minimize disruption to the foundation. Soaker hoses found at home improvement and discount stores for about $20 help keep moisture levels even.

  3. Water at the right time. When it's dry and hot, water evaporates. So Lawson said it's best to water early in the morning or late at night when it's cooler.

  4. Monitor landscape water consumption. Beautiful landscapes that require excessive amounts of water can drain the surrounding soil and create uneven moisture levels in the soil near a foundation. Make sure flower and plant beds are watered so plant roots don't drain all the moisture from the soil near your home.

The Problem With Insurance

An added issue regarding drought-stricken homes: Most houses aren't insured against drought. Homeowners in states like Indiana, Missouri, Illinois, New York and Ohio and others that are unseasonably dry because of the drought are seeing cracks in their home's concrete foundation, brick joints and drywall -- all signs the foundation has cracked, Roberts said.

And in most cases, homeowners have to foot the entire bill.

Most home insurance policies cover perils such as fire, wind, hail and lightning but won't cover a claim for foundation cracked as a result of the drought.

'Drought is not a peril typically covered,” said Jeremy Schaedler, owner of California-based property and casualty insurance agency Schaedler Insurance.

[InvestingAnswers Feature: 10 Most Costly American Natural Disasters Of The Past 35 Years]

And in the rare event that cracks caused by drought are covered, a claim could haunt you for years to come. Your rate could spike as much as 20% more, or your policy might not be renewed because of the claim.

'It's not uncommon for homeowners to pay for damages out of pocket instead of filing a claim to avoid higher rates the following year,' Schaedler said.

You would think your foundation -- and wallet -- is safe once it rains. But that isn't necessarily true. When Mother Nature does finally bring rain to an area hit hard by a drought, the thirsty soil quickly expands as it rehydrates, Lawson said.

'That also wreaks havoc on a home's foundation because the rapid swelling, or expansion, of the soil can put pressure on a home's foundation and pipes casing cracks and damage,' he said.

The Investing Answer: Whether you're in a typically dry state like Texas or a generally not-so-dry one like New York, Lawson said the key to preventing a costly repair is maintaining consistent water levels around the home.

'Most damage can be alleviated with these basic care and maintenance procedures,' he said.

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