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Expansive Soils

Expansive soils are one of the most common reasons behind foundation problems. What should you know about expansive soil issues?

Cracked shrinking soil with foliage

Expansive Soils Can Require Foundation Repair

If you have expansive soil around your home’s foundation, you must address it. That’s because expansive soils often cause serious foundation problems if you don’t treat them properly and early. If you don’t know what expansive soils are or how they can manifest, however, it can be difficult to understand the issues that arise with them. Here’s everything you need to know about handling expansive soils around your home’s foundation.

What Causes Issues with Expansive Soils?

Many things can make expansive soils become a serious issue around your home. Most of these problems have to do with water. How does water tend to enter expansive soils? More often than not, it’s one of the following problems.

  • Flooding and Rain 

Have you been having more problems recently with precipitation outside? If so, you might end up experiencing more concerns with expansive soil. That’s specifically because outside precipitation is one of the most common reasons for water collecting around your basement or crawl space, which is a huge warning sign for expansive soil pressure.

With rain often comes flooding, which is one of the biggest causes of expansive soil issues. Flooding causes your soil to stay completely underwater for an extended period, which means expansive soils can absorb a lot of water. That can lead to huge problems with the soil around your home.

  • Internal Leaks 

What if you have issues with leaking that comes from the inside of your home? Ideally, you shouldn’t have a lot of internal leaking problems. If you have an ongoing leak that comes from the inside of your home, you need to fix it so you don’t have secondary issues with high humidity or general water damage because of those internal leaks.

However, especially when it comes to internal leaking that happens all of a sudden, there may be times where your home’s water system just doesn’t quite cut it. If you have a pipe burst in your basement or crawl space, for example, you might suddenly have a lot of water around your home, causing the expansive soil around the home to absorb the water.

  • Excess Water Collecting Around the Basement or Crawl Space 

The problem of excess water collecting around your basement or crawl space is one that many homeowners have. Most commonly, this problem comes from an issue with grading. Soil grading is the process of making sure that water runs away from your home rather than toward it. When it’s effective, it can be a great way to alleviate hydrostatic pressure, but if a building team does it ineffectively, it can be very damaging.

When the soil grading doesn’t work properly and you aren’t able to avoid issues with excess water, you can end up with even more serious hydrostatic pressure concerns. Hydrostatic pressure on its own can be a genuinely significant problem, but hydrostatic pressure combined with expansive soil can cause even more concerns.

Common Causes of Foundation Problems

What Problems Can Expansive Soils Cause?

Some homeowners might wonder why they need to think about expansive soils at all. After all, why does it matter that the soil outside your home might expand more than other soils? Here are a few of the things that expansive soils can cause in your home.

  • Bowing Basement Walls

When you enter your basement, what do the walls look like? The walls should be as straight as possible. If you notice that there’s a curve in the basement walls, especially one that pushes inward, chances are you’re experiencing a serious hydrostatic pressure problem. That pressure problem can easily come from expansive soil.

Bowing basement walls aren’t just an aesthetic concern, either. If you’re experiencing bowing basement walls, you need to fix that problem as soon as possible one way or another. Otherwise, you could end up with serious foundation problems up to and even including complete foundation failure, where the foundation walls cave in on themselves.

  • Cracks in the Foundation 

When expansive soils press in on the foundation, they can move the foundation out of the way so far that the foundation starts to crack under the pressure. There are many ways the foundation can crack, but all serious foundation cracks have one thing in common: they indicate that the foundation is under too much pressure to function properly.

Different foundation cracks may have different causes. For example, most of the time, horizontal cracks come from bowing basement walls. Stair-step cracks often come from uneven settling, especially in a brick or block foundation wall. Diagonal cracks at the corners of your foundation walls tend to indicate serious structural problems. No matter what types of cracks you have, however, you are facing a problem that should be addressed as soon as possible.

  • Weakened or Failed Foundation

If you avoid addressing your expansive soil problems for an extended period, you could end up with serious foundation problems as the expansive soil exerts its pressure on the foundation over and over again. This is especially important because expansive soil is also consolidating soil; when it dries out, it shrinks substantially, often removing the structure from the foundation.

Over a long time, this pattern of pressure and a lack of structure can lead to a foundation that’s much weaker than the foundation you initially had. If you continue to have those issues, you may end up with a completely failed foundation, which could be as serious as having your foundation crumble in on itself.

FAQs About Expansive Soils

Many types of soils can cause problems around your home, but expansive soils tend to get the most coverage. Understanding more about the type of soil that is expansive can be extremely beneficial in fixing the problem.

  • Clay Soils

Expansive soils come in all shapes and sizes, but for the most part, they’re clay soils. If your soil has any amount of clay in it, especially if it has a significant amount of clay in it, it’s more likely to be an expansive soil. Clay absorbs a lot of water and shrinks significantly when it dries out, which means any soil with a lot of clay in it is more likely to cause problems in the future.

Many areas can have clay soils, and pockets of it may be located in between other soil types, leading homeowners to mistakenly think their home is safe. If the land was once a part of an ocean, near a volcano, or had to deal with heavy rock formations, then clay may be a problem for you in the future. Likewise, clay minerals may result from rocks that had a great deal of contact with water or steam.

  • Testing the Soil Around Your Home

How can you know whether you have expansive soil around your home? A soil testing kit can be purchased online or at certain stores, allowing you to find a more direct answer. With that said, not all kits are effective and some may provide you with false readings. Because of that, it’s better to look for warning signs of expansive soil; some of which may already be cropping up around your home.

If you want to be preemptive, you can also reach out to a local expert. They will have more advanced kits that provide more accurate readings. They will take samples from around your foundation and property. While they’re diagnosing your soil, they can also spot more subtle warning signs that your basement, foundation, or crawl space are being affected by expansive soils, so you can get ahead of any problems that may be developing.

Because expansive soil expands when it gets wet, you might wonder whether you should try to dry out the soil around your home. Drying out the expansive soil probably won’t do anything to help with the expansion and might contribute to foundation problems in the opposite way.

  • Consolidating Soils

While expanding soil may cause damage to your foundation, shrinking soil is just as dangerous. Because of this, your DIY efforts may cause the same amount of damage. That’s because expansive soils are also consolidating soils. This means they shrink much more than other soils when they dry out.

When the soil shrinks, it reduces the amount of support the foundation walls have. They will be forced to bear their weight and if they don’t have reinforcing structures to help, they may begin to bow, lean, or eventually collapse. At the bare minimum, you’ll likely find cracks developing throughout your home’s structure. 

  • Reinforcing Your Foundation

Rather than drying out the area, it’s better to let nature take its course. The soil may expand and contract as it pleases, but that doesn’t mean your foundation will have to take the brunt. Instead, you can work to reinforce your home, so that it can tolerate whatever the soil is doing. Reinforcement is one of the best tools that you have for foundation problems.

A local expert will be able to assess how much strain your home is enduring and offer a customized solution. This may include push piers, helical piers, or other methods that can make sure your foundation isn’t bearing its weight without help if the soil goes haywire.

Reinforcing your foundation walls can be an extremely effective way to maintain your home’s foundation under the weight of expansive soil. However, you need to make sure that you’re doing it properly.

  • Methods of Reinforcement

There are many ways to reinforce foundation walls, ranging from wall anchors to carbon fiber repair processes to wall repair systems. Each of these is designed to provide structure and support for the walls, so they aren’t left to collapse inward when soils withdraw or get crushed when they expand.

Of course, not all of these solutions are necessary to implement at once. The reason there are so many options to choose from is that each offers its advantages. An expert can provide a free inspection to see what issues you’re dealing with. Using this knowledge, they can then recommend a support structure that will help safeguard your home against damage.

  • Reasons to Reinforce

If the damage to your home has been negligible so far, you may think support structures are overkill. Surely your home could just weather the expansion and contraction, right? Sadly, no foundation is strong enough to handle expansive soils long-term. The exception would be if the home was designed with these extra wall anchors or piers from the moment it was built. For many homes, especially older ones, this is not the case.

Reinforcing your foundation walls can help stop and repair damage and even safeguard your foundation against damage in the future. That’s because the reinforcing structures will take the brunt of the pressure from expansive soils, so your more delicate walls and foundation aren’t overwhelmed. Likewise, they may even correct tilting walls and make it possible to repair surface-level damage. If you don’t reinforce the foundation, then problems will only escalate until they need to be fully replaced.

Truly “fixing” expansive soil isn’t easy. An expansive soil will be expansive no matter what, which means that you can’t stop the baseline problem. What you can stop are the responses that your home might be having to that problem.

  •   A Variety of Fixes

There’s no real way to correct expansive soil unless you were to remove it altogether. Even if you did, this would be mind-bogglingly expensive and create more problems than fixes. Instead, it’s far more effective to place reinforcing structures throughout your home. This will let your foundation take the brunt of the pressure without buckling underneath it. The soil can expand all it wants; your home will have steel beams, anchors, and piers that can push back.

Of course, there are dozens of support beams, anchors, and piers to choose from. Even at Groundworks, there are several different choices, each with a unique set of pros and cons. The best way to pick the right model for your home is to consult with an expert. 

  • Getting an Expert’s Help

A Groundworks foundation repair expert will first assess your home’s issues. This may involve inspecting your foundation, basement, crawl space, and the area surrounding your home. In doing so, they will confirm that you’re dealing with expansive soils and note any existing damage this has caused.

They may also pick out warning signs of other issues that are cropping up as a result of your soil. With all this information on hand, the expert can give you several recommendations on what gear to install and how it will be implemented. The aim will be to stop the current damage, but also to safeguard your home from issues that are just starting to develop. This offers you a clear idea of what to expect, so you can pick the right option.

Fix Problems with Your Expansive Soil with an Expert’s Help

There are many things to think about when it comes to expansive soils. You must maintain your soil no matter what type you have, as expansive soils aren’t the only types of soil that can cause problems in your home. However, if you’re looking to fix your home’s expansive soil, you should look no further than Groundworks.

You can find an expert who can help you unravel your expansive soil problems. You can understand how bad the expansive soil problems are, get a read on whatever’s going on around your home, and gather information about what you can do to fix the expansive soil problems you are having. Talk to a local expert today to find out what you can do about all your home problems, including expansive soils.

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