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Soil Shrinkage, Compaction & Settling

Soil shrinkage, compaction, and settling can alter the integrity of both your soil and concrete. But what exactly is it, and what causes it?

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The soil underneath your home (and any concrete on your property) is subject to change. The three kinds of change that cause the most damage are shrinkage, compaction, and settling. It’s worth understanding exactly what these changes to your soil are and why they happen. 

By taking a closer look at how the ground around your home acts, you can avoid cracked concrete, sinking structures, and substantial damage to your foundation. Let’s figure out what causes these changes, and how to react if you’re dealing with them. 

What Is Soil Shrinkage, Compaction, and Settling? 

All soil types have a shrink-swell capacity. This refers to how soil particles expand when saturated with moisture, then shrink again when that moisture is drawn out. Soil shrinkage, more specifically, occurs when water is drawn out of the soil because of evaporation. This phenomenon is akin to a wet versus a dry sponge. Wet sponges tend to increase in size, while dry sponges shrink and have a shriveled appearance. 

When soil particles are compressed together, the space between them can decrease. This is what we call soil compaction. Soil settling is usually a consequence of soil compaction. When soil is repeatedly exposed to compaction, the particles of the soil can settle or become dense. 

If you live in Toledo or Cleveland, Ohio, soil shrinkage, compaction, and settling are common problems due your state’s soil. Having a base knowledge of such landscape issues will help you to prevent more serious consequences in the long term. 

Problem Signs of Soil Shrinkage, Compaction, and Settling 

Soil shrinkage, compaction, and settlement tend to occur underneath the concrete surrounding your home. Luckily, the warning signs are relatively easy to spot. Here are problem signs to look out for: 

  • Uneven or Cracked Concrete Slabs 

If you notice that concrete around your home is uneven or even cracked, you may have soil shrinkage, compaction, or settlement problems. This can occur anywhere you have concrete, such as your patio, driveway, walkway, porch, or deck, because it is usually built on a soil foundation. 

While concrete slabs are quite strong, soil shrinkage, compaction, and settling can cause them to shift around or sink, resulting in uneven or cracked concrete. This is because all these phenomena weaken the integrity of the soil. Because the concrete rests on top of this soil, if the soil is altered or shifts around, the concrete will move or crack along with it. 

  •  Water Puddling 

If you notice that water seems to puddle more frequently or easily around your concrete, there is a likelihood that your soil is shrinking, compacting, settling, or all the above. Water puddles will appear most around the areas where your soil is experiencing these problems. 

Normal, healthy soil should readily absorb water and filter it easily through to other soil particles. Soil that has been compacted or settled underneath concrete slabs, on the other hand, cannot intake water or filter it as efficiently. This happens because the soil has become too dense and lacks the space between soil particles to filter and drain water. This consequently causes water to pool around the soil as it struggles to absorb this water. 

With decreased water filtering and draining ability, compacted or settled soil will result in water puddles around your concrete.  

  • Hollow Sounds Underneath Concrete Slabs 

This problem sign is more subtle and is usually seen with uneven or cracked concrete or water puddling around your concrete slabs. To test for hollow sounds, gently knock on the concrete slab. If the soil below it has shrunk, compacted, or settled, you will hear a semi-hollow sound as if there was space underneath the concrete. This should not be there. Be careful when testing for this, because you may risk cracking the concrete and injuring yourself if you use a hard object. 

These hollow sounds arise from voids underneath the concrete. Whether it is a result of shrinking, compacted, or settling soil, the resulting soil level will be lower than normal. When soil levels underneath concrete slabs begin to decline, this opens voids or space under the concrete. 

What Causes Soil Shrinkage, Compaction, and Settling? 

Now that you have determined you have soil shrinkage, compacting, and settling problems, you can figure out what caused it in the first place. How does soil underneath your concrete shrink, compact, and settle? 

  • Soil Erosion 

Sandy loam soil is widely abundant in the state of Ohio. In comparison to other soil types, it’s incredibly stable and the least troublesome, at least in terms of foundation and concrete issues. This is due in part to the small soil particle size, which contributes to its ability to filter and drain water more readily than other soils. 

Sandy loam soil, despite its characteristics, is incredibly vulnerable to soil erosion. Soil can become eroded by water that pulls particles up and away from the soil bed. This can lower the soil level underneath a concrete slab. As a result, the remaining soil will experience the weight of the concrete even more and may potentially become compacted. Compacted soil is also prone to causing voids in the soil as it settles underneath the concrete slab. 

Soil erosion is most problematic during bouts of heavy rains or cyclones. While sandy loam soil is, indeed, present throughout the state of Ohio, it is more prominent in Cleveland than Toledo. If you live in this area, soil erosion can cause soil shrinkage, compaction, and settling under your concrete. 

  •  Excess Weight 

Excessive weight or pressure onto concrete slabs can result in soil compaction and settlement. Cars in driveways, heavy décor on landscapes (i.e., fountains, statues, large plant pots, etc.), or any walkway gaining a lot of foot traffic are some examples. 

  • Weather 

If you live in Toledo or Cleveland, Ohio, you are no stranger to heavy rain in the winter and fall but sunny and mildly temperate summers. These areas, respectively, experience an average of 26.5 to 17.4 inches of rain annually. In excess, potential flooding in the area can also occur. 

Indeed, this amount of rainwater is not fun to live in. However, it can even be more than just annoying. A high-water accumulation can impact your soil as well. Overly saturated soil dense and compact and settle due to the added weight of the water it has absorbed. Since high water levels can result in soil erosion of sandy loam soils, it paves the way for soil compaction and settlement. 

It is not just the wet season that impacts soil, either. During the warmer summer months, soil can shrink as the water evaporates out of it. After being exposed to so much water during the winter and fall, the evaporation of this water can shrink soil levels underneath concrete slabs to lower than normal, resulting in voids and shifting soil. 

Voids under the concrete that are left until the next rainy season can invite even more water into the soil, leaving it prone to erosion, compaction, and settling. When left unfixed, this can become a vicious cycle between soil shrinkage in the heat and soil compaction and settlement in the rain.  

  • Repeated Soil Expansion 

Although Ohio is known for having an abundance of sandy loam soil, Toledo is the exception to this, because it is predominantly sitting on top of clay soil. Clay soil does not filter or drain water very well due to its particle size. Relative to sandy loam soil, clay soil is large. Because of this, it expands extensively when it absorbs water. 

This is a problem for many reasons. When clay soil expands, it shifts the surrounding soil around. When it dries, soil shrinkage occurs. Continuous shrinking and swelling will weaken the structural integrity of the soil as the particles are forced to move around. 

Weakened soil is more prone to soil compaction and settling, especially underneath heavy concrete slabs, because it lacks stability. It can no longer support any added weight on top without being compressed downward. Your concrete may become damaged as a result of this damaging shrink-swell cycle. 

How Do I Fix Soil Shrinkage, Compaction, and Settling? 

Broken concrete slabs can be both unsightly and hazardous to be around. Fortunately, there are a variety of solutions that we use to fix soil shrinkage, compaction, and settling.    

  • PolyRenewal™ 
crew installing concrete lifting polyrenewal

Repeated exposure to excess weight on concrete can compress the soil underneath the slabs, given enough time. Compressed, or compacted, soil is more prone to settling due to the continuous stress exerted onto it. Fortunately, however, this can take quite a bit of time to happen.  

The PolyRenewal™ system is an incredibly versatile solution that resolves soil shrinkage, compaction, and settling problems, all in one. It can lift uneven concrete slabs and help to stabilize the soil underneath that is causing the problem. In addition to this, the PolyRenewal™ system works as a preventative measure against future soil shrinking, compacting, or settling, so you can rest assured that this solution is one and done. 

It can do this with a high density yet lightweight polyurethane foam that is able to fill voids underneath concrete without risking further compression or settlement of the soil underneath it. It also works to stabilize loose soil, so that it can properly support heavy concrete slabs on top without sinking. Because of its waterproof characteristics, the foam prevents further damage and erosion, despite the heaviest of rains. 

  • Sump Pumps  

It is crucial that you have a sump pump that works properly, as it’s a key part of your drainage system. Although they do not resolve soil shrinkage, compaction, and settling problems directly, they are a very powerful tool to own to prevent issues from recurring in the future. 

Ohio Basement Systems offers three kinds of sump pumps depending on your home’s unique needs: 

  • The SafeDri™ Pro 
  • The SafeDri™ ProPlus 
  • The SafeDri™ Triple 

All three work in similar ways: They remove high volumes of water around your home and redirect this excess water elsewhere to drain. Each sump pump offered has its own benefits, but they all work quietly and efficiently to drain large quantities of water. In addition to this, they are non-invasive and have a built-in alarm that alerts you when water levels are too high. This allows you to get it repaired before any potential malfunctions occur. 

Because they work so quickly, you can rest well assured that water does not oversaturate the soil around and underneath your concrete. Water will no longer accumulate around your concrete, protecting against soil shrinkage, compaction, and settling. 

  • Downspout Extensions 

Downspout systems are found along the edges of your house and work to remove water run-off from your roof. The tilted extension found at the bottom of these downspout systems serves to direct this excess water away from your home.   

Short extensions can be problematic. They drain water too close to your home, which can oversaturate the soil underneath your concrete slabs. This results in shrinkage when the water evaporates and leads to eventual compaction and settling. 

If your downspout is causing yard flooding, your Ohio Basement Systems foundation specialist may suggest downspout extensions. These can extend the end of your downspout further away from your house, preventing excess water from being absorbed by the soil underneath your concrete. Less water means fewer chances of soil problems.    

Soil Shrinkage, Compaction, and Settling


Mudjacking is one of the more traditional methods to resolve soil shrinkage, compaction, and settlement issues. However, mudjacking unfortunately only stands as a temporary solution at best. In fact, it can even worsen the problem over time. 

  • The Cons of Mudjacking 

Those that are trained to perform mudjacking techniques often require heavy tools due to the nature of the mudjacking process. Our team begins by drilling a large hole through your concrete to reach the soil underneath. They then funnel through what is known as mud or slurry, a type of mortar mixture, into the ground to fill any voids in the soil and cover the hole in your concrete. This mixture takes several days to cure before it is safe to walk on again. 

Unfortunately, this slurry is rather heavy and can exert a lot of weight onto the soil it is resting on top of. The soil will further compact due to the excessive stress that is being forced onto it by the mortar mixture. While mudjacking, on the surface, seems to work, it does not address the source of your soil and concrete problems but rather masks it. 

  • Why Do We Use PolyRenewal™?  

Ohio Basement Systems offers a more innovative solution that works to solve both your soil and concrete problems. The PolyRenewal™ system, compared to mudjacking, uses a polyurethane mixture rather than mortar. This mixture is dense enough to fill in voids in the soil and level out uneven concrete slabs, yet lightweight, so you do not have to worry about future soil compaction or settling. It is also waterproof, further protecting your soil from the elements. 

The PolyRenewal™ polyurethane foam is injected through small holes made into the concrete, making it much less invasive than mudjacking. It also cures very quickly. In fact, it is completely cured in only 15 minutes. Because of this, the PolyRenewal™ injection foam is versatile and can be used to repair any concrete in your home, whether it be something as simple as your driveway or as tricky as a pool deck.

Shrinking, compacting, and settling soils seems to be an inescapable problem—something that you may have to deal with sooner or later. Luckily, there are things that you can do to prevent these soil and concrete problems, right in the comfort of your home. 

  • Control Outdoor Watering  

The primary reasons soil shrinkage, compaction, and settling happens are related to water. Although you cannot control the amount of rainfall, you can control the amount of watering that you perform. Controlling the amount of watering, whether it be via automatic sprinkler systems or manual hosing, can help to prevent soil shrinkage, compaction, and settling. You may not expect that watering your plants away from your concrete cannot possibly affect the soil underneath your concrete, but water can make its way through the soil quite easily when given the chance. 

You want to take great care not to oversaturate the soil so that it does not shrink when the water evaporates from it. It is also good to prevent this oversaturating your soil because it can easily become compressed and settled underneath your concrete. If you have a landscape that needs tending, consider watering during the cooler parts of the day so that evaporation from the soil does not occur suddenly. You may also want to consider exchanging some of your plants for drought-resistant plants that require much less water to survive.  

  • Controlling Pressure on Concrete  

Although water is the main culprit behind soil shrinkage, compaction, and settling, any additional pressure on your soil can hasten these problems. If you have a lot of footwork or heavy objects on areas of concrete you suspect may be experiencing shrinking, compacting, or settling soils, you might want to consider minimizing movement or additional pressure onto your concrete slabs. 

Luckily, this is as simple as it sounds. If you have problems with your concrete driveway, try parking your car inside your garage (if you can make space or have one) or even alongside the curb of your house. Heavy decorative items can be moved to other stable locations in your landscape. You may also want to redirect the inhabitants of your home away from overused walkways in your yard, allowing them to take an alternative path. 

Unfortunately, there are no safe do-it-yourself fixes that resolve soil shrinkage, compaction, and settling issues at the source. There are, however, some methods that you can employ to prevent soil problems. Keep in mind they are not perfect and do not compare to the services that professional contractors can provide.   

  • Repairing Soil  

Preventing compacted or settled soil is quite simple. Using compost (such as food items in the process of decomposing) can help provide nutrients, which improves aeration and water drainage among soil particles. With time, beneficial organisms, such as the earthworm, will make their way into this healthy soil, further improving its quality and filtration by keeping soil particles loose and aerated. You can also purchase earthworms yourself at a local garden or hardware store. 

You should be sure to cultivate your healthy soil lightly. This means using small-rooted plants rather than large plants, such as trees. These can help water drainage by intaking excess water through their roots. If you go overboard, however, you could risk damage to your foundation when the roots get out of control. 

  • Concrete Repair  

While the above methods can certainly prevent or delay soil problems, they will not be effective solutions if you already have soil shrinkage, compaction, or settling occurring underneath your concrete. It is strongly recommended that you contact professional contractors to help you because they know how to safely and properly remove concrete, repair your soil, and replace the concrete on top. 

Working with concrete yourself can put you at risk for injury or unintentional structural damage. This can have even more negative consequences than if you left the problem alone. Most of all, it can be more costly than if you were to have a professional to do it for you. 

Contact Your Local Experts 

You don’t have to worry about soil shrinkage, compaction, and settling—especially when it is mostly out of your control. Allow your local experts in Toledo and Cleveland, Ohio, to help you with the right long-term solution for your home. Contact us today to schedule a free inspection with a no-obligation quote.  

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