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Expansive Foundation Soils

The soils around your foundation can put a lot of pressure on your foundation walls!

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The soil underneath your property is hugely important to the health and well-being of your home, and should not be underestimated when it comes to the potential for damage to your house. Properties that sit on expansive soil are far more likely to experience foundation damage, property subsidence, and other structural issues. 

Learning to recognize the signs of damage (and understanding how this damage occurs) is incredibly important for any homeowner. Here’s what you need to know about expansive soils in Toledo and Cleveland, Ohio. 

What is Expansive Soil? 

Expansive soils are those that exhibit continuous volume change depending on their level of saturation. These soils tend to be heavy, incredibly absorbent, and largely made up of things like clay and peat. This has both benefits and drawbacks.  

The main strength of expansive soils is that they hold together well. This means that soil washout and erosion are not typically an issue for homes on expansive soil. The main downside is that these kinds of soils are very unstable and frequently change in volume and texture. This can cause a lot of damage to any property that rests on the soil. 

Expansive soils are fairly common throughout Ohio, though not as common as they are in more southern states like Georgia and Louisiana. While you may not experience these issues, there is a high chance that your home could be built on expansive soil. This means you must plan for the issues that they can cause. 

expansive soil showing shrinkage

How Expansive Soil Impacts Your Home 

Expansive soils can impact your home in a number of ways; but it all really boils down to too much pressure or not enough support for the structure of your property. This can lead to a variety of problems and cause a lot of damage to your foundation, basement walls, and even your roof (if the issue is left to escalate without intervention). This can cause a number of secondary issues that are damaging to your property, your belongings, and even your health and well-being. 

This damage primarily occurs because of soil saturation or dehydration. Minor changes in moisture levels will not cause huge variations in soil volume, but extremes can cause expansive soil to double its volume. It’s this process of extreme expansion and shrinking that leads to damage, either by applying too much pressure or by leaving a property’s foundation without the support it needs to hold up the weight of the structure. 

The Damage That Expansive Soils Can Cause 

Once expansive soils start to shift and affect your property, they can cause all kinds of damage. However, it will almost always start with one of five issues: 

  • Sinking 
  • Settlement 
  • Heave 
  • Slipping 
  • Bowing walls (if you have a basement rather than a crawl space) 
Sinking/Subsidence 

Foundation subsidence or sinking is most often caused by overly saturated soil. When fully saturated, expansive soils become marshy and soft, so that can make it hard for them to bear the weight of a large property. This can cause a process of subsidence or sinking over time. This involves the property, usually one portion of it, sinking into the soft ground. 

This generally happens in an uneven manner and distributes the weight of the structure unevenly as well. This causes excessive strain in certain areas and can lead to many problems throughout your whole property, such as spreading cracks. 

Settlement 

Settlement is when a foundation sinks, but it most often occurs when expansive soils become excessively dry. When expansive soils dehydrate, they shrink, sometimes halving in volume. This can also cause large cracks to open up in the soil, forming chasms. This process can leave large swathes of a property’s foundation unsupported. 

If this happens regularly, or the dehydration prolongs, the strain can become too much for a foundation. This results in it cracking and chunks of it falling into the voids left behind by receding soil. This will affect your flooring at first but can impact the stability of your whole home very quickly. 

Heave 

Foundation heave is a very unique process by which a property’s foundation bulges upward and starts to crack. This generally only happens in very lightweight properties, but it can happen in larger properties too. This is most likely to happen when strong roots spread in search of water. However, it can happen when there is a sudden cold snap that affects saturated soil. 

When a sudden freeze hits the soil, the top layer of the soil can freeze solid before the lower layers begin to chill. When these lower layers do start to freeze, however, they will expand and push this frozen layer upward with considerable force. This can lead to a significant bulge in the foundation that causes damage to the flooring. 

Slipping/Shifting 

If your property has expansive soil (and especially poor drainage around your property), there is a chance that the foundation may begin to slip or shift. This is most common when there is prolonged flooding and adverse weather, and will see the property’s full foundation moving laterally by as much as a few inches over time. 

This may not seem like a big deal, but this puts pressure on your utility connections. Your water and sewage line can be disrupted and will cause serious issues if they become cracked or compromised. 

Bowing Walls 

Bowing walls are most likely to occur in homes that have a basement and sit on expansive soil, or that have poor drainage. Caused by the lateral pressure exerted by expansive soil or underground water sources, the process of bowing creates an inward bulging and cracking that can lead to the ultimate collapse of the affected walls. 

You will recognize bowing walls by horizontal cracks, visible unevenness, and an increase in dampness and humidity in your basement. This can have many wide-ranging consequences for your home. 

These issues in themselves can cause serious tertiary damages that impact both your home and your health. These issues can also act as warning signs to help you recognize the deeper, structural issues below. 

Secondary Damage and Problem Signs 

Each of these issues is most likely to have been indirectly caused by expansive soils around your home. This makes them excellent warning signs for less visible things like foundation damage. However, they can also be damaging to your health and well-being. The most common co-occuring issues that can come from expansive soils (and the damage they cause) include: 

Dampness and Humidity 

Dampness and high relative humidity are some of the most insidious issues that a property can struggle with, and cause many of the other issues that come with expansive soils and structural damage. You will be able to recognize dampness and flooding by the presence of water in your basement or crawl space. 

Humidity, however, can be harder to spot if you are not experienced. High relative humidity is most recognizable when it reaches a peak and causes condensation. Condensation is most likely on cool surfaces like glass, stone, and metal. Humidity may also show itself through sudden increases in energy consumption and bills. Humid air is, after all, more difficult to process than arid air. 

Mold Formation 

Dampness and humidity go hand in hand with mold formation, and indeed mold is one of the most common signs of dampness and damage in a home. Mold will eat away at the organic surfaces that it grows on and will spread through a whole home over time. Unfortunately, mold and mildew can be damaging to your health as well as your property. 

One of the most worrying kinds of mold that you can find in your home is black mold. Black mold is not only damaging to the structure of your home, but can cause health issues like skin irritation, lightheadedness, trouble breathing, and even migraines. People who have underlying issues can likely be affected. 

Spreading Cracks 

Spreading cracks are a general form of damage that can act as a warning sign for a number of different issues. At the heart of the matter, spreading cracks are those that grow in width, depth, and length over time, and they are caused by an excess of some form of pressure. Expansive soils are one of the few things capable of exerting enough pressure to crack the structure of a property. 

Spreading cracks related to expansive soils are most likely to be found in the lower regions of your house, and will most likely concentrate in the basement or crawl space. These may spread from the corners of the room or even the center. The precise placement will help professionals to identify the likely causes. 

Sagging Floors 

Sagging floors are commonly found in homes that have foundation damage as a result of weak or changeable soil. This most often occurs because the joists that support them have moved, started to degrade, or suffered some form of damage. When there is a space between your flooring and the joists that hold it up, or the joists are no longer capable of holding its weight, you will first notice a slight springiness underfoot. 

This springiness will quickly become a noticeable bounce, and you are likely to see visible unevenness. Uneven floors are a strong sign of damage you should not ignore. By the time this happens, the issue is advanced, and if you leave it alone for long enough the floor may collapse. 

Cosmetic Damage 

Cosmetic damage is a catch-all term that covers anything that is not structural in nature but instead affects the appearance of your property. Flaking or bubbling paint, peeling wallpaper, and mildew formation are all classed as cosmetic to a certain extent, even though they can have long-term effects on your home and even your health. 

Most cosmetic damage connected to expansive soil and foundation damage will occur as a result of dampness and humidity. It is also likely to be visible before many structural issues, so if you see any of these signs, please act quickly. 

As well as being forms of damage, these issues are warning signs. Acting quickly when you see these signs will make all the difference, especially if you call in a professional to diagnose and repair the issues at work on your property. 

Sinking

Expansive Soils

FAQs

There are a few ways you can determine whether the soil around your property is expansive in nature.  

Recognizing Expansive Soils 

Expansion and shrinking in your soil is easiest to recognize during very dry seasons and prolonged droughts when the soil recedes. This is because the average change in volume generally does not exceed 10 percent. This means that it can exert a huge amount of pressure, but is not always visibly different when saturated, though the texture will change. 

When the soil is very dehydrated, however, the changes can be more visible. First and foremost, expansive soils will generally become hard when dehydrated. Rather than loose and crumbly, it will often set in a hard slab. As the soil shrinks, it can also start to crack. When expansive soils become overly dehydrated, large chasms can open. This could be very unsightly if it affects big portions of your yard, but it can also be dangerous to the structure of your home. 

Professional Testing 

One of the quickest and most effective ways to find out if you have expansive soil is to take a sample of soil and have it tested by a professional. 

This may seem slightly excessive, but it is also an incredibly reliable way to find out just what the strengths and weaknesses of the soil around your property are. Professional testing requires only a small sample of soil and can generally be undertaken in a short time, at a reasonable cost. This is a sound investment because it will allow you to plan for potential issues and mitigate problems before they arise. 

Dealing with expansive soils can be done in one of two distinct ways. First, you can try to manage and stabilize moisture levels in the soil. Secondly, you can reinforce your property’s foundation walls. 

Moisture Management 

When told that expansive soil could be putting pressure on their property’s foundation, many people try to dry out the soil to relieve this pressure and prevent damage. However, this can actually be counterproductive. Expansive soils shrink when they are dehydrated, after all, and this can simply leave a property without support. 

That’s why moisture management is far more effective, because it is aimed at stabilizing expansive soils by preventing extreme fluctuations in saturation and size. Proper drainage options are important in this endeavor, but it is also important that you add moisture to the soil in times of drought. As such, while investing in robust drains and gutters is a good idea, you should also consider how a sprinkler system could be of use. 

Foundation Reinforcement 

Having a professional opinion will make moisture management far easier, but it is absolutely essential when you are thinking about foundation reinforcement. There are a number of reinforcement methods available to you as a homeowner if you are concerned about your property’s health, but all require professional input. 

Generally speaking, these reinforcements will be added to the interior of your structure (like wall braces or anchors). These kinds of measures are generally installed to rectify damage, but they can be deployed to prevent it. Of course, this requires an educated and experienced eye to identify problems before they really start to work on a home. 

There are some small things that you can do to manage moisture in your soil alone, but it is generally best to involve a professional, especially if you intend to undertake reinforcement work. 

Maintenance and Management 

If you want to attempt to manage the issue alone before you call in a professional, there are some basic things that you can do to prevent excessive saturation or dehydration. Firstly, you should plan and stick to a robust maintenance and cleaning schedule for all of your exterior gutters and drains, both at roof and ground level. This will prevent perimeter saturation and overspill.  

Secondly, if you have a lawn, consider adding some flower beds and planting a healthy mix of perennial and seasonal plants. The right mix of plant life in a yard can make a huge difference to the stability of the soil and its ability to drain and manage moisture. Finally, invest in a sprinkler system to keep the soil moisture at a stable level, even in dry weather. 

Professional Intervention 

If you have already started to notice damage around your property or you are worried that your moisture management measures will not be enough, we urge you to call in a professional as soon as possible. Doing this will not only enable you to catch issues before they snowball and cause secondary problems but will give you time to discuss all of your options and make an informed choice. 

If you need foundation repair, or you have already decided to undertake some form of reinforcement, it is doubly important that you do not try to go it alone. Structural repairs and changes are incredibly specialized tasks that require professional tools, products, and skills to ensure the best results. Professionals are not only trained to undertake such work but have access to all that they need already. This means that they can give you a better result at a reasonable price without endangering the safety of anyone on the property (or risking further damage to your home).  

Choose Ohio Basement Systems to Deal with Expansive Soils 

If you are concerned that your property in Toledo and Cleveland, Ohio, is being impacted by expansive soils, please do not hesitate to contact Ohio Basement Systems directly at your earliest convenience. We are always on hand to help homeowners in our service area. Our team is skilled, experienced, and capable of handling any issues caused by expansive soil in and around your home. 

All you need to do, if you want our help, is contact our team to arrange a free inspection appointment. Once your inspector arrives, they will assess your home and accurately diagnose the source of the problem and provide you a solution that lasts.  

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