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Home Foundation Health - The Damaging Effects of Expansive Soil

Joseph Coupal - Thursday, August 05, 2010

We provide a wide-range of foundation repair-related consultation and repair services, after all, it is a core competency.  Today we are going to blog about one of the more common causes of structural erosion of the foundation:  expansive soil.  Expansive soil is specific to geographical location and unfortunately it is prevalent throughout the Northeast.  For property owners who are subject to expansive soil, foundational problems are all but certain at some point.  We'll discuss below exactly what expansive soil is and how it eats away at your home's foundational structural integrity.   

Expansive clay soils contain minerals such as smectite clays that are capable of absorbing water, hence they exhibit volume change. Expansive soils can cause heave and settlement depending on the time of year and overall moisture content of the soils. Some degree of foundational movement is certain for homes built upon expansive soils. They "x-factor" is how much movement and how fast will it happen.  That unfortunately, is situation dependent and difficult to predict.  

Fortunately, you can minimize cracking and major structural damage by controlling the moisture level of the soil that surrounds your home.  What follows is a few ideas that will serve your overall foundational health.  If you are considering new home construction, the following contains itemized topics that you absolutely should discuss with your builder:

  • Yard Drainage – All areas should drain away from the home. 5% slope within the first 10 inches of the foundation and at least 1% after that.
  • Roof and Gutter – Gutters need to be maintained and downspouts should be routed beneath grade in PVC pipe at least 10 inches away from the home.
  • Driveway and Sidewalk – Concrete areas should be slope away from the foundation and kept at or below grade to prevent ponding.
  • Plumbing – Unexplained increases in water consumption should be investigated immediately. Plumbing leaks are a very common cause of heaving beneath structures.
  • Subsurface Drainage – Maintain and or add foundation drain systems. Make sure pipes are free-flowing and drain into a sump basin or to daylight away from the foundation.
  • Trees and Bushes – Surface-root trees should be 1 – 1-1/2 times their height away from the structure. Trees are a major contributor to settling foundations. You should seriously consider ever planting surface-root trees in any proximity to your home.   

By following the above steps you will decrease the effects of expansive soils. If water is your enemy, the solution is water management. By maintaining constant soil moisture content, your home will remain stable and unaffected by the dramatic effects if expansive soils. Call us anytime to discuss your questions/concerns regarding repair and/or preventative maintenance.

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