Houses are expensive and very important investments. For that reason, it’s important to make sure that yours stays in tip-top condition. If you have concerns about your foundation, it’s necessary to first find out how to recognize the most common signs of foundation problems due to expansive clay soils. The Fort Worth and Dallas metroplex and other North Texas cities are excellent examples of areas within the United States where houses develop issues due to clay soils that expand and contract. Concrete slabs and pier and beam foundations are both affected by the soil movement associated with this particular type of soil.
Recognizing that deterioration can be caused by a wide range of factors including soil, weather, plumbing leaks, poor soil compaction, and poor foundation drainage, it’s smart to be alert for signs of trouble. To help you identify potential problems, we’ve compiled a list of the factors that may indicate that you require foundation repair service.
Properties in some parts of the United States are adversely affected by ice and snow, while properties in subtropical regions frequently develop complications due to excessive heat (over 90-100 degrees), rain, extensive flooding (4-5” or more in a relatively short period) and droughts. Fortunately, foundation issues in residential and commercial buildings, as well as apartment complexes, can be resolved relatively quickly.
What is Expansive Clay Soil?
Unlike other types of soil found around the country, expansive clay soil is unique in that it can drastically react to the amount of moisture it comes into contact with. The swelling potential in this particular soil is more impactful based on the increased clay content in its composition, so while other soils do expand and contract due to its exposure to elements such as water or temperature, the volume cannot compare to expansive clay soils. This difference in expansion potential explains why it has the capacity to cause issues with your home’s foundation, to the point where it may need to be remedied by a professional foundation repair company.
Expansive clay soil is extremely prevalent in Texas, and especially so in the DFW metroplex area. This type of soil poses the greatest hazard to locations that experience very distinctive wet/dry seasons, as that causes a lot of volatility to foundations over an extended amount of time. Take a look at the map below to see exactly where the most vulnerable areas are:
While other soils do experience expansion and contraction with varying levels of moisture, it is the large clay content that causes this soil to be so reactive that it could potentially cause issues for your foundation. If you own a single-family home, expansive clay soils may have the opportunity to impact you more than if you live in an apartment complex or own a large commercial building. However, large buildings can also experience problems due to expansive soils, and it is very important to stay on top of your foundation maintenance to ensure you catch any issues early on.
If you’re concerned about foundation damage due to expansive clay soils and you live in the Dallas, Fort Worth, Texas region or any other area, you should reach out to a professional foundation repair contractor and ask them to evaluate the concrete slab foundation or pier and beam foundation of your home. A top-notch foundation contractor should be able to identify indications of problems and take steps to stop deterioration.
Remember: Pinpointing the cause of the foundation issues is the first step in finding the best solution before the damage becomes extensive.
Top 4 Most Common Signs of Foundation Problems Due To Expansive Clay Soils
1. Foundation Cracks, Wall/Floor Cracks and Other Types Of Fractures
One of the main reasons why it’s important to have a professional foundation repair company evaluate your commercial or residential property is because it is possible that elements such as foundation cracks, wall or floor cracks or other types of fractures aren’t attributed to an overarching issue with your foundation. However, if that’s not the case, and the issue persists without intervention, the cost to fix the damage can exponentially increase with time.
When expansive clay soils swell, they exert a surprising amount of strength that puts pressure on the vertical face of a foundation, causing lateral movement and foundation cracks. As expansive clay soils have the swelling potential to increase its volume by up to 10%, it’s easy to see how this disruption could cause shifting in your home’s foundation. It is these shifts that cause cracks as the foundation follows the movement of the expanding soil. Under pressure, cracks can begin to form across various places in the home.
Despite the potential for expansive clay soils to similarly shrink as the moisture content decreases, there are common issues that would prevent the home from settling back to its pre-cracked state. For example, as cracks are formed, small amounts of sediment can become dislodged, causing small gaps that would not only disrupt the closing of such cracks upon shrinkage, but in the event of mixing with the soil itself, cause a permanent change to the soil’s composition that may cause it to react to moisture differently.
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, nearly one-quarter of all homes in the U.S. have some foundation damage as a result of these soils. In fact, it’s been established that foundation damage is responsible for more financial loss to property owners than hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined. Texas’ expansive soils and their impact on your foundation really add up. The damaging effects of these soils include large cracks in foundations. This is estimated to exceed two billion dollars annually, which can be specifically attributed to soils that contain clay!
So, what is “normal” movement in a foundation?
In the first couple years following initial construction, it’s not unheard of for foundations to “settle” – meaning they may sink a bit and develop small cracks.
- 1/16” hairline fissures are exceedingly common, and generally not cause for concern
- Vertical cracks aren’t typically indicative of foundation issues
- Moderate wall cracks are usually between 5-15mm in length – anything over that length warrants a second look
Keep in mind that some fractures are solely cosmetic in nature, and don’t indicate a widespread foundation issue. But if your property is located in Dallas, or built on expansive clay soil, it is wise to get a professional second opinion.
What types of cracks indicate foundation issues?
As a rule of thumb, you should always leave the foundation diagnoses up to the professionals. It is a very costly mistake to not catch foundation problems early on. However, there are some indications that could mean you almost certainly have sustained damage and should call a DFW foundation repair contractor immediately:
- Horizontal fractures in brick exteriors
- Cracks that are larger than 15mm
- 45-degree angle cracks, which indicate severe foundation movement
2. Foundation Settling Or Sinking
As mentioned above, some foundation movement is normal to experience – however, excessive movement is detrimental to the health of your home’s foundation, and should be minimized as much as possible.
There are a few ways to counteract damage from expansive clay soil; one easy method is watering your foundation. If you aren’t sure how to do this or want to ensure your watering schedule is appropriate for your property, be sure to ask a professional during your next foundation inspection. You should know what sides of the home receive more shade or sun in order to appropriately water without over- or under-doing it.
Expansive clay soil expands or shrinks according to the moisture content within the soil. As such, your foundation may sink if the soil is lacking water and contracts. If this occurs you have a greater chance of experiencing slab foundation cracks or pier and beam issues as a result. However, excessively watering your foundation could also lead to trouble as too much volume within the soil due to too much moisture content would impact the fortitude of your foundation.
There are a few factors that will determine the extent of the impact expansive clay soil can have on your residential or commercial building, including how well your foundation was constructed, age of the home/foundation, weather conditions, and size of the building. Despite all of these, it is important to keep a close eye on your foundation to know what you’re dealing with before it’s too late and the damage is extensive. If you are unclear as to how to combat problems associated with expansive clay soil, or unsure whether you have already sustained damage to your property’s foundation, contact a professional like HD Foundations to conduct an inspection.
3. Foundation Upheaval Due To Moisture
A foundation upheaval means your slab foundation has moved upwards, as opposed to what occurs when your foundation “settles”. While this phenomenon generally only affects the outer perimeter of the concrete slab foundation, it can also cause issues with the interior – you may notice cracks, squeaky floors, or slanting occurring in your hallways or doorways. A great place to check to see if your foundation is experiencing upheaval is on the outside of your garage walls.
Keep in mind that foundation settling and upheaval do not solely occur due to expansive clay soil – while those soils do cause a fair amount of these cases, it can also be attributed to plumbing leaks or extremely cold weather (frost heave). Another good tip is to keep a watchful eye on your water bill – if you notice an unprecedented increase in cost, it could be due to a plumbing leak that may also be negatively affecting the fortitude of your foundation.
You may be surprised to learn how much a slab foundation can move – despite it being extremely solid, the ground it is on has a lot of influence on its movement potential. While it doesn’t require a lot of movement to cause severe damage any sort of foundation, expansive clay soils have been known to heave foundations upwards by as much as 1.5-2.5” high.
4. Doors That Stick Or Don’t Open And Close Properly
While wooden doors have been known to stick during the change of season or during periods of high humidity (as the wood may expand slightly to cause some friction within the doorframe), off-season sticking may be an indication that you have foundation issues:
- French doors may not meet in the middle
- Interior doors may stick/drag at the top
- Exterior doors may drag at the threshold
- Doors may appear uneven
Even if doors are off by as little as ¼”, it could still suggest a problem that originates with your foundation – oftentimes, these problems are due to expansive clay soils (especially if you live in the DFW metroplex).
Unfortunately, no type of foundation (concrete slab or pier and beam foundation) is immune to this type of issue, and it can affect small structures and large structures alike. Even if you aren’t able to locate any other indications of foundation damage aside from uneven/sticking doors, it is a good idea to have a foundation contractor come out to inspect – typically it will be free of cost, and should only take around an hour for the contractor to complete.
What to Do If You Think You Have Sustained Foundation Damage Due To Expansive Clay Soil
Even if you feel like you may be overthinking it, it is wise to err on the side of caution when finding issues that could potentially suggest foundation damage. This means that when you do find new cracks in walls, or experience a door sticking for the first time, don’t just blow it off – you should always contact a qualified foundation repair contractor in the DFW metroplex who is knowledgeable about expansive clay soils to provide a thorough and professional foundation inspection on your property.
Even if the inspection results come back with no issues, you can rest assured you aren’t letting potentially severe foundation problems fester. If you let these problems go unattended, they can quickly become very costly and time-consuming issues in the future. Be sure to check out previous customer reviews and to check the Better Business Bureau to ensure you are utilizing a reliable foundation contractor in your area.
What Do I Do If A Contractor Says That Foundation Repairs Are Needed?
If a foundation contractor determines that you have sustained foundation damage, you will be provided an estimate for concrete slab repair, sinking pier, and beam foundation or whatever the problem may be. This estimate should always be presented in writing, and you should confirm whether any repairs are covered by a foundation repair warranty.
Whenever repairs are conducted on your foundation, your home or commercial property will be lifted in order to install structural supports (typically concrete or steel piers), or fix other issues as necessary. This process is often referred to as foundation leveling or property leveling. If you are to have piers installed, be sure to have the contractor specify how many are to be placed in order to understand the pricing structure.
If a contractor determines that repairs are necessary to preserve the fortitude of your home, it is wise to move forward quickly with those repairs. Foundation problems become more costly as time goes on without attention, and could severely limit the value if you are planning to sell in the future, or even the current livability of the home. If you feel that your home’s foundation may have already sustained damage due to expansive clay soils, call or contact a reputable foundation contractor like HD Foundations today!