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expansive soils showing shrinkage

Expansive Soils

Expansive soils can have all sorts of serious impacts on your foundation and the home at large. What should you know about expansive soils?

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Although many types of soils on a property only swell slightly when you expose them to water, some types expand tremendously. These are expansive soils, and they can cause a lot of damage to your home’s foundation. Because some expansive soils can swell up to 15 times their initial size when you expose them to water, you must know how to handle expansive soil on your property.

The Problems Expansive Soils Can Cause 

There are many problems you may experience with expansive soils. These issues will typically result from the substantial amount of pressure expansive soils can exert on your home. Here are a few of the top problems that expansive soils can cause. 

  • Leaning and Bowing Foundation Walls 

Do you have foundation walls that have an inward slant or seem to push in further in the center than at the top and bottom? These problems indicate a significant amount of hydrostatic pressure, which is the pressure water exerts when it’s at rest. Hydrostatic pressure can come from a variety of places, but expansive soil can exacerbate it. 

Leaning and bowing foundation walls are no joke. If you leave them for too long, you can end up with serious foundation problems, including foundation wall failure. Foundation wall failure is not something that anyone wants to deal with. That’s why it’s so important to target these problems early on and ensure you’re not having recurring foundation problems. 

  • Cracked and Sinking Foundation 

When considering how your foundation could have concerns because of expansive soil, you may not think about the impacts expansive soil can have on the initial construction of the home. A building crew isn’t usually going to build on top of an area that’s actively drenched in water. However, some companies may not do their due diligence to ensure the area is as dry as possible. 

If you build a home on top of expansive soil that’s already started to expand, you’re going to have many problems. First off, you’re probably going to have a sinking foundation as the weight of the concrete pushes the water out and moves the soil around. You could also have cracks in your foundation because of potentially uneven sinking. Lastly, if the soil dries in the future, you could lose support for the foundation. 

  • Wall Failure Due to Shrinking 

One thing you may not have recognized is that expansive soil can also turn into consolidating soil. When soil expands dramatically due to moisture entering it, you can only assume that the soil will also shrink dramatically when moisture exits it. That means that your soil, which may have initially created enough support for your foundation, could end up withdrawing away from the foundation when it dries. 

This lack of support is exactly what leads to wall failure issues. Shrinking in your foundation is a frustrating problem to deal with; it’s common for this shrinking concern to cause serious and dramatic foundation problems. You can even end up with complete wall failure because of a lack of support around your foundation walls.

How Can You Avoid Expansive Soil Problems? 

Avoiding expansive soil problems can be very complicated and a bit confusing. If you’ve found that you don’t know what it means to avoid expansive soil issues, you’re not alone. Here’s a quick guide to ensuring that your expansive soil is no longer a concern. 

  • Step 1: Grade the Soil Properly 

First off, you must grade your soil properly. The soil grading process is what directs water away from your foundation, rather than toward it. It’s a complicated process, which means you’ll need an expert to help, but it’s also absolutely crucial. If you haven’t graded the soil appropriately, you’re going to end up with serious foundation issues. 

Even the best foundation repair options won’t do anything if you don’t have the proper grading for your soil. The hydrostatic pressure will simply build up more and more, causing your foundation to succumb to the pressure and crumble inward. Soil grading is your best option when it comes to avoiding foundation problems in expansive soils. 

  • Step 2: Test the Soil 

Only certain types of soils are expansive. Most types of soils don’t expand very much when you introduce water to them, but, indeed, some types of soils expand dramatically. For the most part, these are clay soils, and even then, only certain clay soils. How can you know whether you have expansive soil in a specific property? 

The thing you should do first and foremost is to make sure you test the soil. There are many different ways to test the soil for expanding and contracting. If you think you might have expansive or consolidating soil, it’s probably best to call in a foundation repair expert and allow them to help you test the soil so they can look over the results and give you options to fix it. 

  • Step 3: Repair Any Continuing Problems 

Last, but certainly not least, you need to make sure that you have repair options available for whatever problems have continued. Grading the soil and knowing whether or not you have expansive soil will be beneficial in many ways. However, it may not be enough to make sure your problems stop completely, which is where soil repair options come into play. 

There are many different solutions here, but for the most part, they all come from the process of allowing your foundation to have more support. That may mean more support for basement walls, more support for the floor of your basement or crawl space, or more support in some other way. The thing all these repairs have in common is simply that they provide more support. 

Expansive Soils


As you start to research more about potential foundation problems, you may run into the concept of an expansive soil. What is expansive soil in the first place? Why is it a problem to have expansive soil around your foundation? 

  • Expanding and Contracting 

As the name would suggest, an expansive soil expands more than normal soil, usually as a result of saturation. Essentially, this means that when the soil receives water, it gets much larger than most soils would. Some expansive soils can expand up to 15 times their initial volume when water contacts them. 

Although the expanding nature of the soil is what most homeowners focus on when it comes to expansive soils, it’s important to note that the contracting nature of the soil is potentially dangerous as well. After the soil expands, it contracts when it dries out. That means structures have to deal with both too much pressure and not enough structure. 

  • Unstable and Troublesome 

Expansive soils are almost always involved when properties have recurring and serious issues with structural damage. Expansive soil can lead to bowing walls, subsidence, settlement, and a myriad of other structural problems that can seriously undermine a property’s structural integrity to the point that it may collapse. 

Managing unstable, expansive soil is all about controlling moisture levels to keep them stable and prevent huge changes in the volume of the soil. This can be achieved through drainage solutions and products both inside and outside of a property. Preventing excessive dehydration is often much harder to manage and prevent.

After learning how dangerous expansive soils can be, you might wonder whether you have expansive soil around your home. How common is it to see expansive soils? Why might you have expansive soil in the first place? 

  • Natural Soil in the Area 

Some areas have more expansive soils than other areas, but the make-up of soil can change dramatically in a surprisingly small distance. The most common expansive soil types are clay and clay mixes. If you live in an area where clay mixes are naturally common, you may be more likely to have expansive soil around your home than if you live in a different area. 

There are some places in which clay-based soils are predominant, for example, Georgia. But even in places that have predominantly sandy or loamy soil, there can be clay-based areas. Furthermore, clay is not the only expansive soil – peat-based soils are highly reactive to moisture too, though they tend to be prone to becoming marshy when saturated. 

  • Choices from the Building Company 

Most building companies will take steps to ensure they don’t build on top of overly expansive soils. However, some companies may not take as many steps as others. That means you might be more likely to have expansive soil around your home if the building company didn’t accurately combat expansive soil issues. 

If you want to know what the makeup of the soil around your home is, you have a few options. You can reach out to the builders to find out if they have records. If this doesn’t work, you could invest in a test to check. However, if you’re having foundation issues, it’s more important to tackle them with an expert, who will have all the necessary expert tools.

When you’ve learned that you have expansive soil around your home, you may dread the possibility of having to replace all of it. However, replacement doesn’t have to be the only option for your expansive soil problems. 

  • Enhancing Your Support Structure 

If you can enhance your building’s support structure, you may be able to avoid problems with expansive soil without having to replace any of it at all. Methods of enhancing your support structure are varied and typically work best with basement walls, which tend to bear the most weight from expansive soils. 

Wall anchors and braces, for example, can be used to support walls that have started to bow as the result of excessive lateral pressure from saturated soil or underground water sources. These support systems tend to be installed after the damage has started to show. However, you could instead focus on preventing hydrostatic pressure from building in the first place. 

  • Removing Water Problems 

Expansive soils expand because of excessive saturation, usually during storms or periods of extreme weather. Therefore, if you’re able to remove many of the reasons that you’re having water with the soil, you may be able to help with many of your expansive soil problems. That may include plumbing and runoff changes. 

Hydrostatic pressure is another huge reason that expansive soils can be so damaging and it is affected by the water content of the soil. However, there are many ways you may be able to avoid issues with hydrostatic pressure. For example, you can install a perimeter drain that can help alleviate some of the water problems more effectively.

Fixing expansive soils is a project that you probably don’t know enough to take on. Many DIYers jump at the chance to fix things around their homes but there are some things you definitely shouldn’t try to do yourself and fixing expansive soils is one of the biggest projects to avoid. 

  • DIY Expansive Soil Fixes 

Expansive soil fixes that you do on your own typically won’t do a lot to benefit your soil or your home in the long run. Rather, they’re more commonly bandages on top of the underlying problem and will only delay the effects. Expansive soil fixes require you to be able to get underneath the problem, which typically requires expert tools. 

The heavy excavation that dealing with expansive soils requires is both intensive and potentially dangerous to those who do not know how to use the machinery at hand. If you try to implement DIY fixes without an expert helping you, there is a chance that you will make the problem worse or even cause injury to yourself. 

  • Expansive Soil Fixes from an Expert 

Getting expansive soil fixes from an expert is the best way to make sure that you’re getting a genuine fix that will improve the state of the soil around your home. Otherwise, you’re very unlikely to end up with an expansive soil fix overall. Talk to an expert from Foundation Recovery Systems to learn more about what expansive soil fixes might be best for your needs. 

Our team is highly skilled, highly trained, and very experienced when it comes to dealing with even the most complex of expansive soils. Our team will assess your home and create a tailored solution that addresses your particular soil mix as well as any problems that have started to show within your home as a result.

Expansive Soil Repair Options 

Step three of the expansive soil problem avoidance process is in many ways the most difficult. You might not know how you can repair continuing problems in your basement or crawl space. These are a few ways to do just that. 

  • Push Piers 

Push piers drill into the area underneath your home, shifting your home’s weight from where it’s currently resting on the soil to the bedrock that may be far underneath it. If you have expansive soils, push piers can be incredibly beneficial because these expansive soils typically don’t hold a lot of weight. With push piers, you can rely less on the strength of the expansive soil and more on the strength of the bedrock far below. 

  • Helical Piers 

As with push piers, helical piers also shift your home’s weight from the current area of the soil to the bedrock where it may lie far below it. However, helical piers utilize a circular screw-style pier system that can be easier to manage in certain areas. If you’re unsure about whether you should use push piers or helical piers, remember that the best answer is always going to be to talk to a foundation repair expert. 

  • IntelliJack™ System 

Do you have issues with your crawl space floor joists because of your expansive soils? If so, you should know you’re not alone. Bouncy and sagging floors can indicate that there’s a problem with what is holding up your floor joists, which is a significant problem. The IntelliJack™ system helps you restabilize your crawl space floor joists, ensuring that you don’t have lasting problems with your floor joists due to lack of support. 

  • Wall Anchors 

Inward bowing is one of the biggest problems you can experience due to expansive soils. Wall anchors allow for you to fix inward bowing. The process is surprisingly simple, even if it’s a bit in-depth. It’s essentially a large metal plate in the area of greatest bowing that is held in place with an anchor in the ground at least 10 feet away from your foundation. You can then tighten the wall plate to straighten your wall over time. 

  • IntelliBrace™ System 

What if you can’t install wall anchors? Many homeowners can’t have wall anchors installed because they don’t have a clearance of at least 10 feet away from their failing foundation walls. In this situation, the IntelliBrace™ system may work perfectly for you. With the IntelliBrace™ system, you utilize zinc-plated steel beams that you anchor to the floor joists and your basement floor. Little by little, you tighten this system to straighten the walls once again. 

  • Carbon Fiber Wall Reinforcement System 

Carbon fiber straps are a great option to stabilize your wall. That’s because carbon fiber has an extremely high tensile strength, which makes it easy for it to maintain your wall’s existing position and ensure it doesn’t continue to bow inward. This can be a great option if you can’t install either wall anchors or the IntelliBrace™ system, but you still need to reinforce your basement walls. 

Avoid Expansive Soil Issues with the Expertise from Foundation Recovery Systems 

As you can see, expansive soils can cause plenty of problems. If you have expansive soils across a property, you should expect that you’re going to have problems with the soil swelling when you introduce it to water, although that shouldn’t keep you from developing a way to combat these problems. 

You don’t just have to live with the problems you’re experiencing from expansive soils. Instead, it’s a good idea to look at the different expansive soil solutions a repair expert can help you with. Whether you have a crawl space, a basement, or some other foundation in your home, a local expert at Foundation Recovery Systems can take a look at your expansive soil and give you tips on moving forward.

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