Frost Heave Can Lead to Foundation Failure

By:    |   Published January 29, 2016
limestone basement wall with a large crack | EverDry Toledo

Pothole season is coming, and while it may cause concern for your daily commute, it could also mean trouble for your home. The same freeze-thaw cycle that puts asphalt at risk can cause structural damage to your home’s foundation. Frost heaving – the term used for soil movement caused by the freeze-thaw cycle – can leave cracks in your basement walls and floor. If left unchecked, this problem could pave the way for water seepage.

What is Frost Heaving?

Frost heaving occurs when the soil freezes and thaws. When it freezes, the water contained in the soil expands, causing the soil to expand with it. The expanding soil tends to soak up even more water, and when thaw occurs, the soil shifts and moves, creating uneven pressure on your foundation. The result? An unstable foundation, cracks, and possibly a wet basement.

Most frost heaving occurs in areas with silty soil or soil with a high water capacity. Builders can compensate for these conditions by ensuring the base of a home’s foundation is well below the frost line (in houses with basements), adding drainage tile around the foundation, backfilling the area with porous materials such as gravel for optimum drainage, and properly grading the topsoil to direct water away from the house.

Telltale Signs of Frost-Heave Damage

The biggest clue of damage left by frost heaving is cracks. Often seen in older homes, frost heaving leaves a pattern of cracks around the support columns in a basement floor. You can see a good example of this here.

Another characteristic of frost-heave damage is horizontal cracks along the upper part of a basement wall where it meets the surrounding topsoil – the soil most affected by the freeze-thaw cycle.

Tips for Preventing Frost Heave

  • Replace the soil surrounding your foundation with more porous alternatives such as gravel and/or fill sand, which is a blend of sand, soil, and clay.
  • Add a drainage system at the base of a foundation, like a French drain, to drain the water away.
  • Dig top-level and subterranean reservoirs to redirect water away from your home’s foundation.
  • Insulate your home’s foundation to minimize heat loss between the foundation and the surrounding soil. When heat transfers to the surrounding soil through foundation walls, it enhances the freeze-thaw cycle.
  • Make sure your gutters are in good working order and drain rainwater at a sufficient distance (at least six to eight feet) away from your house.

Foundation Repairs May Still Be Necessary

Following the above steps are preventative measures that can dramatically reduce the risk of foundation failure due to frost heaving. But even with these precautions, it’s not always possible to reduce the risk 100%.

If you see cracks in your foundation, suspect damage due to frost heaves, or experience a damp basement, contact us online to schedule an appointment or give us a call at (419) 841-6055. We offer a free 20-point basement inspection to any homeowner who wants to make sure their basement is safe, secure, and moisture free.

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