Your Complete Guide to Expansive Soil and How It Can Be a Problem

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    When you first buy a new house, there is certain information the previous owner should give you. Information like a septic tank on the premises and its location are essential. 

    A list of rental properties is also crucial information you need about your new property. You may not have thought about if your new land has expansive soil.

    The quality of your yard’s soil may not seem like a big deal – at least at first. Expansive soil has caused over $2 million in property damages annually within the United States alone. 

    We imagine you may be a little more curious about what expansive soil is now, right? Think of this article as a guide to expansive soil. We’re going to answer questions like “What is expansive soil?” and “Why is it problematic?” 

    We’ll also talk about expansive soil stabilization and how you can identify if you’ve got expansive soil on your property. There’s a lot to cover, so keep reading if you want to know what this guide entails. 

    What Is Expansive Soil?

    Expansive or active soil is referred to as such because it is an active – or moving material. Expansive soil is composed of materials that shift, expand, and contract when moisture gets inside. 

    The opposite of expansive soil is inactive soil which doesn’t contain minerals or other materials that move when wet. “Expansive soil” is a catchall term that can describe soil or clay with these seeming rubber qualities. 

    The problem with soil or clay that moves with moisture is that they get stuck in a cycle. When water gets into the ground, the earth “grows,” and when it dries out, it shrivels.

    Trees can also contribute to the problem. Tree roots near your home absorb water and add help reduce soil moisture. 

    The constant “grow-shrink” cycle makes an unstable base. The instability of expanding soil makes it such an inappropriate material for construction.

    Where Is Expansive Soil Found?

    Expansive soil is practically everywhere in the United States and Canada. Some places have more extensive, expansive soil issues than others.

    We service the Shenandoah Valley and Northern and Central Virginia, a wide expansive soil area. But there are other states in the US more troublesome than most:

    • Colorado
    • Texas
    • California
    • Nevada
    • Arizona

    These states often see more damage from expansive soil, but the problem is generally more endemic in western and southern states. Homeowners in these regions must often contend with foundation issues.  

    Why Is Expansive Soil An Issue?

    Structures are only as good as their foundations – or what their foundations are built on, rather. If you were to construct a building on top of continually shifting ground, the foundation would have no choice but to move with it. 

    Continuous movement underneath the building will eventually lead to foundation damage. Cracks in the foundation, hard-to-close windows, and damaged pipes are just some issues expansive soil can bring. 

    Soil expansion also causes the ground to push against your home’s foundation. Constant shoving against the base of your home results in something called edge-lift. 

    Edge-lift can cause your drywall and outer foundation edges to start cracking. Once moisture from the soil and other outside elements gets underneath the foundation, center-lifting starts to happen. 

    Center-lift happens when soil expansion reaches a home’s foundation’s center or internal parts. Water begins disturbing the foundation, and the floor slabs eventually move out of place. 

    Basements structures begin to fail under the stress of expansive soil, as well. Cracking and shifting foundations start damaging basement walls. 

    Are Some Structures Better Protected Than Others? 

    There is no such thing as an “expansive soil proof” structure. Anything built in an expansive soil area can potentially fail. Considering there’s expansive soil worldwide, there’s nowhere you can avoid this issue. 

    How Can I Identify Expansive Soil? 

    Unfortunately, most people can’t spot expansive soil easily. The problem isn’t that there’s no indication of expansive soil issues, but instead, homeowners attribute them to other problems like poor construction. 

    Here’s a list of ways you can tell whether you have expanding soil: 

    • Concrete cracks – these cracks appear under carpets and tile grout
    • Chimney cracks – cracked or leaning chimneys mean foundation issues 
    • Tile cracks – cracked bathroom tiles could mean a shifting foundation
    • Slopping floors – irregular, bowed floors may indicate unstable ground
    • Mold – fungus may begin to grow from soil moisture

    It’s never a bad idea to call someone to inspect your home for foundation issues when you suspect you have them. You’re better off safe than sorry when it comes to your home’s longevity. 

    Can I Fix Or Control Expansive Soil Issues?

    Technically, you can’t fix expansive soil; you can only mitigate what damages the grow-shrink cycle may cause. None of these solutions are quick fixes or something you can accomplish with a bit of DIY either. 

    One method to help your expansive soil issues is to remove and replace upper soil levels before building on them. Another viable way to deal with expanding soil is to add underpinning support. 

    Although it may sound like you’re making the issue worse, prewetting soil is also a means to treat expanding soil. The idea behind prewetting is that soil won’t move if you keep it at a constant moisture level.

    Can I Repair Preexisting Damage From Expanding Soil? 

    It is possible to repair the damage done by expanding soil. You can inject concrete into existing cracks to strengthen and level them. Expansive soil stabilization is an available option.

    Expansive soil stabilization doesn’t “repair” existing damage, but it can help prevent it. Adding another element to the soil helps keep it in place so it can’t expand or shrink anymore. Calcium is a standard stabilization option. 

    Talk To An Expert About Expanding Soil

    Expansive soil is an unseen menace that homes worldwide suffer. Foundation issues like cracking and slanted chimneys are typical signs of expanding soil.

    Stay on the lookout for foundational issues and consider getting an inspection to ensure the surrounding earth isn’t squeezing in on your home. 

    Lux Foundation Solutions is here to provide foundation repair services across Virginia. Contact us for our services across various counties, including Alexandra, Arlington, Clarke, Fairfax, and Shenandoah.