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soil types

Behavior and Effects of Expansive Soil, Copyright Prentice HallWith the Onset of Summer, Comes Contracting Soil

After a fall and winter of higher than average rainfall in Central Texas, thanks to El Nino, a dry summer has the potential to wreak havoc on building foundations across the region.

Soil in Central Texas has Expanded
Due to Recent Rainfall

The soil composition here in Central Texas is comprised of moderate to highly expansive soils, see our post on expansive soils. What this means is that in wet periods our soils absorb water and expand, and during dry periods they lose moisture and contract.

Diagram of Expansive Soil, Copyright Prentice Hall In the example at right, taken from a Prentice Hall textbook, we can easily see the amount of moisture present in an expansive soil multiplies when moisture is introduced causing a phenomenon known as soil heave. As the name suggests soil heave causes the soil to lift upward and can either put added pressure on your exterior walls, if the soil under your house remains dry, or on the center of your foundation, if the soil under your home is affected by leaks or other sources of moisture.

Large Cracks in a Foundation or Walls
are Usually a Sign of Foundation Problems

If your home is experiencing any foundation problems, you will most likely either want to have a structural engineer take a look, or call a foundation repair company out to examine your home.

Superior has years of experience with San Antonio and Austin Foundation Repair. We also offer coupons to our web customers at our Google Maps pages, if you are in the Austin area visit our Superior Foundation Repair Austin – Google Maps page to see our specials. If you are in the San Antonio area visit our Superior Foundation Repair San Antonio – Google Maps page for our specials.

Call 877-302-5111 or follow this link to request a free foundation repair estimate.

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The New York Times

On March 4th the New York Times published an article about the foundation repair industry titled “Shifting Soil Threatens Homes’ Foundations”. The article points out that the foundation repair industry has grown even throughout the recession as more and more home owners have been faced with problems caused by expansive soil (read more about expansive soil in Central Texas).

The Article states:

Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association indicates that since the 1990s there has been an accelerating trend nationwide toward more extended dry periods followed by downpours. Whether due to random climate patterns or global warming, the swings between hot and dry weather and severe rain or snow have profoundly affected soil underneath buildings.

Clay soils, like those beneath the houses of Mr. Derse and Ms. Wilson, shrink during droughts and swell during floods, causing structures to bob. And because sandier soil loses its adhesive properties in dry conditions, it pulls away from foundations. Heavy rains cause it to shift or just collapse beneath structures. With both kinds of soil, such sinking, called subsidence, usually happens gradually, said Randall Orndorff, a geologist with the United States Geologic Survey. But, he said, “swinging from very wet to extremely dry weather like we’ve been seeing lately in many parts of the country may be accelerating the effect.”

While the author questions whether foundation problems are caused by global warming (this of course is an entirely different debate which we will not elaborate upon), she does provide an excellent explanation of how foundation problems occur. The soils in Texas are especially subject to these characteristics, thus the large amount of foundation repair companies that can be found in Texas.

The article also discusses the cost of foundation repair to homeowners and estimates that around $4 billion dollars a year are spent repairing foundations, a much more conservative figure than the $12.5 billion purported by the Foundation Repair Association. Regardless, foundation repair is a multi-billion dollar industry which people often tend to ignore until they see the signs of foundation problems.

The author also points out, “Subsidence is not covered by most homeowners’ insurance policies in the United States.” This topic has already been covered by Superior Foundation Repair in a previous blog post and readers should be aware of this fact already (read about insurance and foundation repair).

Another aspect covered in the article is proper techniques for maintaining a healthy foundation.

Landscaping should, as a rule, be installed so that water slopes away from the house and gutters should discharge at least five feet from the house to avoid oversaturating the soil. (read more about landscaping and home foundations) During droughts, experts recommend placing soaker hoses around the perimeter of the house and turning them on for 30 minutes a day. “The idea is to maintain a constant amount of moisture in the soil,” said Tom Witherspoon, a foundation engineer in Dallas. “If you can do that, your house will never move.” (read more about maintaining a healthy foundation)

Among other things there are a few personal stories mixed in with the article which highlight the hardships endured by various families who have dealt with foundation problems.

The article makes some good points about the foundation repair industry and the severity of problems caused by expansive soil throughout the United States, even if the article is loosely based around the idea that climate change may be the cause of foundation problems. However, the author also brings into question whether or not poor construction habits, the increase in new homes, or the availability of good quality soil have contributed to the increase in foundation problems across America. In all the article is an excellent read for anyone interested in understanding foundation repair and how it affects families.

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an old dilapidated house courtesy of godogo on flickr

  1. Cracks in walls allow water to seep in to sunken areas & basements

    • As a child our house outside of Houston, Texas, had a sunken living room which was built about 3 feet below ground level. Every time we had considerable rain (several times per year in Houston), our sunken living room filled with dirty water, saturating our furniture. The problems worsened year after year, until we hired a foundation repair company to come out and repair our foundation. After the repairs, water seepage was effectively stopped. Water can ruin furniture in sunken areas, damage carpeting and flooring, and cause mold to form, leading to health problems.
    • Is your home experiencing seepage? Read this article for a diy guide to identifying water seepage
  2. The condition of your foundation directly affects the price of your home and oftentimes affects the status of your home’s eligibility for a loan from potenial home buyers.

    • “Foundation cracks and settlement problems are viewed as serious defect to a home. Most homeowners realize this and simply will not purchase a home unless proper repairs are made. In addition, many lending venues (FHA,VA,Conventional) simply will not lend on a home with these defects.” source: www.repairfoundation.net

    • The FHA may categorize your house as a “Fixer-Upper” requiring the purchaser to get a special type of loan, subsequently lowering the value of the house. The VA has special guidelines pertaining to foundation repair this example details guidelines for a loan term of 30 years on a manufactured home:

      “To be eligible for a VA loan term of 30 years, a manufactured home must be

        • classified and taxed as real property

        • properly affixed to a permanent foundation (Section 12.10)

        • substantially conform with VA MPRs (Chapter 12), and

        • conform with applicable building code and zoning requirements for real estate.”

          For more information on the VA and foundations download this PDF (over 600 pages) and search for the term foundation

  3. The longer one waits to repair a foundation, the more repair will be needed in the future

    • Logically, the more a foundation shifts the larger the cracks in walls and flooring become, thus the more the costs of repairing your house increase. Stop foundation problems early to avoid future headaches.
    • Typical repair costs for repairing cracks
  4. 25% of homes across the United States will experience foundation shifting, a higher percentage can be expected in Texas due to the high concentration of expansive soil

    • “Expansive soils are present throughout the world and are known in every US state. Every year they cause billions of dollars in damage. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that 1/4 of all homes in the United States have some damage caused by expansive soils. In a typical year in the United States they cause a greater financial loss to property owners than earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes combined.

      Even though expansive soils cause enormous amounts of damage most people have never heard of them. This is because their damage is done slowly and can not be attributed to a specific event. The damage done by expansive soils is then attributed to poor construction practices or a misconception that all buildings experience this type of damage as they age.”

      source – geology.com

  5. Repairing your foundation and the damage associated with it can help you lower energy costs.

    After reading Superior’s 10 signs of Foundation Problems it is easy to see how repairing shifted windows and cracks in a structure can affect energy costs.

    • Percentage of energy lost from different areas of a home:

      “Heat is lost to infiltration and air loss by over 3 times the amount it is lost due to ceilings. These categories generally stack up this way in terms of % heat loss in a home:

      • Infiltration / Air Leakage: 35%

      • Windows and Doors: 18%-20%

      • Floors and Below Grade Space: 15%-18%

      • Walls: 12%-14%

      • Ceilings: 10%”

        source: About.com

    • Perform an Energy Audit on your home to determine how much energy you are wasting

If you think your house is experiencing foundation problems then contact Superior Foundation Repair today for a free foundation repair estimate, if any are needed.

Further reading:  article about how to properly maintain a foundation

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Photo: Expansive Clay SoilAccording to the Austin-American Statesman, this years El Niño weather pattern could ease the drought conditions in Central Texas. What does that mean for homeowners in the Central Texas area? It means its time for a period of soil swelling.

Central Texas sits in an area of the United States which is highly affected by expansive soils. (source: geology.com)

Expansive soils contain minerals such as smectite clays that are capable of absorbing water. When they absorb water they increase in volume. The more water they absorb the more their volume increases. Expansions of ten percent or more are not uncommon. This change in volume can exert enough force on a building or other structure to cause damage.
source: http://geology.com/articles/expansive-soil.shtml

With the coming wet weather, Central Texas soils will be absorbing moisture, and subsequently expanding which can lead to increased strain on home and building foundations.

In periods of increased rainfall it is important to be cautious when watering your foundation. Ovewatering causes the soil to absorb too much water, thus expanding, and possibly leading to foundation problems. A good tip for watering your lawn/foundation is to water it enough to keep your plants alive and healthy, saturation is neither good for plants nor foundations.

For the time being, however, water restrictions are still in effect, so overwatering should not be an issue until water restrictions are lifted completely.

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An Excellent video on keeping your foundation moist in drought conditions

Article on geology.com about Insurance companies and foundation repair insurance.

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According to the United States Department of Agriculture Travis County features a smorgasbord of soil types. Some of which are great for supporting foundations and others of which pose plenty of problems for construction.

What type of soil is your home or potential new home sitting on?

This blog article will examine Austin soil types using excerpts from the USDA’s report on Soils in Travis County.

According to the report:

Foundations Shrink-swell characteristics of the soil need to be considered in designing a building foundation, particularly if piers are not used below the slab. Such clay soils as those of the Houston Black, San Saba, and Ferris series are particularly poorly suited to building sites. They swell when wet and shrink when dry. This shrinking and swelling exerts such pressure that walls and foundations crack unless they are specially reinforced, sidewalks and driveways crack, and streets and sidewalks deteriorate more quickly.

In otherwords, beware of the type of soil your house is sitting on.

The report defines shrink-swell potential as follows:

Shrink-swell potential is an indication of the volume change to be expected in the soil material as the moisture content changes. Shrinking and swelling of soils causes much damage to building foundations, roads, and other structures. A high shrink-swell potential indicates hazards to the maintenance of structures constructed in, on, or with such materials.

Essentially the shrink-swell potential of a soil refers to the potential for the soil to shrink or swell based on water retention rates. Or when there is more water in the soil it has a potential to swell, when there is less water in the soil it tends to shrink. This can obviously cause problems for a foundation in that the soil underneath has the potential to change based on the amount of moisture in the soil.

Following is a list of the main soil types that cause problems for residential and commercial builders:

  • Houston Black

    The main limitations in use of the soils of this association in urbanization are the shrink-swell characteristics, as they affect foundations and streets.

    The soils of this unit present problems when used in urbanization. There are special problems in designing and maintaining foundations, trafficways, other works of concrete and asphalt caused by a shrink-swell potential.

  • Lewisville Soils

    There are limitations to the use of this unit in urbanization. Some of the hazards are a shrink-swell potential that affects foundations and pavements.

  • San Saba Soils

    The use of this undifferentiated group for urban development presents problems. These problems are caused by the shrink-swell potential, as it affects design, construction, or maintenance of concrete foundations and asphalt trafficways.

  • Tarrant Soils

    Soil characteristics that affect urban development are shrink-swell potential, as it affects foundations and paving.

  • Urban Land and Austin soils/Urban Land, Austin, and Brackett soils

    Some soil characteristics that affect urban development are shrink-swell potential, as it affects foundations and pavings.

  • Urban Land and Ferris Soils

    The use of this group for urban development is limited. Some of the soil characteristics that affect urban construction are shrink-swell potential, as it affects foundations and pavings.

  • Volente soils and Urban Land

    Some of the soil characteristics that affect urban construction are shrink-swell potential, as it affects foundations and paving.

Know your soil, and your potential for problems, before buying a house or deciding on foundation repair.

Superior offers a lifetime guarantee on all work performed, call today for a free estimate.

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