Foundation Damage is Common in Winter…And After the Thaw, Too

The home is the single greatest asset for most Americans. And not surprisingly, a lot of planning and forethought goes into the construction process – especially when it comes to your home’s foundation:
  • Builders in Florida take into account the state’s notorious hurricane season
  • California builders factor in earthquakes
  • Home builders in Kansas build foundations with tornadoes in mind
But with climate change and shifting weather patterns, this level of planning is not always possible. The Carolinas, for example, have received unprecedented levels of rainfall throughout 2013. In many of the worst hit cities like Brevard and Asheville, construction teams didn’t necessarily build home foundations with landslides and flooding in mind. And that’s just the rainy season. Wintertime presents a whole new set of threats to your home’s foundation, with 2 of the biggest hazards being frost heaving and freezing pipes. Let’s explore these 2 common wintertime threats and then discuss cost-effective solutions.

How Frost Heaving Leads to Foundation Damage

Frost heaving occurs when top-level soils freeze and thaw, creating upward suction that draws in more water – which then freezes and thaws even more. Over time, this frost cycle results in uneven pressure, creating shifts and cracks beneath your home’s foundation.

Silty terrain and soil with high water capacities are particularly problematic since they do a poor job of draining the area around your property. By contrast, grainier soils (sand, gravel, etc.) are less prone to frost heave since they’re more porous.

How Pipe Freezing Can Damage Your Foundation

Your home’s foundation is built to last. And in most cases, normal freezing isn’t a major problem. Your foundation may display concrete flaking or even cracking. But these are relatively rare. Far more common and destructive is pipe freezing. As ice within the pipes expands, this can lead to bursting, causing permanent water damage to your home’s foundation. The problem is most common in areas where:
  • Pipes are directly exposed to outside temperatures (i.e. external sinks and washrooms)
  • Pipes are indirectly exposed to outside temperatures (i.e. unprotected crawlspaces under your home)
  • Exterior faucets are not properly turned off during the wintertime

Once you understand their causes, addressing these two common threats becomes much easier.

Tips for Preventing Frost Heave

Although you can’t prevent seasonal frosting, you can protect your home’s foundation by implementing better water drainage management. Popular solutions include:

  • Replacing surrounding soil with more porous alternatives
  • Digging top-level and subterranean reservoirs to redirect water away from your home’s foundation
  • Insulating your home’s foundation to retard geothermal heat loss and reduce frosting before it occurs

Preventing Pipe Freezing

Protecting your foundation from pipe freezing is arguably easier since you know, in advance, where potential problems exist. Below are some of the most common preventative steps you can take:

  • Shut off all exposed water pipes during the wintertime when you’re not using them
  • Seal any leaks around pipes that enter your home to prevent cold air from seeping in
  • Insulate pipes in crawl spaces, attics, and outer walls
  • Make sure your home’s core temperature doesn’t fall below 55 degrees Fahrenheit – even when you’re not around

Foundation Repairs May Still Be Necessary

The above steps are preventative measures that can dramatically reduce the risk of home foundation failures. But even with these precautions, it’s not always possible to reduce the risk 100%. If your foundation does become unstable, you’ll need to contract a licensed foundation repair team to fix the damage ASAP. For more information about protecting your home’s foundation during the winter or to learn how to repair damage once it has already occurred, click here.

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