Clay Soil? Too Much Or Too Little Water Could Pose Problems For Your Foundation

If you have a home built on clay soil, your foundation may be particularly prone to problems relating to the amount of water in the earth. Read on to learn why balancing the amount of moisture in the soil around your foundation is of vital importance and what you can do to prevent damage to your home's foundation. 

Why Moisture Is an Issue with Clay Soil

Many homes are built directly on clay soil when there is no rock on which to anchor the foundation. Clay soil, which is found across the United States and is particularly prevalent in the southwest, is prone to shrinking when it's dry and expanding when it's wet. 

When clay soil expands, it puts pressure on home foundations, causing them to crack or even to shift. This is especially problematic when either heavy rainfall or agressive garden watering follow periods of drought and dry ground. The clay expands too rapidly, sometimes taking the foundation with it. 

What You Can Do Before You Build

If you are constructing a house and know you have clay soil on your lot, the first thing you should attempt to do is build as rigid a foundation as possible. A rigid foundation distributes pressure across the entire structure and is therefore less susceptible to movement than a more flexible one. Talk to your contractor about what type of materials and design can make your foundation most stable.

How You Can Help the Foundation of an Existing Home

If you've already had damage to your foundation, or if you think your foundation is vulnerable, you need to take steps to prevent future damage. One way to tell if your foundation is at risk is to look at its exterior. If the soil is pulling away from the foundation walls, that indicates a high degree of clay shrinkage that could be a disaster if you start watering your landscaping more or experience heavy rainfall.

Whether you are repairing a cracked foundation or trying to stave off repairs, it's best to consult a contractor or engineer who is an expert at foundations, particularly those in clay soil. A foundation expert can first repair any existing cracks and help you devise a system to stem future damage. 

One way that many homeowners are now addressing this issue is by actually adding moisture to the soil, albeit slowly and carefully, so the soil doesn't expand too rapidly. This keeps moisture levels in the soil constant throughout the year. There are three popular ways to accomplish this:

  1. Use soaker hoses near the foundation. This is the least expensive method, but you may lose water to evaporation. 
  2. Water the foundation as part of your lawn sprinkler system by creating "foundation only" zones.
  3. Install a buried drip system that runs off your lawn sprinkler supply but runs deeper than your sprinklers. Make sure it is well marked so you don't accidentally nick it with garden tools while digging. Ask your foundation expert about using pea gravel to help disperse the water better.

When using any of these systems, even DIY soaker hoses, you should still get the advice of a foundation professional, such as Reynolds Construction, who can help you calculate a drip rate and monitor the amount of moisture in the soil. They can also tell you when to shut down the system when Mother Nature takes over with rainfall.

Your home is probably your most expensive possession, and the foundation is its base. If you take care of your foundation, you'll be taking a big step towards maintaining your home for years to come. 

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