How Does Cold Weather Cause Foundation Problems in Your Home?
Shrinking Soil Impacts Foundation Walls
Cold weather can be a huge source of foundation concerns in just about any home. Although you might not realize it, it’s actually very common for cold weather to come around and start wreaking havoc on your home. Cold weather is a huge source of concern for anyone who has a home they’re trying to keep healthy.
The problem is, many people don’t think of the cold as being something that’s inherently troublesome for foundations. Instead, they tend to simply think of the cold as being a concern for home-dwelling reasons. Could the cold weather be causing foundation problems for you and your loved ones? Here’s everything you need to know about cold weather and foundation concerns.
The Biggest Causes of Foundation Issues
Why do foundation problems exist in the first place? You may never have really delved into the reasons for foundation issues at all. Here are a few of the biggest causes of foundation issues you might run across in your home.
Improperly Built Foundation Walls
If your home has poorly built foundation walls, you’re going to experience foundation problems. This is because it’s less likely the walls can sustain the type of pressure you’ll experience from the dirt and water pressing in on the walls in the first place. Those walls need to be extremely strong and sturdy, but if they’re not, you’re going to end up with problems.
It’s rare for foundation walls to be built improperly because residential codes exist. When a designer designs home or a construction team builds a home, they have to stick to residential codes that govern their building and design. Thankfully, this typically means foundation walls meet a certain criterion that helps them remain standing.
Load-Bearing Walls in the Wrong Place
A slightly more common problem is to have the load-bearing walls in the wrong place. If the designer calculates the load improperly, they may think the load-bearing walls need to be in a specific place that doesn’t actually need to bear the load as much as they think it does, leaving an entire swath of load-bearing sections improperly handled.
There’s a way to fix this, but it typically requires a lot of construction work. Again, this is relatively rare, even if it’s more common than foundation walls that use improper building processes. If you’re having a foundation concern, it’s possible that it’s because the load-bearing walls weren’t built in the right place.
Too Much Weight for the Load-Bearing Walls
Another even more common problem is that the load-bearing walls might not be able to sustain the amount of weight they’ve had placed on them. This can be frustrating because everything might look right from a design standpoint, but there might be too few load-bearing walls or too much weight resting on an upper floor or the attic.
Most commonly, this happens if you add a new portion to your home that’s extremely heavy. For example, if you currently have tile in your bathroom but you change to all-granite surfaces, you might end up increasing the weight dramatically. This can increase the load on the load-bearing walls, leading you to end up with a load that’s too much for the walls.
Soil That Shrinks or Expands Too Much
One of the most common problems is expansive soil, which is soil that reacts too strongly to water and temperature changes. Expansive soil doesn’t just expand when it gets wet; it also contracts when it gets dry. That means if you have a lot of moisture changes in the area, you’re likely to end up with significant amounts of expanding and shrinking.
When soil shrinks and expands, it pushes on your foundation walls, then recedes. This can be a huge frustration for homeowners because it’s constantly putting pressure on your foundation walls, whether by providing too much strain or not enough support. This is one of the most common foundation problems, and it can be hugely damaging.
Could My Home’s Soil Be Harming My Foundation?
Frost Heave & Settlement
With the knowledge that expansive soil is one of the biggest concerns for foundation security, you might wonder whether your home’s soil is having a significant impact on your foundation. Here are a few of the ways your home’s soil might be having an impact on the cold-weather stability of your foundation.
Drying Soil During Cold Weather
Cold weather tends to dry out the soil by its very nature. When the weather cools, you’re more likely to have drier soil because of the way in which moisture interacts with the cold air. That means whether you have expansive soil or not, you’re still going to have at least a small amount of shrinking around your home’s foundation.
This shrinking can then alleviate during the summer because moisture is more likely to return to the soil around your home’s foundation during the summer. Although this type of moisture changing is more likely to result in very slow expansion and contraction, it can still become a problem, especially over many years.
Frost heave describes the process that occurs due to snow and frost. Of course, snow and frost are nothing but frozen water. When snow and frost accumulate around your home, they’ll eventually melt. That melting snow and frost will sink into the ground, which can cause the soil to expand, as it would with any other type of moisture.
Another problem associated with frost heave is the fact that water expands when it freezes, then shrinks when it becomes liquid again. If the soil expanding and contracting causes cracks in the foundation, water can get into those cracks, then freeze, opening the cracks further. As this process recurs over and over again, it can lead to extremely serious foundation problems.
Dry and Wet Soil in Winter
The wintertime can lead to both dry and wet soil. As you can see, wet soil is more common as the frost and snow melt, whereas dry soil is more common when the air starts to get cooler. However, the fact that both of these things can happen during the winter shows that the process isn’t always exclusively season-long; it can happen in the middle of seasons as well.
You probably don’t think about wet soil in winter because the melting process of snow can be gradual. It may even be so gradual that it doesn’t show up as a leak in your basement or crawl space. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not causing problems. It’s important to think about both dry and wet soil during the winter if you want to protect your home more fully.
The Issues with Winter Soil for Your Foundation
Your foundation has a lot of problems when it comes to winter soil. Unfortunately, the way in which soil behaves during the winter just isn’t great for foundations. This is especially true if you have expansive soil, but it can be a significant problem even if you don’t have overarching problems with the soil around your foundation.
It’s important that you address all soil problems you might be having, which might include expansive soil. However, if you’re having foundation problems related specifically to the winter, there are some things that might be able to fix or at least mitigate many of those concerns. You need to act as quickly as possible to make it easier for you to fix your foundation problems.
How Can I Tell That I’m Having Settlement Problems?
Many people wonder how they can tell that they’re having settlement problems in the first place. After all, many people end up with settlement problems and never recognize it’s a problem. Here are a few of the biggest signs and symptoms of settlement problems, whether it’s winter or not.
The first significant sign of settlement problems is so-called “stair-step cracks.” These cracks typically form in brick walls, but they can form in any walls. The stair-step cracks are called such because they look like a stair step with a crack that goes up, then over. The cracks typically form in brick walls because that’s where brick walls are most likely to crack.
Stair-step cracks in walls mean one side of the wall is sinking more rapidly than the other. With no other way to alleviate the significant pressure on the wall, the wall will start to crack along the path of least resistance. In many walls, specifically brick walls, the path of least resistance leads to a stair-step pattern.
Sticking Doors and Windows
Does it seem more difficult to open your doors and windows than it had before? Do you have to shimmy your doors and windows open, where you didn’t have to previously? Alternately, does it seem like some doors and windows swing open on their own, even when you’re not around? These can all be signs of foundation settlement issues.
Sticking doors and windows can be a hassle for sure, but not many people notice that they can also be a serious concern because they typically showcase that your home is settling unevenly. If one side of the home is settling more quickly than the other, the doors and windows are more likely to “stick” on the side, making them more difficult to open or close.
Cracks in the Floor
Cracks in the floor are a very common sign of settlement if you have a slab foundation. Slab foundations tend to cause cracks running through the floors of your home, which can be very worrying even if you don’t know that you have foundation problems. Knowing that cracks in the floor are such a significant problem, you’ll hopefully be more likely to seek help for them.
Of course, cracks in the floor don’t just cause foundation concerns. If you have cracks in the floor, you’ll know you’re more likely to trip and fall or drop something in these cracks, making it difficult to get anything out. Overall, it’s important that you fix cracks in the floor, but you need to make sure you’re getting at the root of the problem by fixing the reason for the cracks.
Walls Separating from the Ceiling and Floor
Another potential problem that typically arises because of slab foundations is when your walls separate from either the ceiling or the floor. This typically shows up as a small, almost imperceptible crack between the wall and the ceiling or floor. Over time, the cracks will continue to get worse, which can make it difficult to ignore the problem. These cracks are a sign of settlement, and they can turn into an even worse problem over time.
Although these cracks are certainly an eyesore, you can’t fix them just by painting over them or using caulk to smooth over the surface. These cracks are showing up for a reason, and it’s extremely important that you handle the root of the problem rather than just whatever shows up on the surface. If you’re having cracks along the ceiling or the floor, make sure you’ve called in a JES expert to examine your home for settlement concerns before you go for a DIY fix.
How Can I Fix These Problems in My Home?
Clearly, cold weather causes significant foundation concerns. There’s no way to deny that as the weather cools down, people tend to have issues with their foundations that reach far beyond the norm. However, it’s important that you don’t brush these concerns off. You need to think about how these concerns could impact you in the long run.
When you’re looking to fix foundation problems, whether they come from cold weather or not, it’s a good idea to contact a foundation repair expert from JES. You can request a free inspection from JES to learn more about your foundation problems and understand what you can do to fix it. This is one of the best ways to fix your home’s foundation problems overall.