Snow can be dangerous for your home’s foundation. Here’s everything you need to know about it and what you can do to fight back.
The Dangers of Snow
There are many potential dangers that occur in and around your home because of snow. This largely has to do with the fact that snow takes multiple forms, and every form is slightly different. Here’s a rundown of the various dangers you might associate with snow.
Cold Air and Drying Soil
One of the biggest problems with snow regarding your foundation is the fact that snow requires very cold air to form, and cold air tends to go hand in hand with dry soil. As the air dries, the soil dries as well because the air tends to pull moisture out of the soil. This drying effect doesn’t limit itself to a specific type of soil, either; pretty much any soil around your home could end up dry.
Most of the time, when soil dries, it starts to form or sustain cracks. Those cracks can put your foundation in jeopardy. Additionally, as the soil dries, it will shrink. When it shrinks, it pulls away from your foundation wall, leaving it with no support from the dirt as it was supposed to receive. This is absolutely bad for your home and the soil around it.
What happens when snow lands on the ground? Eventually, whether it takes days or months, it will melt back into the soil around your foundation, crawl space, or basement.
If you have a crawl space, snowmelt could be so overwhelming that it creeps into the unsealed entry points of your foundation. A buildup of excess moisture in your crawl space can lead to mold, pests, and rotting floor joists.
Basement owners may face structural issues as well without the right waterproofing protection. Snowmelt will rehydrate the soil in your yard, causing it to swell and exert hydrostatic pressure onto your basement foundation walls. Hydrostatic pressure is a strong force sparked by saturation of water in the soil around your home–as the soil expands, it presses up against your foundation walls, causing them to crack, bow, and in a worst-case scenario, collapse.
Refreezing Water, or Freeze-Thaw Cycle
While snowmelt poses its own set of problems, you may be facing a more complex issue in places like coastal Virginia where weather can be unpredictable. Varying hot and cold weather can spur into action a freeze-thaw cycle, which is when snowmelt refreezes into problematic masses of ice around your yard and in your foundation.
When water turns to ice, it expands in size and strength. If water leaks into existing foundation cracks in your home, then refreezes, it will accelerate the growth of these fissures. This poses a threat to even small cracks in your home, as the freeze-thaw cycle can open them up significantly, turning a small crack into a big problem.
Flooding Basements and Crawl Spaces
Once you have giant cracks in your basement or crawl space, what could that turn into? The larger the cracks in your basement or crawl space, the easier water can get into them. What that means is that one way or another, whether it’s through the water table, melting snow, or a flood from rain or another source, your basement or crawl space becomes much more of a target for floods.
A flood of any kind, even a flood that’s relatively minor, can be absolutely catastrophic in a basement or crawl space. In basements, which many people use for storage or even for living spaces, a flood can destroy huge amounts of property. In crawl spaces, a flood can have a significantly negative impact on the structure you’ve built to allow people access to your plumbing or electricity.
Will the Summer Season Help?
Some people wonder whether summer, with its high temperatures, can help. After all, if low temperatures are bad, surely these problems will fix themselves when you move back into the warmer months, right? The unfortunate thing is that summer probably won’t do anything to quell your problems.
Droughts in Early Summer
While late summer to early fall is hurricane season in Coastal Virginia, the early summer months can be vulnerable to drought-like conditions.
When drought plagues your Virginia or Maryland home, it dries out the supporting soil beneath your foundation. Just as soil expands when wet, the inverse occurs when it’s dry. Dry soil beneath your foundation can cause dangerous air pockets, leading to differential settlement and even cracks in your concrete patio and driveway.
High Levels of Moisture in Late Summer
During the rainier months in the summer, an unprotected crawl space, basement, or concrete slab may suffer without waterproofing protection.
These high levels of moisture can impart some amount of moisture back into the soil. Because the soil is typically so dry during the summer, it sucks up the moisture very quickly. That means it often expands, only to shrink once again whenever the moisture levels in the air return to dry. This expansion and shrinking process, can be a nonstop cycle of stress on your home and may affect its structural integrity.
In the world of home repair, “expansive soil” refers to soil that both expands and contracts more than soil underneath a foundation maybe should. Expansive soil can cause a variety of issues; when water enters the soil, it becomes larger, exerting more pressure onto the foundation. When water exits the soil, it becomes smaller, removing that pressure.
Although you would assume you want only less pressure on the foundation, the truth of the matter is actually that you want the same pressure on the foundation at all times. Ideally, you want the soil to expand and contract as little as possible, so the foundation walls can become used to whatever amount of pressure the soil exerts, no matter what that amount of pressure is.
How Can I Fix These Snow-Based Problems?
What can you do to fix the problems you see from snow every year? There are actually many fixes you can have for snow-based concerns. Depending on the extent of your snow issues, you might want to consider one or more of these problems for your fix.
Additional Foundation Support
The first thing you can do is add foundation support to your basement or crawl space. In some situations, the problem is that the dirt around the foundation is pushing too hard on the foundation itself. Under these circumstances, the pressure can eventually build to a point where the foundation wall actually crumbles in on itself.
However, if you’re able to support the wall with something like a wall anchor, you may be able to mitigate the worry of foundation walls collapsing almost entirely, even if the dirt is pressing in dramatically. If you’re having issues with foundation settlement impacting your floor and walls, our certified field experts may recommend helical piers or another pier system to stabilize your home and restore it to its level state.
Replacing the Soil Around Your Foundation
In some extreme cases, you might need to replace the soil around your foundation entirely. This may be the case if, for example, you have an extremely expansive soil around your foundation and you feel like it’s having a major impact on your foundation walls. An expert team can come in, remove the soil currently around your foundation, and fill in a better soil.
Of course, many people won’t need soil replacement around the entire foundation. Even if you do need some amount of soil replacement, you might not need the soil entirely replaced. However, you should keep this option in mind just in case it comes into play and you need to replace your foundational soil.
Basement and Crawl Space Waterproofing
Waterproofing can really help if your basement or crawl space regularly has water issues because of the water in the ground around your foundation. If you find that water is a common problem in your basement or crawl space, you might need to look into waterproofing options like interior drainage and a sump pump that can help you manage the impact it has.
Interior drainage systems work with the soil around your foundation to safely redirect excess moisture far away from your basement. Although other waterproofing methods like vapor barriers and even dehumidifiers can help defend your home against secondary foundation issues like mold and heightened energy bills.
Understanding Your Ability to Rebuff Snow
Although it can be beautiful when you look out the window, it’s important to know that snow can also have a pretty significant detrimental effect on your home’s foundational stability. It’s vital to the longevity of your home to keep a consistent maintenance plan going. Having a trained foundation professional inspect your whole home can bring to light the source of your foundation issues, so you can protect your home, for good.
At JES, we believe that everyone deserves guidance when it comes to protecting their home’s foundation. That’s why we offer free home inspections and no-obligation quotes for repair. We’re proud to be transparent with you about our repair plan, and give you the room you need to make the decision to revitalize your home.