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How Does the Winter Cold Affect Your Foundation?

Plummeting temperatures encourage ice lenses to form below the concrete foundation producing frost heave. Frost and melting ice can affect your foundation and compromise its health.

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Living in Washington, D.C., and Virginia means experiencing the four seasons, with winter being the most extreme. As the cold season sets in, precipitation increases and the structural supports start shrinking. Both factors can impact the health and the structural integrity of your foundation. The degree of damage increases when temperatures fall below 40 degrees.

Read on to find out what happens to the foundation when the temperatures drop and how you can protect this area of your home from frost damage.

cracks in your foundation

Frozen ground

Frost happens when temperatures drop to freezing point. Water, frost-susceptible soil, and low temperatures must all be present. Temperatures this low cause ice to freeze under the foundation, resulting in frost heave. The soil will move due to the formation of ice lenses within the ground. Other than that, the thawing ice can cause the ground to collapse leading to foundation damage. 

The ground starts freezing from the top. Because the frozen ground is harder than the area that’s not frozen, the foundation stays locked in place. The ground will continue freezing downward. This process causes the underground soil to lift the topsoil. This movement pushes the foundation up and creates spaces and gaps under the foundation. The ground under the foundation moves and fills the spaces and gaps that have formed. 

Foundation cracks

The freeze and thaw cycle destabilizes the foundation. The settlement will cause concrete foundation walls to crack. You will find doors and windows sticking to their frames, making it hard for you to close or open them. Cracks that run zigzag will also appear on the walls and widen as settlement progresses.

Leaks and seepage

After some time, the weather warms up and the temperatures rise. Snow and ice sheets start melting and seeping into the foundation soil, which will soak up water until it reaches the saturation point. What happens is the excess water will force its way into foundation cracks and egress windows. Mold will start forming and the walls and floor will get damp.

Ice dams

As snow falls, it will pile up on the roof and cause ice dams. The heat that escapes from your home can escape into the roof and warm up the ice sheets. Within no time, the melting ice will start running down the roof to the eaves, where it will re-freeze. The ice dams will obstruct water that’s flowing off the roof. With nowhere to go, the water will seep right into your home, causing wood rot, cracks and mildew.

Pipe damage

The frozen ground also works on pipes that are drilled right through the wall to get to a lamp post or garage. As the freeze-thaw cycle happens, the pipes will weaken their seals and allow water to enter the pipe. Water and electricity don’t mix. The same problem can affect your gas line and water pipes. Insulate these pipes inside out so they become frost-resistant.

Protecting your foundation

Cold weather will always pose challenges to your home’s foundation. You can protect your investment by installing polystyrene insulation that’s one inch thick to prevent frost from going underground. This way, heaving will happen away from your foundation and your ground will remain intact.

Cement block foundations are at a greater risk of damage by frost. Foundation damage needs urgent repairs. While cracks need to be sealed, it takes a trained eye to see what’s happening behind the foundation. Exterior drainage and water management are key to a healthy foundation. Channeling water away using underground downspout extensions and re-grading the yard helps prevent water ponding. Install yard drainage to move water and apply mulch to create a blanket to reduce frost formation.

Be sure to contact JES Foundation Repair for a free foundation repair and quote. We will assess the condition of your foundation and recommend solutions that will keep it moisture-free and healthy all year round.