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Hydrostatic Pressure

Hydrostatic pressure is a destructive force that all homes must be capable of withstanding. Making sure your foundation is stable and waterproofed will be able to prevent it from causing any damage to your home.

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Hydrostatic pressure affects every single home in the U.S., albeit to diverse levels. This is not some kind of aberration, but rather the weight of water in the soil around your home. As such, most properties do not experience any damage as a result of hydrostatic pressure around their perimeter. Issues arise, however, when extreme weather or poor drainage around your home cause soil saturation and perimeter flooding. 

The problem with sudden increases in hydrostatic pressure is that they often cause the level of pressure to exceed the tolerance and load-bearing capacity of the property in question. It is this that causes damage to the property and its foundation. Once the main structure of a property has been damaged, the gates are open for a number of secondary issues and problems that will spiral out of control very quickly. This is why at Foundation Repair of Western Colorado, we recommend that you act quickly to avoid bigger issues. 

What is Hydrostatic Pressure? 

hydrostatic pressure

Broadly speaking, hydrostatic pressure is the force per unit area that is exerted on an object by a liquid. 

Everything is or can be subject to hydrostatic pressure, even people. The air at sea level presses on us at 14.7 pounds per square inch, but we don’t feel it because the water inside our bodies exerts equal but opposite pressure. Swim a few feet down into a body of water, however, and you will soon notice a difference. 

Your home is affected by hydrostatic pressure thanks to the water in the soil that surrounds it. The effect will be most pronounced in properties that have basements. That’s because of the way basement walls are always exposed to the weight of water and soil, especially when the property in question was built on expansive soil. After all, this is most likely to cause a clay bowl to form. 

Truthfully, any kind of soil can lead to the formation of a clay bowl because of the process of excavation and backfill needed to construct a property. However, expansive soils tend to be the worst because of the way they absorb and hold water. 

clay bowl effect

What Is the Clay Bowl Effect? 

A clay bowl is a name for a space of loose, more absorbent backfill soil surrounded by hard, virgin soil that has much lower drainage capabilities. This means that heavy periods of rain or a lack of proper drainage around your property’s perimeter will lead to water building up inside the “bowl” before it can be drained away. 

The result of this will be an extreme increase in hydrostatic pressure because of the weight of the soil, the pressure of its expansion (if it is heavily clay-based), and the weight of the water. All this water around your property perimeter and foundation will have many different implications for the health and well-being of your property and your yard. This has much to do with the cause of the increased hydrostatic pressure. 

What Causes an Increase in Hydrostatic Pressure? 

At the heart of the matter, an increase in hydrostatic pressure is caused by more water being present. The precise source of the water, however, can vary quite dramatically. The most common causes of excessive soil saturation and hydrostatic pressure in and around Grand Junction, Colorado, are: 

Plumbing Leaks and Floods 

A property’s plumbing system is vital, and when it ruptures or breaks down, it can upset the flow of your entire home in a day. It can also wreak havoc on your belongings, décor, and if the flood is serious, your home’s structure. A prolonged or particularly heavy flood can also endanger your foundation. 

A plumbing flood that is ongoing for a few hours or more will pump an alarming amount of water out into your yard. This will saturate the soil around your property’s perimeter and increase the hydrostatic pressure that your home is subjected to. 

Extreme Weather 

Extreme weather is one of the most common and unavoidable causes of soil saturation and increased hydrostatic pressure for homes in Colorado. A flood is one of the most serious examples, but even a heavy rainstorm or prolonged days of average rainfall can be enough to tip the balance. 

You should check your property for signs of foundation saturation and soil wash out after every large or heavy storm. You should also check the inside of your home for signs of dampness and damage. 

Poor Foundation Drainage 

Foundation drainage is key to maintaining the health and well-being of your property and preventing excessive soil saturation. By ensuring that water is properly gathered and disposed of, your drains and gutters go a long way toward lowering hydrostatic pressure around your home. 

Poor drainage will increase hydrostatic pressure as well as the risk of flooding, dampness, and lateral movement in your property’s foundation. There are a few reasons to keep an eye on the health of your drains and gutters. 

Each of these issues can lead to an increase in the soil saturation around a property, and as such, considerable damage to the structure of the property in question. 

Hydrostatic Pressure

FAQ's

Since hydrostatic pressure is simply the weight of water around your home, rainfall absolutely increases this level of pressure. However, the increase is usually minor. 

Rain Raises the Water Table 

Even a small amount of rain will add to the level of hydrostatic pressure in your Grand Junction, Colorado, home, but unless the rainfall is significant and prolonged, it is unlikely to add enough water weight to cause serious damage to your home. This is not the only thing you need to worry about when rain starts falling, however, as any amount of rainfall will affect the water table. 

The water table is the level at which the soil or substrate is permanently saturated with groundwater. Rainfall can cause this level to rise closer to the surface. If the water table reaches your foundation or basement walls, the amount of hydrostatic pressure they experience will rise heavily and quickly. This can cause damage very easily. 

Flooding Adds Serious Pressure 

Localized flooding because of heavy and persistent rain, drain overflow, or a rise in the level of a local river presents real damage to your property. Primarily, serious flooding can lead to water entering your home and causing widespread damage to its structure and your belongings (as well as posing a risk to your health and well-being). However, even less severe flooding can increase hydrostatic pressure dramatically. 

After all, hydrostatic pressure is about the water in the soil, not water in your home. So even if the flooding in your local area remains low, you should check your home for signs of damage, as the water table will be much higher than usual. Look for cracks, unevenness in your walls, and dips or bulges in your flooring.

Yes. There are some things you can do to protect your home from excessively high levels of hydrostatic pressure and the damage that it can cause. 

Yard Work 

A little yardwork can go a long way when it comes to managing and reducing hydrostatic pressure around your property. The idea is to remove obstructions to effective drainage and to improve your yard’s ability to manage moisture where possible.  

First and foremost, you should remove debris from your yard and perimeter in the fall. Raking leaves may not feel glamorous or important, but it will make a difference. Secondly, you should look for dips and craters around your yard and foundation perimeter. Ideally, your yard should direct water away from your home in a consistent manner. You can also consider how you plant your yard. The right mix of flowers, plants, and bushes can seriously increase your property’s moisture management capabilities. 

Drainage Options 

Your property’s drainage capabilities are all important to the management of saturation and hydrostatic pressure around your home. At the most basic level, this means maintaining and caring for your existing drainage systems as well as you can. Seasonal cleaning and maintenance, the removal of blockages, and the addition of trivial things like extended downspouts can really make all the difference. 

If you want to go one step further, you can also invest in more robust drainage options. Installing a sump pump in your home, for example, will make a stark difference to levels of relative humidity and dampness in your home. It will also prevent foundation flooding and flooding inside your basement or crawl space.

If the damage has already been done, you will need to address the root cause (hydrostatic pressure), as well as the damage and secondary issues. 

The Process 

When repairing the fallout of excessive hydrostatic pressure, the first step will generally be draining your basement or crawl space. This is not always the case, but when hydrostatic pressure creates cracks in the structure of a property, flooding and dampness are likely. Once standing water has been removed, the process of keeping it out begins. 

The next step is the stabilization and repair of structural problems like bowing walls, foundation damage, and fragmentation. Once these issues have been dealt with, the structural damage and mitigated the elevated levels of hydrostatic pressure, internal repairs can begin. This means removing mold and mildew and repairing damaged joists, for example. 

Do Not Try DIY 

It is especially important that you do not try to undertake DIY when you see signs of structural damage and excessive hydrostatic pressure. While we understand the temptation to act quickly and save money by doing the work yourself, this can be incredibly damaging for your home and even dangerous to your health and well-being. This is partly because of the likelihood of structural issues. 

Structural damage is the one area that we really recommend you never stray into as a non-professional. Even the best DIY enthusiast is not equipped to undertake something like foundation repair or wall stabilization and straightening. Professionals, by contrast, have the tools, training, and products that they need to give a great result at a better long-term price.

What Damage Can Excessive Hydrostatic Pressure Cause? 

Hydrostatic pressure may be a natural occurrence that all homes must withstand, but there is a limit to what the average home can deal with. If the level of hydrostatic pressure around your home becomes too high, it can cause several issues including, but not limited to: 

Spreading Cracks 

If your home is being impacted by extreme hydrostatic pressure, one of the first issues that you are likely to encounter will be spreading cracks. Unlike hairline cracks, which are too small to fit a credit card into, and stable cracks, which are signs of past damage, spreading cracks represent ongoing damage to your home. 

As such, spreading cracks are actively growing in length, depth, and width. This makes them a danger to your home in a wider sense, as they will let in water, destabilize the affected structures, and lead to fragmentation or even collapse. 

Foundation Damage 

Saturated soil can cause foundation damage in several ways. Excessive hydrostatic pressure may cause a foundation to start to crack and deform, but there are also issues that can arise because of the change in soil texture. Soil that is very saturated can become loose or marshy and may lose its capability to bear weight or start to move laterally. 

This will lead to issues in the foundation of any property that is reliant on the soil. Lateral movement or soil washout can cause the property to shift sideways as a whole, but this is not overly common. It is far more likely, instead, that the property will start to sink into the marshy ground, or that soil movement will leave voids under the foundation. 

When voids form underneath a property’s foundation, it can lead to the foundation cracking and settling into the spaces left behind. This is a fundamental problem that will damage the property in its entirety over time. 

Flooding 

Any damage to the structure of your property has the potential to allow water into your home, but when the damage is caused by strong hydrostatic pressure, this can lead to flooding. The same hydrostatic pressure that causes cracks will push the water in the soil through any gape, space, or crack that it can find. This will lessen the hydrostatic pressure slightly but will cause a different kind of issue. 

Flooding because of hydrostatic pressure is most common in properties that have basements because of their subterranean placement. However, properties with crawl spaces can also find that foundation damage caused by hydrostatic pressure leads to flooding and generalized dampness. 

Bowing Walls 

If you have a basement in your property, excessive hydrostatic pressure can lead to a unique and worrying phenomenon: bowing walls. These are a real danger to your health and the stability of your property. Caused by relatively low tensile strength of concrete and the presence of strong lateral hydrostatic pressure, bowing walls are those that have started to deform and lean or buckle inward. 

This is not just an issue because of the aesthetic issues and spreading cracks that it will lead to. Bowing walls will also let in water and start to separate from the walls and floors that they should be connected to. When this happens, they will destabilize the whole structure of your home. If left to grow unchecked, bowing walls can also collapse. 

These issues are bad enough on their own, but they can cause secondary forms of damage that should not be underestimated or discounted. If you act quickly, you could avoid secondary damage altogether. 

Secondary Damage 

There are a few secondary issues that can be caused by an excess of hydrostatic pressure. Almost all of them are caused by the dampness that is a common result of cracking and buckling. For example: 

Wood Rot 

Wood rot is one of the most damaging issues that can arise because of prolonged dampness in a home. Caused by the growth of fungal spores that aid in the decay of dead wood, this is a process that will lead to serious structural damage and even collapse if it is not rectified quickly. Wood rot comes in three main forms: brown rot (sometimes called dry rot), white rot, and soft rot. Each is caused by a different form of fungal spore and presents slightly different signs, but all change the texture of the wood and make it weak, brittle, or soft. 

Mold and Mildew 

Like wood rot, mold and mildew are caused by fungal spores and dampness. Unlike wood rot fungus, however, mold is not likely to cause the flooring to collapse. Instead, it is dangerous to your health. While many forms of mold are benign, there are some that can be actively toxic to humans and animals. The most worrying is black mold that can cause migraines, skin irritation, eye and throat irritation, dizziness, and difficulty in breathing. 

Bad Odors 

Bad odors in your home might not seem like a terrible issue in the grand scheme of things, but it will make the environment in your home unpleasant. Furthermore, a persistent bad odor (that doesn’t go away even when you undertake a deep clean and air out your home) is most likely a sign of an underlying issue like mold formation, wood rot, or even pest infestation. 

Uneven or Sagging Floors 

Dampness, mold, pest infestation, and the presence of wood rot fungus can all come together to cause uneven or sagging floors by damaging supports, joists, and floorboards. This will lead to the joists failing and the floor sagging before finally collapsing. If the hydrostatic pressure around your home has caused serious structural damage and movement, the sagging or uneven flooring could be the result of this movement. 

As you can see, it is incredibly important to avoid excessive hydrostatic pressure where possible, and where you suspect that there is damage in your home, you must act quickly to ensure that the damage is nipped in the bud. 

Contact Foundation Repair of Western Colorado for Expert Help and Advice 

If you suspect there is damage to your foundation (or the wider structure of your property) and you think hydrostatic pressure may be to blame, please call Foundation Repair of Western Colorado today. Our team is based in Grand Junction, Colorado, and has years of collective experience to bring to the table, so you can be certain that we will be able to help you restore your home to full health. 

It all starts with a free inspection appointment. These appointments come with no obligation to book repairs through us, and your inspector will provide you with a written estimate for the cost of their suggested repairs.

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