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Expansive Soils

Backfill soil behaves differently than the unexcavated, “virgin soils” farther away from the foundation. Backfill soil typically absorbs more water and expands more, exerting pressure against the foundation.

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Expansive soil is a leading cause of foundation problems in Colorado. It is characterized by the high clay content and its ability to expand or shrink significantly due to change in moisture in the environment. The resulting force is powerful enough to cause serious damage. 

Cracked basement walls, floors, and foundations are typical signs of expansive soil damage. Damage to the upper floors of the building can occur due to the shift in the structure. According to the Colorado Geological Survey, expansive or swelling soil is the most significant geological hazard in Colorado. Annual losses are estimated to be around $2 billion nationwide. 

The statistics are alarming, making it important to identify the presence of expansive soil around your home and take proper measures to avoid related damage and associated costs. If you have expansive soil around your home, it is important to work with professionals to address the issue right away. 

Dry soil and your foundation

What Causes Issues with Expansive Soils? 

The key culprit behind foundation problems caused by expansive soil has to do with water or change in moisture levels. When in contact with water, the soil volume may expand up to 10% or more due to excess water absorption, exerting a pressure force of around 20,000 pounds or more per square foot on slabs, foundations, and other structures. These destructive forces can cause both upward and horizontal displacement. 

Soil shrinkage is equally damaging in Grand Junction, CO. Many times, the excess water evaporates, causing the soil to shrink back. This decrease in volume can cause a structural shift. However, even though expansive clay soils can shrink as moisture levels drop, some common issues could prevent the structure from returning to its original state. 

For example, as cracks appear, sediments can become dislodged, creating small gaps that impede the sealing of fractures upon shrinkage. Furthermore, it mixes with the soil, causing a permanent change to the composition of the soil and how it reacts to moisture. 

Bottom line: Expansive soil can cause severe damage when it encounters water. The question here is how does water reach expansive soil under your home in the first place? Read on to learn about some of the most common causes that lead to issues with expansive soils. 

clay bowl effect

Excess Water Accumulation 

Excess water collecting around the basement is one of the most common problems met by homeowners. Generally, it is a direct impact of issues with grading. Soil grading is the process of ensuring that water flows away from, rather than toward, your home. It can be a terrific way to relieve hydrostatic pressure when done correctly. However, if the process is performed incorrectly, it can be extremely harmful. 

Inadequate soil grading means you are rendered unable to avoid excess water problems. Consequently, you can wind up with even more serious problems than hydrostatic pressure issues. Remember, hydrostatic pressure can be a significant issue on its own, but when combined with expanding soil, it can be considerably more dangerous. 

Floods and Rain 

Did you know that Colorado receives an average of 16.7 inches of rainfall annually? It is one of the leading causes of expansive soil that leads to foundation damage, particularly foundation heave. With rain comes flooding. This causes the soil to submerge in water for an extended period, giving expansive soil plenty of time to absorb water and expand. 

While there is not much you can do to prevent rains and floods, professional foundation management and repair experts can help you act appropriately to minimize damage.  

Construction Problems 

Most homes are constructed with care, quality, and the right materials in mind. However, there are times when the materials are poorly suited to handle the problems the home will one day face. Likewise, it’s possible the construction team didn’t properly account for the soil your home would be sitting on, the way it would react to local weather, or how the home itself needed to be designed to accommodate. 

Construction problems can aggravate the issue of expansive soils. Structures designed without consideration for the behavior of expansive soils can drastically worsen an otherwise manageable situation. A faulty building or structure design, defective construction, inappropriate landscaping, and long-term maintenance approaches unsuited to the unique soil conditions can occur when expansive soils are not identified. 

Incorrect depth or diameter of the drilled pier, improper foundation loading, insufficient reinforcing steel, and inadequate attention to surface and underground water are all engineering design faults that can lead to foundation problems due to expansive soil. 

Internal Leaks 

Everyone will encounter a plumbing issue at some point, but if your home sits upon expansive soils, this can make the present situation worse and set up your property for more hassle in the future. That’s because plumbing issues and internal leaks can cause water to accumulate under the house. Ongoing internal leaks are often minor. They are typically detected and fixed in time to avoid secondary issues with water damage or high humidity. 

However, major unexpected internal leaks are a completely different story. They happen suddenly and often leave severe damage in their wake. For example, a pipe burst in the crawl space can leave you with a lot of water around the house. The soil may absorb enough water to cause a foundation heave and other structural problems around the house. Even if you clear this out as soon as you can, it may not be fast enough to avoid having your soil affected. This will then be made worse as rain, snow, or other environmental factors add to the amount of moisture in your soil, causing it to become far more expansive than it would’ve been already. 

Risks And Issues With Expansive Soil 

Expansive soil is the hidden problem behind the majority of basement and foundation problems. So, if you are wondering why you should care about the absorption properties of soil around your house, keep in mind that expansive soil can be catastrophic for homeowners. Foundation repair costs are generally high. Plus, the damage is seldom included in homeowner insurance policies. 

Unfortunately, in many situations, homeowners notice the problem but are unable to gauge the severity of the problem or how quickly it can escalate. As a result, the condition proceeds to the point where repair is costly or simply not feasible. 

Therefore, it is important to call in the professionals as soon as you notice the first signs of expansive soils in Grand Junction, CO. Here are some of the major risks and issues related to expansive soils that can be avoided by taking preventive measures in time. 

Foundation Cracks 

When expansive soil presses in on the foundation, the foundation might be pushed out of the way to the point where it cracks beneath the pressure. Although the foundation can fracture for a variety of reasons, cracks generally indicate that the foundation is under too much pressure to function correctly. Various kinds of foundation cracks appear for different reasons. 

The orientation of a foundation crack can often tell you whether it’s a reason for concern. Fortunately, many cracks are largely cosmetic and if you find them to be an eyesore, you may only require cosmetic repair. 

Vertical foundation cracks are the least troublesome of the foundation cracks you’re likely to encounter, and they’re usually the result of natural foundation settlement. On the other hand, uneven settling, especially in a brick foundation wall, is a common cause of stair-step cracks. 

However, if the foundation cracks run horizontally or diagonally or are wider than 1/8 inch, they could indicate more serious structural issues that need to be addressed. These cracks are typically caused by differential settlement or soil pressure. 

Bowing Basement Walls 

What do the walls look like when you walk into your basement? It’s best if the walls are as straight as possible. But if you see a curve in the basement walls, particularly one that presses inward, you may be dealing with a major pressure problem. Expansive soil can readily cause pressure problems that ultimately lead to bowing basement walls. That’s because these soils will put immense pressure and weight against the subterranean parts of your home. If your foundation and support structures are unable to properly push back, this can lead to the walls inside tilting, bowing, or even collapsing. 

It is important to understand that bowing basement walls are more than an aesthetic issue. If your basement walls are bowing, you must address the issue as quickly as possible to avoid further damage. Otherwise, you risk major foundation issues, including full foundation failure where the foundation walls collapse in on themselves. 

foundation heave

Weak Foundation 

If you put off dealing with expansive soil for a long time, you may develop major foundation issues as the expansive soil exerts pressure on the foundation until it eventually gives in. Expansive soil also consolidates. This means it shrinks dramatically when it dries out, causing the structure to be lifted off the foundation. 

This pattern of pressure and lack of structure over time can result in a foundation that is considerably weaker than the one you started with. If those problems persist, you could end up with a completely failed foundation, which could result in your foundation collapsing in on itself. 

Foundation repairs can be costly. However, you can save costs by taking swift action and calling in professionals to deal with expansive soil issues. 

Expansive Soil


Understanding distinct types of expansive soil can be incredibly helpful in resolving foundation issues. Soils are made up of a range of components, the majority of which do not expand when wet. However, a handful of clay minerals are expansive. Montmorillonite, smectite, beidellite, bentonite vermiculite, nontronite, attapulgite, and chlorite are some of these minerals. Some sulfate salts also expand in response to changes in temperature. 

Clay Soil 

Expansive soils occur in a variety of shapes and sizes, but they’re mostly clay soils. Your soil is more likely to be expansive if it contains a substantial amount of clay. Clay absorbs a lot of water and shrinks a lot when it dries up, so any soil containing a lot of clay is more likely to produce issues in the future. 

Clay soils are found in many areas in Colorado. Many times, clay soil pockets are found in between other soil types, leading homeowners to believe their home is safe. Clay is often an issue if your area was formerly part of an ocean or riverbed. It can also present certain problems in the future if you live near a volcano or have heavy rock formations in the area. 

Clay Soil Test 

How can you tell if the soil around your house is expansive? A soil testing kit will allow you to get a more direct answer. However, not all kits are functional and some may give you inaccurate results. Therefore, it’s best to keep an eye out for indicators of expansive soil. Some of them may already be present around your home including cracked or bowed foundation walls, stuck doors or windows, cracks in concrete driveway, cracks in plaster walls, and soil pulling away from basement walls. You can also contact a local specialist if you want to be sure. They’ll have more advanced equipment that can give you more precise readings. They will collect samples from your foundation and surrounding area. While evaluating your soil, they can also notice more subtle warning indications that expanding soils are affecting your basement, foundation, or crawl space, allowing you to avoid costly repairs down the road.

Many homeowners wonder if drying out the soil around your house may solve the foundation issue since moisture leads to expansion, which, in turn, causes damage to the foundation. However, the truth is that drying up the expansive soil is unlikely to help with the expansion. Instead, it may worsen your foundation issues. 

Understanding Soils 

Shrinking soil can be just as destructive as soil expansion. As a result, your DIY efforts to dry the soil may result in further damage. It is because expansive soils also consolidate soils. Meaning, as they dry out, they shrink substantially more than other soils. 

As the soil shrinks, the support for foundation walls decreases. Consequently, the walls are forced to bear their own weight, and if they don’t have any supporting structures, they’ll start to bow, lean, and eventually collapse. At the very least, you’ll notice fractures appearing throughout your home. 

Contending With Your Foundation 

It’s preferable to let nature take its course than drying out the land. The soil may expand and contract as it pleases, but your foundation does not have to bear the brunt of it. Instead, try to strengthen your home through reinforcement so that it can withstand whatever the elements throw at it. One of the best tools you have to address foundation problems is reinforcement. A local expert will be able to analyze the amount of stress your home is under and provide you with a tailored solution. This could include push piers, helical piers, or other measures to ensure that your foundation doesn’t have to take its weight alone if the soil shifts.

Reinforcing your foundation walls can be a very efficient strategy to keep your house’s foundation from collapsing under the weight of expanding soil. However, you must ensure that you are performing it correctly. Generally, it is not practical to rely on a DIY approach when it comes to foundation management or repair as specialized knowledge, experience, and equipment are required to get the desired results.  

Reinforcement Methods 

Wall anchors, carbon fiber repair methods, and smart wall repair systems are all options for reinforcing foundation walls. Each of them is intended to give structure and support for the walls, preventing them from collapsing inward or being crushed when the soils expand. 

Of course, not all of these solutions must be implemented at the same time. However, every option has its own set of pros and cons. A professional can conduct a free inspection to determine what problems you’re facing. They can then recommend a support system based on this information to protect your home from harm. 

Reasons to Reinforce 

It is easy to believe that support structures are unnecessary when the damage to your home or building seems negligible. You may think that your house will withstand the expansion and contraction over time. Unfortunately, no foundation is strong enough to withstand expanding soils for an extended period. The only exception would be if the home was built with additional wall anchors or piers from the start. For many homes, particularly older ones, that is not the case. 

This makes it essential to reinforce the foundation walls to preserve the structural integrity of your home. Reinforcing your foundation walls can help you stop and repair the damage. It can also help protect your foundation from potential harm in the future. Since the reinforcing structures will bear the bulk of the pressure from expansive soils, the more delicate walls and foundation will remain unaffected. They may also be able to rectify tilting walls and restore surface-level damage at a low cost.

How Foundation Repair Of Western Colorado Handles Expansive Soil

It is important to understand that it is not easy to truly “repair” expansive soil. An expansive soil will always be expansive unless you remove the soil entirely. However, we avoid this solution, as the costs are exorbitant and it causes more problems than it solves. Instead, we take an approach that prevents your home from reacting to the situation in the first place. Placing reinforcing elements throughout your property is significantly more effective. It will allow your foundation to withstand the brunt of the pressure without buckling. 

There are plenty of support beams, anchors, and piers options, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, at FRWC, we take the time to get to the root of the problem and understand the causes of soil expansion. Your foundation repair experts will first analyze the problems with your home by assessing your home’s foundation, basement, crawl space, and the region around it. 

They’ll check that you’re dealing with expanding soils and record any harm that has already occurred as a result. They may also detect indicators of additional problems. With all this information, the expert can make many recommendations about what equipment to install and how it should be installed. Depending on the size of your home, its weight, the surrounding environment, and your budget, we can suggest a long-term solution (or a few) that can be installed with minimal disruption to your home or landscape. 

The goal will be to stop the current damage while also protecting your house from problems that are only beginning to emerge. This gives you a good indication of what to expect. Our in-depth and proactive approach allows us to come up with the best solutions, which are customized to fit your situation.

Expansive Soil Management And Foundation Repair in Colorado 

As a leading foundation management and repair service in Colorado, Foundation Repair Of Western Colorado (FRWC) can help you tackle foundation problems related to expansive soil. We understand that the magnitude of the influence expansive clay soil can have on your residential or commercial building is determined by several factors, including how well your foundation was built, the age of the home/foundation, weather conditions, and the size of the facility. 

Regardless of these factors, it’s critical to keep a careful eye on your foundation to determine what you’re up against before it’s too late. Schedule an appointment today or contact us for more information on how to tackle expansive soil and avoid foundation problems.

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Grand Junction

2575 U.S. 6 & 50, Unit A
Grand Junction, CO 81501