If there is one constant for homeowners in our beloved state is that foundations just can’t quite catch a break; if it’s not the dry season that is breaking havoc in your foundation then it is the rain season that is up to its usual tricks and if it is not the rain season either then it definitely must be the winter.
Much like pretty much any other season, winter and snow can cause a great deal of harm to your foundation; this time we will discuss about this potential damage and what to do to try and prevent it.
Expansion will always bring about damage to your foundation. And the problem in winter is that freezing also causes expansion. Freezing and thawing of the moisture in the ground can cause cracks in the foundation and deterioration to the walls. At the same time this process will keep on making the cracks get larger and larger, worsening the situation. Not to mention that melted snow, frost and ice can always seep into those cracks, causing pressure to push against the foundation. The excess moisture of snow alone will also cause expansion of the soil, which can lead to bowing and cracking. Furthermore all this water could trickle to crawl spaces or basements causing flooding and water damage.
And then when the snow is gone the opposite might take place; leading to a lack of moisture. The soil will shrink and move causing a similar if opposite effect on the foundation.
Next comes the erosion; just as with rain, sleet and melting snow can cause erosion in your yard, which might become an issue. We’ve talked about the importance of having a positive grading in your yard; sloping away from the foundation so that water will run away from it. However erosion might alter this slope. Twisted, misplaced or small gutters can lead to overflow and this might cause erosion.
One other thing to look out for is cold air and drying soil. We associate dry soil (and the contraction of the soil that comes along with it) with the dry/hot season. However this can also happen, and more often than not, during the winter season. Cold air, which is prevalent during the winter is very, very dry and therefore it will dry out the soil. Basically any soil type around your home could dramatically lose moisture, causing cracks and contracting against the foundation.
Freeze-thaw cycles can also be very damaging. Even concrete foundations are not safe, given the porous nature of concrete. So in both soil and concrete damage will occur when the water is absorbed in them, only to freeze as the temperature keeps on dropping. With freezing comes expansion and with expansion comes pressure that can force concrete and foundations alike to crack. Cracks, that, as mentioned earlier can continue to widen with ever freezing-thawing cycle.
Then there is the snow melt. Snow melt happens several times during winter season and in spite of gutters, every time water will seep deep down into the soil, again causing expansion. I.e. cracking, sinking and settling.
Now there are some preemptive steps that you can take to lower the risk of foundation damage brought upon by snow melt, the most important being clearing the snow from all around the building/foundation. A 5-foot clearance around the building is recommended so snow will not damage the foundation. In general a broom stick measures about 4 feet, so the length of a broom stick and a half should be a good reference for this. It is recommended to keep the area shoveled at all times as a sudden rise in temperature on any given day can start a snowmelt and you want to make sure that it doesn’t happen near the foundation. It is a good idea to wear different layers of clothing when doing this, so as you work your way through the snow and you start to heat up due to exertion you can start getting rid of these layers gradually. Also, if you have kids you can definitely get them involved: ‘Let’s get the snow away from the house so we can build a fort, or a snowman, or for a snow fight for that matter’.
Ok, but what about prevention measures before it starts snowing?
The first thing you can do before the winter arrives is to inspect the foundation for cracks and fix them immediately, so water will seep through. If the cracks are not that wide then you can always repair them yourself (in this blog you can find a guide on how to do this). If the cracks, however, are wider, contacting the experts at iFix will do the trick.
Sump pumps are always a good ally to have at hand. And if you have one already make sure that it is in proper working condition. Sump pumps are ideal to minimize dampness in basements and crawl spaces, preventing water from pooling by the foundation and therefore preventing excessive ice build up.
If you have a basement make sure to asses if there is any possibility water is making its way inside it. In case there is, it is imperative to fix these before the first snowfall as snowmelt can definitely put you in an unwanted situation. If there is already water inside it, remove it as quickly as possible; the best idea is to call a water restoration company, as even if you’ve gotten rid of all the water on the floor, chances are that it has already reached the foundation where it will cause the most damage. Take advantage of the water restoration company and make sure to check for mold. It can grow in just a couple of days if there is water left standing. It can be toxic and it is hard to remove; it is a hazard both to the building as well as to your family’s health.
In general it is highly recommended that you repair any damage before the winter comes and makes things worse. This way you’ll be as ready as you’ll ever be to face the long, cold winter ahead.
Regardless, when winter gets really cold, ice forming will be unavoidable as all soil has some water in it. So in order to minimize water and ice around the foundation, besides shoveling the snow, is to clean out the gutters and downspouts around your home. Something as simple as this can yield the best results to prevent ice build up. Remove debris and flush. Soap and hot water can help with sediment removal. Oh, and one word about icicles: Do Not Try knocking them down. Besides the risk of injuries to yourself and others nearby, you run the risk of tearing the entire gutter away from the house and you definitely don’t want that to happen, specially during winter. Also make sure downspouts will direct water way from your home. This way your house will be better prepared to deal with sporadic thaws during winter as well as melting ice and snow and minimize standing water which is key to ice formation. For optimal results downspouts should run at least 10 feet away from your foundation, which takes us to…
The yard. We cannot overstate the importance of having a positive grade on your yard to ensure that water, and therefore melting ice and snow, will flow away from your home. This will reduce soil saturation and standing water. Planting flowers, bushes and trees, as well as french drains can be of great assistance in achieving this, as well as preventing soil movement during the freeze-thaw cycles.
Plumbing freezes are another thing that you can prevent. Frozen water can rupture faucet or pipes, which would then cause floods near the foundation or inside your house. So if you have sprinklers turn off the water and have the lines blown out. Remove and drain garden hoses and insulate exposed pipes.
Ice patches are a real issue. Poor grading or sunken yard can trap snow and water. This can compromise the structural integrity of the home due to swelling and contraction of the soil, not to mention ruining the grass in your yard. Re-grading and filing low spots will help remedy this situation. Filling low spots with soil and spreading it evenly will prevent ice patches in the future.
All this actions will help out with keeping your foundation as safe as possible during winter. However, as we’ve mentioned before, when the winter really bites it will be impossible to avoid ice forming. So if you notice any sign of damage or you are in need of any prevention service now is the time to act! Call iFix now and our experts will make sure your home is winter-proofed so your only worries will be about the christmas decorations, gifts and christmas dinner this winter season.