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Clay Soil

Because of its ability to swell up in wet weather and shrink in droughts, clay soil can lead to foundation damage.

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The list of things that could impact your foundation and cause damage is long, so it is easy to overlook some factors. While most homeowners are aware that water can affect their home’s health in many ways, rarely do they take into consideration that the soil beneath their home could be problematic. 

A lot of homeowners take a closer look at the soil only when they are gardening. This is not good. If your home was built on unstable soil, you could be dealing with a lot of problems in the long run. The soil beneath your home can cause foundation settlement and even significantly compromise the stability of your home. 

If your home was built on clay-based soil, don’t be surprised if you experience foundation problems. Clay soil is infamous for poor draining properties and its ability to dry out and crack during the summer months. Also, it needs a lot of time to warm up. Neither of these properties is good news for your plants or your foundation. If you are wondering where you can find clay soil, what its characteristics are and how to solve problems caused by this type of soil, continue reading.

clay soil

What Is Clay Soil?

When a sedimentary rock known as humic shale disintegrates, it leaves behind fine-grained natural soil called clay soil. This type of soil is rich in minerals like calcium and zinc and consists of extremely small particles, which is what sets it apart from other fine-grained soils.

Characteristics of Clay Soils

If you think that you can determine whether you have clay soil in your yard just by checking its color or structure, guess again. Clay can vary in structure, shape, and color, but some properties never change.

Fine grains: When it comes to the size of the particles, they are some of the smallest ones since they measure only 0.002 mm in diameter.

Plasticity: When clay gets in touch with water it develops plasticity. This is the ability to get deformed under a force and restore the original shape once the force is removed. Unfortunately, plasticity can have a huge impact on structures such as retaining walls.

Water retention: Due to the mineral particles in it, clay soil tends to swell up in wet conditions and hold a lot of water. This is bad news for your plants since the excess water can choke tender roots.

Highly alkaline: Clay soils are highly alkaline, which is why only some insects and plants can thrive in this soil. Most plants and creatures need neutral soils with a pH of between three and eight to grow.

Hard and permanent: When clay soil becomes exposed to fire, it turns into a brittle, hard, and rigid material.

How Prevalent Is Clay Soil?

While clay soil is prevalent in the South, it is possible to find it in Michigan as well. Unfortunately, homeowners with homes that sit on clay-based soils need to take extra steps to make their homes safe and stable. As mentioned, clay soil particles can retain a lot of water, which can be a huge problem for your foundation.

Clay Soil and Construction

No homeowner will voluntarily choose to have their home built on clay soil. This type of soil swells up during the spring when the snow melts and there are a lot of rainy days. Also, it shrinks during the summer, especially during droughts. Since the change in moisture level in particles dictates their size, they can have drastic effects on a building under construction. Clay soil is a nightmare for builders since it makes building foundations, driveways, pools, and decks incredibly hard.

Luckily, there is a way to overcome this problem. When clay soil is properly prepared, it can support a concrete slab without any problems. How can this come about? Builders will excavate some of the clay soil, mix it with gravel, and this way create a stable base for construction.

Clay Soil Movement

The clay soils are notorious for their ability to swell up in wet weather conditions and reduce in volume in dry weather. This is known as a shrink-swell phenomenon that causes soil movements. Homes that are built on a shallow foundation such as a concrete slab can easily be affected by seasonal soil movements and suffer from foundation damage.

Several factors can determine the volume of shrink-swell movements. Some of the most important ones are evaporation, compaction, and the presence of below-slab depressions. If clay remains moist throughout the year, soil movements won’t occur. Therefore, when you are watering your plants, water your soil as well. Keep it constantly moist, and you should avoid problems caused by soil movements.

Clay Soil and Your Foundation

Because clay soils shift due to changes in moisture levels, they can trigger structural problems such as foundation cracks and foundation settlement. In addition, foundation walls can bow and buckle. Although it can be a complicated task, waterproofing foundations built on clay soils is not impossible. With proper drainage and insulation, you can keep your foundation safe from moisture infiltration.

If your foundation has started to settle, solutions such as piers can permanently stabilize and potentially lift your foundation back towards its original position. Depending on the level of damage, your contractor will determine the number of piers you will need. If your walls are bowing, wall anchors can be a solution to your problem. They can permanently stabilize and even straighten foundation walls over time. These fixtures will move the walls back toward their original position and are the most effective method for severely distressed or bowed walls.If you wish to install some waterproofing measures or you have a damaged foundation that needs to be repaired, contact your local contractor at FSM and schedule a free inspection and quote.

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