Skip to Main Content

What Is the Clay Bowl Effect?

clay bowl effect

When it comes to maintaining their homes, homeowners usually pay more attention to the more visible problems, which makes sense. However, it is often those hidden problems that cause more damage. For instance, the foundation is the most important part of your home since it is responsible for providing structural stability. Ironically, there are so many things that can go south when it comes to foundations. In addition, foundation problems are not always that obvious and you won’t notice them unless you are looking for them. 

One of the things that can jeopardize the health of your foundation is the clay bowl effect. It causes rainwater to infiltrate the soil around your house and enter your basement. As you surely know, having standing water in your basement is never good news, which is why the clay bowl effect shouldn’t be ignored. But what exactly is this effect and how can you minimize its impact? Let’s take a look. 

What Is the Clay Bowl Effect? 

When the builders are constructing a building, they need to excavate a certain amount of soil to make room for the building’s foundation. Of course, that hole is never the exact size of the foundation, but a bit larger. After the foundation is complete, a part of the excavated soil is put back to fill in the gaps between the foundation and the earth around it. This soil is called the backfill. Unfortunately, this soil is no longer as dense as it was before the excavation. No matter how hard the builders try to compress it, it will never be as it was, which is a problem. This is when the clay bowl effect appears. Since the soil around the foundation is more porous than it was, every time it rains or there is a flood, water will collect in this artificial water table. 

So, how can you know whether you are dealing with a clay bowl effect? It is simple. Just pay attention to the levels of radon gas in your foundation. The clay bowl effect raises the levels of this gas and also creates cracks in your foundation. Another sign of the clay bowl effect is mold growth. Due to the clay bowl effect, humidity levels in the basement will be higher than in the rest of your house. Mold and mildew thrive in dark and moist places, which is why it is important to take measures to keep your basement dry. If the clay bowl effect is causing problems with your foundation, you will also notice dark patches on the basement walls. 

Should You Worry About the Clay Bowl Effect? 

Unfortunately, the clay bowl effect can cause an array of problems. It can lead to basement leaks, water damage, mold growth, and other issues. Any time there is excess water around your home, your home’s foundation will be compromised. 

When rain falls or the snow melts, the excess water saturates the soil around your foundation. Due to hydrostatic pressure, water will infiltrate the basement through the paths of least resistance such as cracks and openings around pipes. Since the concrete walls are porous and can absorb liquid, water can also enter the basement through the foundation walls. In addition, hydrostatic pressure can weaken the joints in the foundation walls.  

Another way the clay bowl effect can damage your home is by bowing foundation walls. As mentioned, the backfill soil is not as dense as it was, so it can move around freely. Because of this motion, it exerts stress on the foundation walls. Eventually, the basement walls begin to bow and become far less stable. Due to the clay bowl effect, radon gas will build up in the basement. The rainwater that soaks the soil around your foundation traps the gas which then enters your basement through the cracks. 

Solutions to the Clay Bowl Effect

The clay bowl effect is not a problem you should ignore. It can lead to all kinds of damage and even compromise the structural stability of your home. However, there are several steps you can take to protect your home: 

1. Interior Drainage System 

Due to the clay bowl effect, water can saturate the soil around your foundation and enter your basement. Keeping excess water away from your home is one way to protect your foundation. You can do this by installing an interior drainage system. This system is installed along the interior footer of your foundation and its purpose is to collect the excess water and direct it to the sump pump. From there, the water is directed through the discharge line away from your home. 

2. Wall Anchors 

One of the problems the clay bowl effect is responsible for is bowing walls. To keep the walls from shifting any further and even potentially move them back toward their original position, you can install wall anchors. These anchors made of galvanized steel are installed in the ground away from the foundation walls and present the most effective method for repairing severely distressed basement walls. 

3. Professional Foundation Waterproofing 

To keep your basement dry, you should consider waterproofing it. This way, the water won’t be able to seep into your home and damage your belongings. Contact expert contractors in Michigan and inform yourself about the best waterproofing solutions. 

If you wish to avoid a headache every time it rains or the snow begins to melt, invest in quality waterproofing solutions. To learn what works best for your home, contact experts at FSM to schedule a free inspection and repair estimate.

Clay Bowl Effect FAQs

Water can be much more problematic than you may think, especially since it can be damaging on its own and when combined with the soil underground. Homeowners that live in Lansing should be extra aware of these potential problems that water can cause and take the necessary precautions to prevent them. In order to understand how water can impact the structural integrity of your basement and foundation, you must first understand the two most common phenomena that cause water-related damages and issues. These phenomena are known as the clay bowl effect and hydrostatic pressure.

To build the basement and foundation of your house, contractors must first excavate a large hole so that they have enough room to construct both spaces. When construction has been completed, this hole will be backfilled by new soil. However, this soil is extremely loose and less dense in comparison to soil that has not been dug out. As such, this backfilled soil is more likely to absorb much more liquid, thus increasing the amount of water that collects around your foundation and basement. This collection of water is also known as a “clay bowl,” hence the name “clay bowl effect,” and can increase the likelihood of leaks and water damage in and around your basement or foundation.

Additionally, soils that become oversaturated with water—which may be common in Lansing due to constant rain—can result in hydrostatic pressure pressing against both basement and foundation walls and floors. As the weight of the water in surrounding soils increases, the more pressure that will be placed on your foundation and basement. This can result in the formation of cracks and holes, consequently leading to leaks and potential flooding through your home’s foundation and/or basement space.

When homes are first constructed, it’s generally recommended that downspouts drain water about 10 ft. away from the foundation. The further away that water flows, the safer your home is from damage. This can be achieved by installing downspout extensions, drainage systems, or ensuring that your yard’s grade slope is negative. This simply means that whenever it rains or the snow begins to melt, any water will flow away from your home and not toward it.  

Rainwater can increase hydrostatic pressure on basement walls and floors, seeping through existing cracks or imperfections.

Leah Leitow

Leah Leitow

Content Writer

Leah is a Content Writer for Groundworks with nearly ten years of experience working in the foundation repair industry. Her experience ranges from working with homeowners to find the right solution to training inspectors and staff. In her background as a Michigan journalist, she gained invaluable insight into people's lives throughout our state. Leah lives in metro Detroit with her husband and two sons.

Publish Date:

Last Modified Date:

DryMich Service Map

Our Locations

Grand Rapids Office

5985 Clay Avenue SW
Grand Rapids, MI 49548

Livonia Headquarters

32985 Schoolcraft Road
Livonia, MI 48150

Rochester Hills

2817 Bond St.
Rochester Hills, MI  48309

Toledo Office

5555 Airport Hwy
Toledo, OH 43615

Traverse City Office

3805 Elmers Industrial Drive
Traverse City, MI 49685