Foundation Repair 101

Ground Cracking Around Your House? Exploring the Causes, Risks, and Solutions

Written By :

Dayton Foundation Repair Experts

Published on June 21, 2023

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Are you noticing large, gapping cracks appearing in the ground around your house? It's a problem no homeowner wants to face - and it can be quite concerning if you're not sure what might be causing it.

Before getting too concerned, take some time to read up on what may be happening - and why. Here we'll discuss the potential causes of the ground cracking around house, as well as the associated risks and solutions you should consider. Your and your home's safety is important to us!

Understanding Why the Ground Cracks

What is Ground Cracking?

Ground cracking is defined as an opening or separation in the earth's surface. This process can occur gradually or suddenly. Typically, the cracks may start small and expand over time to the point where a homeowner will begin to notice them around their house.

desert, drought, dehydrated

Natural Causes of These Cracks

The earth is always experiencing movement underneath the surface. Although we can't always feel it, there is constant pressure. Some elements and natural events cause this pressure to increase or decrease over time. Let's explore some of the natural causes there may be cracks around your home and how this can cause the need for a foundation inspection.

Geological processes & natural disasters

When there is the tectonic activity or the tectonic plates are shifting, this can cause the ground to shake or move causing cracks to appear. A natural disaster occurring, such as an earthquake, can create cracks in the earth's surface. This may also create faults or other potential weak points which can make the ground even more prone to cracking.

Soil moisture, settlement and expansion

This is another process that occurs readily. Certain types of soil, such as clay soil, are more expansive than others. The natural settling of soil over time can cause ground cracking to occur, especially if it's prone to expanding or contracting based on the weather conditions.

Clay soils

Clay soil, made up of clay particles, is notorious for causing settling and shifting for homes. It is an "expansive" soil, so based on the weather conditions, it will expand or contract accordingly. Clay soil is one type of many expansive soils and is mostly located between the Atlantic Plain and the Appalachian mountains, known as the Piedmont region as well as Texas state, according to CONUS-soil dataset.

  • Freeze thaw cycles: This is a type of soil expansion. Some regions of the US undergo what's known as a freeze-thaw cycle. This is when in the winter, the ground and soil shrinks and contract but in the warmer months, the soil and ground will thaw and expand. This can cause soil cracks to form. It's important to know if your region is made up of expansive soils as these areas are more prone to problems with the foundations.

Droughts

Have you ever seen a picture of the desert, and there were thousands of large cracks in the earth? This is what can happen to areas that experience very dry weather, severe droughts or even a frequent "dry spell" with no rain for several months. While dry spells without rain can be a common occurrence, prolonged drought conditions in the USA can create what's known as "soil desiccation," which is when cracks occur due to the large reduction in water content of the soil.

Sometimes, homeowners will even take soaker hoses to water their grass and lawn, garden, and plants/crops - applying water when needed. However, during a drought, this may be limited by the city or town you live in for water conservation purposes.

climate change, drought, climate

Human Activities that Can Increase Ground Cracking Around House

  1. Poorly maintained infrastructure: If the local infrastructure is not properly maintained, such as roads and dams, this can create unnecessary cracks to pop up in the ground's surface.
  2. Mining processes: When there is underground mining happening near residential communities, this can cause cracks to appear in the ground due to the instability and weak points in the earth in close proximity to the location of the mine.
  3. Excavation and construction: When there are excavation activities present near a community or a property, this can cause disturbances that create cracks in the ground surface. When the soil is improperly compacted during construction or when fill materials are inappropriately used, this can lead to uneven settlement, soil instability, and this can also create these cracks to appear.
  4. Water management issues:
  • Leaking water and sewer lines: If there is a dam leaking or a blown sewer line, this causes an excess of fluid in the soil, saturating it completely. Over time the soil can because unstable and have the potential to crack.
  • Poor drainage: If there is improper irrigation and drainage on a property, this can create issues and excessive moisture content in the soil leading to cracking and potential foundation issues as well if the inadequate drainage is close to the home.

Identifying the Ground Cracking Risks

As a homeowner, it is crucial to be aware of the signs of ground cracking around your house. By recognizing these signs and understanding their severity, you can take appropriate measures to safeguard your home from potential risks.

Here are the key points to consider when it comes to evaluating the cracks near your home:

Assessing the Severity of Ground Cracking

  • Minor Cracking:

Minor cracks typically exhibit narrow widths, and limited lengths, and have minimal impact on the overall structural integrity of your house. They may be superficial and pose no immediate threat.

  • Moderate Cracking:

Moderate cracks are more substantial in size and may extend further. They can indicate a greater degree of ground movement and potentially affect the stability of your home if the cracks are close by to your home's structure.

  • Severe Cracking:

Severe cracks pose a significant risk to your house's structural integrity. These cracks are wide, lengthy, and may display signs of movement or displacement. It is crucial to seek immediate professional assistance to assess the situation and implement appropriate measures to ensure the safety of your home.

soil erosion and small holes form during drought conditions

Effects of Ground Cracking on Your House

When the ground begins to crack near your home, this can feel scary and look concerning. It's important to know the impact these ground cracks can have on your home if they are close in proximity.

Structural Damage and Foundation Issues

There's a potential for structural damage when there is instability near your home. Now, we're not saying your house will collapse, but it is crucial to reinforce when necessary.

When the ground cracks, it can cause your home's foundation to either sink or settle more than it can handle. This causes doors and windows to misalign, floors to become uneven, and cracks to appear in the interior and exterior walls of the home.

These cracks in the ground outside your home can transmit instability and stress to the foundation, impacting not only the aesthetic but the stability of the property.

Damage to House Utilities and Infrastructure

Think about all the aspects of your home. You have water and toilet waste that runs through drains and pipes, electricity running through wires, and even external structures like your front steps, walkways, and driveway. All of these components are meant to stay in one place. They're not meant to move. So, if there happens to be movement occurring due to foundation cracks, these systems of your home can be impacted.

  • Plumbing and Sewer Systems: If there is shifting in your house plumbing, this can create extreme issues. Pipes can break, begin to leak, or worst, cause flooding or complete failure of the entire plumbing system. This should be assessed immediately to prevent hazardous conditions.
  • Electrical Systems: When the house shifts, this can cause electrical wiring to become damaged or disconnected leading to power outages or short-circuiting. If you notice electrical issues, be sure to have them checked quickly.
  • Driveways and Walkways: The ground cracking around your home may also cause damage to the structures surrounding it. Look out for cracks extending into your driveway, patio, walkways, and sidewalk as they can impact the stability and make them susceptible to future damages.

Preventive Measures to Take

A solid foundation is vital for maintaining the structural integrity of your home. Consider the following measures. It's important to know which actions to take when you fear your home is at risk of poor structural integrity.

  • Determine the Type of Foundation You Have: Look at your foundation and figure out if you have a slab, basement, or crawl space foundation. Consult with a structural engineer to determine factors that impact your specific property. Factors such as soil composition, water table levels, and seismic activity should be taken into account.
  • Reinforcement Techniques: Implementing reinforcement techniques as necessary can enhance the stability of your foundation. This reinforcement may involve using steel rebars, reinforced concrete footings, or helical piers to strengthen the foundation and mitigate potential ground movement.
  • Drainage Systems: Effective drainage is crucial in preventing excessive moisture accumulation and soil instability, which can contribute to ground cracking. Ensure your property has adequate drainage systems in place to manage water runoff effectively. Proper drainage prevents water from pooling near the foundation, reducing the risk of soil saturation and potential cracking. You may need to hire a waterproofing company to install a sump pump, french drain or new gutter systems to decrease the impact of water-related issues in the future.

clay soil with cracks forming

Hiring Professionals for Ground Cracking Issues

When you notice the ground cracking around the house, be sure to get the opinion of an expert or multiple experts, before you jump to conclusions. If there are serious problems cause by the cracks in the ground near your home, you need a structural engineer to take a look at it immediately. However, if the issues are less severe, it may not be cause for alarm. Either way, it's good to get the advice of a professional. Please make sure you ask about their credentials and experience and receive multiple quotes and estimates to make the best-informed decision possible.

Conclusion

All in all, cracks in the ground should be considered as having a minimal, moderate, or severe impact on your home and structure. When close to the foundation, cracks can create structural damage, such as misaligned windows and doors as well as result in damage to utilities such as plumbing and electricity. It's of utmost importance to seek out the advice of a professional in the field to assess the situation and provide preventative measures for your property to mitigate the risks. When you detect the risks early on, receive a proper assessment, and put preventative measures into action, you can protect your home and family and also maintain your normal landscape.

Please be sure to reach out to our foundation contractors at Dayton Foundation Repair Experts for more information!

Written By :

Dayton Foundation Repair Experts

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