Can Winter Weather Really Damage My Foundation?

This year, Kansas City has experienced extremely cold temperatures and more snow than normal. And just as you’d expect, we receive calls every day to address winter foundation repair issues. Just because the snow is frozen, doesn’t mean it can’t wreak havoc on your foundation walls! Here in Kansas City, the cold winter weather frequently causes structural issues for homes throughout the metro area. Here are a few of the more common signs and symptoms of foundation problems to watch out for as we head into the Spring season.

Excessive Moisture

Melting snow is certainly a blessing when you have a long commute to work in the morning, but it’s not at all helpful for keeping water out of the basement. The combination of melting snow and frozen ground can lead to excessive water pooling around the base of your house, and without anywhere to go, it can eventually seep into your basement.

Frozen Discharge Lines

Does your home have a sump pump? They’re pretty common in most Kansas City basements, but more often than not, they’re neglected during the winter months. Don’t make this mistake! A frozen discharge line from a sump pump can force water back into the basement. Worse, if the ground isn’t sloped correctly, the frozen discharge line can cause water to pool right at the base of your foundation.

Freezing Pipes

When temperatures drop below freezing (especially below 20 degrees) for an extended period of time, the water pipes in homes with insufficient insulation are more likely to freeze and crack. Even the smallest crack can cause tremendous damage to your home. Did you know that just a 1/8” wide crack can produce 250 gallons of leaking water within 24 hours? Nobody likes a flooded basement no matter what the temperatures are outside, so be sure to keep an eye out for and signs of water damage.

Foundation Cracks

winter foundation damageFoundation cracks certainly aren’t just a winter problem, but if you’ve seen any appear in the last few months, the cold temperatures and seasonal snowfall are likely to blame. While small hairline cracks are common, the freezing temperatures can exacerbate these cracks. Water seeps in, freezes, expands, and the next thing you know, your home has a significantly larger problem than it did a few months earlier.

When there is a significant amount of snowfall, too much moisture can accumulate in the soil surrounding your home. When this happens, the frozen earth expands and adds pressure to your foundation walls. Small cracks form (or expand) and weaken the structural integrity.

Throughout the season, the ground repeatedly freezes and thaws, causing the soil surrounding your home to heave and contract. This is called the frost heave cycle, and over time, it can cause sufficient instability in the soil to damage your foundation.

Frost Heave Cycle

For homes with slab foundations, freezing winter temperatures can cause significant damage in two ways during the frost heave cycle:

  • Ice can form beneath a concrete foundation which produces frost heave,
  • The foundation can be damaged by the ground collapsing as the ice thaws

However, in order for frost heave to occur, there must be freezing temperatures for at least three consecutive days, an excess of moisture (usually from snow), and frost-susceptible soil.

When it snows, and temperatures drop, the surface ground freezes first, leaving the soil below less hard/solid. When this happens, the frozen surface effectively soil locks your home’s foundation in place. If winter temperatures continue to drop and remain at or below freezing for an extended period of time, the soil beneath the surface will also freeze and expand, pushing the surface layer upward. This pulls the foundation walls upward and can cause gaps to form below. Eventually, the ground beneath your foundation will begin to move, filling in those gaps and spaces, and if it’s cold enough, it too will freeze and expand.

When temperatures finally begin to improve, the frozen ground will thaw and release its grip on your foundation walls. Your home’s foundation will sink back down, but because the voids below it are partially filled, it won’t settle back down to its original position. It will settle unevenly, and you’ll begin to see signs of foundation issues in your home. Thankfully, problems caused by the Frost Heave cycle are largely limited to slab foundation homes in the Kansas City area. This is not a common problem for most of our customers.

However, if you see ANY signs of moisture in the basement, no matter the cause, please call us immediately! We’re always happy to provide our Kansas City customers with complimentary in-home estimates for foundation repair, sump pump installation, concrete repair and more.

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