Winter Water and Your Foundation

Thursday, January 23rd, 2020 by Amanda Waldmann

Winter Water and Your Foundation - Image 1


We usually don’t talk about the effect of the freeze/thaw cycle until about March, because we’re usually in a deep freeze until then. But with over a week in the mid to high 30s coming, followed by a drop below freezing, it’s already time to talk about what winter water can do to your foundation.


First, it’s important to know that the ground always contains some amount of moisture. When it rains, most of that water goes into the dirt - the same thing happens when the snow melts. But the ground has a saturation point after which water will just pool on top of it, causing flooding, or move to a place of lower pressure, like through your basement walls. 


Imagine running water over a dry sponge - it soaks everything up until it’s saturated, and the excess runs off. The saturation point of the soil can be different depending on factors like the soil composition and the depth of the water table - a high water table (like happens near a body of water) means there’s less room for new water.


Winter so far, at least in mid and lower Michigan, has been...sloppy. A few days of frigid temperatures have been overshadowed by warmth. We’ve had rain/snow mix followed by 10 degree nights, and it’s wreaking havoc on the ground, and your foundation. Here’s why.


The ground is already at its saturation point due to a wet early winter. If the temperature stayed steadily below freezing, this wouldn’t be a problem until spring. But with the early temperature swings, the ground expands and contracts, putting pressure on your foundation with each expansion and leaving it unsupported with each contraction. More and more moisture, in the form of both rain and melting snow, piles in and prevents the ground from ever reaching a stasis point.


What does this mean for you? 


First, it means you’re more likely to have flooding issues that you might not have expected for a few months. Having it rain on top of snow basically doubles the amount of precipitation on the ground as the snow melts, and it’s hard to keep up with that. 


Second, it means that you’re more likely to see bowing walls, wall cracks, and even floor cracks as the water rises up through hydrostatic pressure. And just as each expansion of the soil puts pressure on your foundation, it also weakens it against future pressure. The same way it’s easier to break down a door that’s already splintered, it’s easier to push in a wall that’s already cracked and/or leaning.


We usually deal with this kind of freeze/thaw precipitation cycle for 6-8 weeks in late winter and early spring. This year it started in January. That’s months of pressure on your foundation that you weren’t ready for. And if you already had a bowing wall, that’s months of pressure you might not be able to afford. We do foundation repair work all winter - snow, rain, or shine. Call today to schedule your free inspection.


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Ayers Basement Systems
2505 S. Waverly Hwy
Lansing, MI 48911
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