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A Guide to Expansive Soil Issues: Everything You Need to Know

wet, expansive soil

Do you know what’s underneath your house? The ground, obviously. But what about the condition of that ground? Does it feel solid?

If your home was built on top of expansive soil, it will likely experience some type of damage. Concrete settling, cracks, bent door frames, flooding issues, and other structural damage are largely caused by soil expansion.

Despite this, there is a lot you can do with help from foundation repair professionals to work around the soil under your foundation to preserve your home. Understanding the causes of soil expansion will give you the necessary knowledge to avoid the pitfalls of expansive soils.

What is Expansive Soil?

Expansive soil contains minerals capable of absorbing water. Soils rich in clay—with more than 25% clay content—are notoriously expansive.

This soil type can swell or shrink depending on changes in moisture levels. When exposed to water—from heavy rain or melting snow—expansive soils increase in volume as they absorb the moisture. This increase in volume continues as the soils keep absorbing water until they become saturated.

In some cases, the expansion of these soils can reach 10% or more of their original volume.

3 Causes of Soil Expansion

As we’ve mentioned, water is the main culprit. Let’s take a closer look at how water impacts the soil under and around your home.

rain falling on property

1. Precipitation

Water from rain and snowmelt contributes to significant soil saturation.

Cities throughout Central and Southern Indiana typically receive approximately 40 inches of rain and 20 inches of snow every year. That’s a lot of water for the soil to handle, particularly clay-based soils.

Oftentimes, this water collects next to the foundation and leaks inside, or floods yards.

downspout draining water next to foundation

2. Exterior Drainage

Your home needs exterior measures in place to handle all this rainwater. This includes properly functioning gutters and downspouts.

If either system is clogged or damaged, runoff quickly spills over and drains directly next to your foundation. This not only contributes to expansive soil, but it allows water to leak inside your home.

flooded yard with expanses soil and bad grading

3. Soil Grading

The yard grade, or the slope of your property, plays a crucial role in preventing soil expansion.

Your yard should have a positive grade, meaning it slopes down and away from the house, allowing water to flow the same way. Conversely, a negative grade indicates that water does not drain away from the home because the soil slopes towards the house.

Properties with a negative grade are susceptible to water pooling around the house, water intrusion, and foundation problems.

How Does Expansive Soil Impact My Foundation?

Expansive soil is responsible for two processes that directly impact your foundation’s stability: hydrostatic pressure and foundation settlement. Let’s explore each one.

Hydrostatic Pressure

Hydrostatic pressure is the force exerted by stationary water, such as the groundwater surrounding your home’s foundation.

This pressure acts in both outward and downward directions, constantly pressing against your basement walls, potentially leading to significant water damage and structural issues.

Foundation Settlement

Foundation settlement refers to the uneven sinking of a home’s foundation into the underlying soil. When a foundation settles, it may become detached from the rest of the building and result in significant structural damage to the property.

Several factors can contribute to foundation settlement, including soil shrinkage, soil expansion, inadequate soil compaction during construction, and erosion.

Damage Caused by Expansive Soil

You may not always be able to see evidence of soil expanding and contracting. However, there are symptoms you’ll notice around your home that point to expansive soil and its effects. These problems include:

How to Protect Your Home from Expansive Soil

It’s not realistic to replace the soil on your property, but you have other options to repair your home and protect it from the effects of expansive soil. These include:

IntelliBraceâ„¢ beams and wall vapor barrier installed in basement
  • Maintain Gutters and Downspouts: Ensure gutters and downspouts are in good working order, free of damage and clogs, and direct water away from your foundation.
  • Regrade Your Yard: Improve your yard grade so it allows water to drain away from your house.
  • Reinforce Basement Walls: Counteract hydrostatic pressure with wall repair solutions like wall anchors, channel anchors, wall braces, or carbon fiber supports.
  • Waterproof Your Basement: Keep water intrusion at bay with basement water management solutions, including interior drains, a sump pump, a wall vapor barrier, and a dehumidifier.
  • Encapsulate Your Crawl Space: If you have a crawl space instead of a basement, coupling water management with full encapsulation with a vapor barrier ensures a dry crawl space.
  • Stabilize Your Foundation: Foundation piers permanently stabilize your foundation and can help lift settling sections back to their original positions.

Combat Soil Issues with Help from Local Foundation Professionals

Expansive soils may seem concerning because dangers arise during swelling and shrinking due to fluctuations in moisture levels. But they don’t have to spell doom for your home. If you’re experiencing issues with expansive soil, don’t hesitate to seek professional assistance from Indiana Foundation Service.

Our team boasts extensive experience in stabilizing homes affected by problematic soils, giving us invaluable insights into effective solutions. Contact us today to schedule a free foundation inspection. After thoroughly evaluating your home, we’ll provide you with a comprehensive recommendation tailored to safeguarding your foundation and home.


Issues can emerge gradually over time or more rapidly if there’s a significant change in moisture levels. Regular monitoring and early intervention by professionals like Indiana Foundation Service can help manage these risks.

Yes, regions with clay-rich soil and those that experience significant seasonal moisture variations are more likely to have expansive soils. Clay is common throughout Indiana. Our team at Indiana Foundation Service is familiar with these issues and can provide a free inspection and targeted repair solutions.

The cost varies based on the extent of the damage and the chosen repair method, such as basement waterproofing or foundation repair solutions. Indiana Foundation Service offers free inspections and estimates to outline your options, as well as various financing options.

Holly Richards-Purpura

Holly Richards-Purpura

Content Writer

Holly is a Content Writer for Groundworks who has written and edited web content for the foundation services industry for almost 10 years. With a background in journalism, her passion for the written word runs deep. Holly lives in Columbus, OH, with her husband. Along with educating homeowners, she also has a big heart for the Big Apple.

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