The Freeze-Thaw Cycle and the Effects it has on your Foundation
We New Englanders have to deal with this white stuff that comes down from the sky for almost 6 months of the year (depending on where you are located). Some, not all, New Englanders are happy to see the snow go in February to only see a big snowstorm in March bring back even more snow. When the soil around your home is constantly in a freeze-thaw cycle it is expanding and contracting which could create issues for your foundation and for walkways, pool decks, and driveways too.
The Freeze-Thaw Cycle
As mentioned above the freeze-thaw cycle is when water in the soil, or other substance, goes through a cycle of freezing and thawing. It is said that water can expand by 9% when frozen. This freezing of the water will start to put pressure on anything surrounding it.
Water as a liquid can seep into cracks or any opening in structures. Using concrete as an example, water can travel into those small cracks and then freezes, that is when a problem can begin. With that water expanding up to 9% those small cracks can then turn bigger and bigger at every freeze-thaw cycle. If this continues you could start to see the integrity and stability of the concrete start to diminish.
How Does Freeze-thaw Damage Concrete?
Concrete is a very popular material to build with. Concrete is comprised of countless tiny pits and cracks all over it. Over time water can get into those pits and cracks and start to expand them when the water freezes and thaws. This can result in cracks, chips, and other issues on the face of the concrete. If left untreated these cracks can become more serious by traveling further and further into concrete and causing structural damage.
Two kinds of freeze-thaw damage that we will touch on and that can occur in concrete are spalling and internal cracking.
- Surface spalling - This damage results from water accumulating and creating surface cracks to the depth of the water's penetration. This includes chipping and flaking of the surface of the concrete, exposing underlying supports in the concrete like rebar.
- Internal Cracking - On contrary to surface spalling, internal cracking begins within the concrete. During the mixing and pouring process, water can settle into small pockets in the concrete that will widen and break outward when exposed to freezing temperatures.
How to Prevent Freeze-thaw from Damaging your Foundation
Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent freeze-thaw damage. However, you can mitigate its impact and patch the damage it creates. Your best options include the following:
Keep Foundation Dry
Keeping your foundation dry and preventing excess moisture is important for multiple reasons, including reducing freeze-thaw damage. The most effective way to keep your concrete dry is to prevent the build-up of moisture around the foundation. Ways to prevent water from building up around your foundation would be to install gutters, downspouts, and other water drainage systems on your home. These systems keep water flowing away from your home and prevent the buildup of moisture around the foundation. Investing in good basement waterproofing measures like sump pumps can also help, in areas prone to flooding.
Inspect your Foundation Yearly
Foundation inspections allow you to spot cracks early warning signs from freeze-thaw cycles and other foundation problems. You should periodically check your basement walls and floors for cracks and surface imperfections. Year to year a crack might not grow noticeably but over a time like 5 years, a crack can grow significantly. We recommended examining your foundation every couple of years. And if you take pictures of cracks or imperfections you can compare them a couple of years down the road.
We would recommend repairing any cracks that have gotten larger over time. We provide free inspections and our Design Specialists will look at all of your concerns and provide you with the best solution for your home.