Although snowfall is quite rare in Houston, the cold weather can sometimes bring freezing temperatures, ice, and copious amounts of snow. What’s more, specific factors, such as cold air interacting with relatively warm, humid air, could cause a winter storm to occur unexpectedly, just as it happened in many locations across Texas a few weeks ago.
In addition to having to deal with the immediate damages caused by the storm, such as power outages and pipes bursting, many Houstonians now worry about the effects the severe winter weather could have had on their homes and foundations. As we all know, ice, snow, and freezing temperatures could spell trouble for a home, especially if it hasn’t been properly prepared for the cold weather.
How can you tell if your home and its foundation were affected by the recent snow storm? Well, the easiest way to determine the type and extent of the damage is to check your home for specific signs, such as:
New Cracks or Gaps in Structure
New cracks or gaps in your foundation, walls, floors, and/or ceilings indicate that your home has recently experienced foundation movement. During cold weather, the water in the soil can freeze, expanding and pushing the soil against the foundation. This soil movement could create pressure around your foundation, causing it to shift and crack.
A sudden drop in temperature for a short period of time may also cause the water trapped in the exterior perimeter of your foundation to freeze. As a result, ice could form and expand into pre-existing foundation cracks and pores. If the temperature remains low for a longer period of time, more ice will form, eventually pushing the cracks further apart. When the ice melts, the water gets further into cracks, making them even bigger once it refreezes. Repeated freeze-thaw cycles can be incredibly detrimental to your home’s foundation particularly because they often cause substantial structural damage.
Another problem is that prolonged exposure to cold temperatures may cause a larger section toward the outer edge of your foundation to freeze and move slightly as it contracts—a phenomenon known as thermal contraction. Because the middle area of your foundation tends to remain warmer (which means that it doesn’t contract and move as much as the exterior section of your foundation), cracks and gaps could form adjacent to the foundation area that has frozen. Repeated thermal contraction and expansion may cause pre-existing cracks and gaps to grow larger and deeper over time.
Water Pooling around Your Home
After a snow storm, the snow and ice around our homes start to melt as the temperatures begin to rise. Although rising temperatures are a welcome sign that spring is here, melting snow and ice could cause damage to your foundation, especially if you have landscape drainage issues.
Due to poor drainage, the water resulting from melting snow and ice may start to accumulate around your home or in the crawlspace. This can become a very serious problem, especially in areas with expansive clay soil, like Houston. The problem with this type of soil isn’t necessarily that it swells significantly when exposed to large amounts of water; it’s rather the fact that it may become too soft, so it could fail to provide adequate support for your home. This may lead to differential settlement, which typically occurs when one side of the foundation sinks faster and deeper than the others.
Unfortunately, the damage caused by differential settlement tends to worsen over time, as the home continues to sink. Some signs of differential settlement include:
- cracks in the foundation, slab, floors, walls, and ceilings;
- tilting or sinking exterior structures, like stairs and chimneys;
- bulging walls;
- sloping floors;
- uneven windows and doors that no longer open and close properly.
If there is standing water in your crawlspace, and you don’t have landscape drainage issues, you probably have a burst pipe or plumbing leak. Because cold weather can cause pipes to freeze, they may burst due to the pressure exerted by the water that expands as it freezes inside the pipes. However, not all pipes burst when they freeze. Occasionally, a small leak could occur and go unnoticed until you observe excess moisture or water in your crawlspace. So, if there is standing water under your home, it’s important to remove it first and then check all of your pipes, joints, and fittings for signs of damage.
Another important thing to remember is that pipes can also burst due to the structural displacement that differential settlement may cause throughout a house. Thus, if you have noticed new cracks, gaps, or any other signs of recent foundation damage as well as plumbing leaks, it’s critically important to call in a professional who is able to inspect your foundation as well as plumbing and sewer lines in order to correctly identify and address the root cause of the problem.
In fact, regardless of the problems you might have observed in your home, no matter whether they seem important or not, we recommend that you contact us as quickly as possible for a free consultation. Because foundation issues don’t go away on their own, identifying and repairing problems sooner rather than later will prevent more extensive damage from occurring. Additionally, partial foundation problems are easier to fix compared to major structural damage. As a result, addressing foundation damage as soon as you observe it could save you a lot of money!