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Washout Soil 

Washout soil is a common problem for many Colorado homes and can contribute directly to structural instability, sinking, and shifting. Here’s what you need to know.

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Washout soil is one of the most common causes of avoidable damage. It leads to cracks and sinking in concrete surfaces, driveways, and even property foundations. Colorado Springs and Denver, CO, see this problem often. Unfortunately, many people are not even aware of soil washout, what it looks like, or what causes it.

This means that many homeowners have no idea what they need to do to manage the problem. As such, many properties in this area end up needing concrete lifting services to repair entirely avoidable damage. Let’s explore the causes so you can be better prepared.

What is Washout Soil?

Often called erosion, soil washout is a process by which soil starts to wear away, losing stability and fertility as it does so. In fact, widespread erosion was the cause of the Dust Bowl crisis in the 1930s.

While over-farming has been one of the leading causes of widespread washout soil, it is now more common to see erosion in and around private properties. Although the agricultural industry has learned how to prevent soil washout, most private homeowners do not know what warning signs to look for.

Some Soil is More Prone to Erosion

soil erosion

While any soil can be subject to the process of erosion, there are some kinds of soil that are more at risk than others. If your home is built on clay-based soil, for example, the risk of soil washout is very low. These kinds of soils are very absorbent and cohesive. They are far more likely to cause issues by swelling or shrinking than they are to erode.

Sandy soils, however, are incredibly loose and very prone to erosion. Other factors that affect the likelihood of soil washout on your property include:

  • Soil structure
  • Soil saturation levels
  • Soil use (e.g., how you plant your garden)
  • The presence of organic materials, minerals, and rocks

If your property is built largely on washout-prone soil, there is not much you can do to change this. You can, however, take measures to prevent erosion. These include fertilizing the soil, managing moisture levels, and planting flowers, bushes, and other flora that are known to produce widespread root systems. The right mix of plants can create a complex web of roots that not only manages moisture but holds light soil together.

Types of Erosion

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of erosion to worry about: wind erosion and washout. Wind erosion, as the name suggests, occurs when wind literally blows away loose, dry topsoil. Over time, this will cause the soil to erode and deteriorate until it creates a vicious cycle where the soil becomes incrementally weaker every time strong winds strip the top layer.

Washout, by contrast, is caused by water. In this case, soil is literally washed away by rain, runoff, or by the current of a stream or river when it is not cohesive enough to withstand the strain. This can result in extensive erosion over a very short period of time, depending on the condition of the soil in question.

What Can Cause Washout Soil on Your Property?

Just because your property sits on soil that is prone to erosion, that doesn’t make it inevitable. There are a few things that can exacerbate the process of soil washout on your property. The most likely suspects are:

Extreme Weather

The climate and weather play a huge role in the health of the soil around your home. As such, any extreme weather can cause erosion or wash out soil. Drought, for example, can make exposed soil incredibly dry and loose. If strong winds roll in during a drought, properties that rest on sandy, loamy, or loose soil are likely to see erosion to a certain degree.

Likewise, heavy and persistent rainstorms, gale-force winds, and hurricanes (though Denver and Colorado Springs never see those) can wash away even robust sandy soils. After that, flooding, either as a result of adverse weather or a local river or lake bursting its banks, is almost certain to cause soil washout in vulnerable areas.

The combination of extreme dehydration, saturation, and movement, either via water or wind, is likely to cause severe erosion. However, these are not the only causes.

Extra Precipitation

Precipitation is a strong risk factor when it comes to the washout of soil on your property. If you have noticed precipitation in the air, it is time to look at the soil around your home. As mentioned, rain and flooding are huge contributors to soil erosion, but these are not the only issues precipitation can bring.

Snow and hail, for example, can also wash out the soil around your home. This is most common in spring when the snow and ice start to melt very quickly, but snap freezes and thaws can be arguably more damaging than these seasonal changes. This is especially the case if they occur regularly over a short period of time.

There is also the issue of underground water sources. A humid and generally wet season peppered with light rains may not erode the top layer of your soil, but it can cause soil washout from beneath. If you have underground water sources near your home, they can easily pick up small amounts of dirt and carry them away. This might not be a huge problem at first, but all of this can build up over time and cause voids to form under your property. This has very serious implications for your property’s foundation.

Drainage Problems

Your home’s drainage systems and yard grading have a lot to do with the severity of any erosion that takes place on your property. Assuming the weather and climate stay relatively stable—and there are no extreme weather phenomena, like flooding or prolonged droughts—these factors will actually be the most influential.

So, if your home does not have perimeter drains, effective gutters, well-placed downspouts, or other foundation drainage systems in place, high levels of erosion become more likely. Likewise, if your gutters and drains are blocked and create high levels of runoff, you are far more likely to see noticeable soil washout.

Interior Leaks

While small interior leaks, like those caused by appliance breakdown or pipe corrosion, pose no real risk to the soil around your home, a serious plumbing flood could be very destructive. If a sharp cold snap causes a pipe in your home to freeze, for example, the resulting flood can be very powerful and cause a fair amount of washout soil on your property.

Likewise, if one of your main systems, like your sewage line, backs up or is compromised (for example, by tree root invasion), the resulting flooding can be dangerous, as well as unpleasant and unhygienic. As such, you should shut off your main water supply in the event of a serious plumbing flood to minimize damage.

Soil erosion is a gradual process that does not happen overnight. As such, there is likely to be a number of contributing factors at work, only some of which you will have any degree of control over. As such, it is important that you are aware of warning signs of damage and the ways in which you can protect your soil from erosion.

Washout Soil

FAQs

Learning to recognize soil erosion before it becomes a large problem for your property is wise. It is also not very difficult. You just need to consider the type of soil you have, identify potential problem areas, and be aware of red flags. 
 
Soil and Climate 
 
It is possible to have a full analysis of your soil completed by a professional firm, but in truth, this is not always necessary. You just need to know what the soil in your general area is like. Does your home sit on clay-based, heavy soil? Is the earth in this area more loamy or sandy in nature? Lighter, less water-reactive soils like loam and sand are far more prone to soil washout. If you live in an area that has a high proportion of these kinds of soils, it pays to be aware and to prepare. 
 
Secondly, what is the climate in your area like? Is there a river nearby? Are heavy rains common? Does runoff tend to be heavy in spring when the snow and ice thaws? Asking these simple questions will give you an idea of how likely erosion and washout soil are in your area. Once you know this, you can plan to mitigate these issues and protect your home. 
 
Bare Soil and Sunken Concrete 
 
Managing the potential for soil erosion is important when it comes to protecting your property. As such, you should spend some time looking for particularly vulnerable areas on your property. Any areas of bare soil, for example, will be more prone to erosion of the topsoil than areas that are covered with grass or planted with flowers, trees, bushes, or even herbs. If you see areas like these close to structures on your property, you should prioritize them for investigation. 
 
When you investigate potential problem areas, you should be looking for signs of unevenness in the soil or the structures resting on them. Sudden dips in the soil are a good example of a potential warning sign. When looking at things like your home, driveway, or other structures on your property, you should be looking for signs like gaps under stairways or concrete slabs. Exposed sections of foundation are a very strong sign that soil around your home is eroding. If you notice any of these warnings, it is time to call a professional. 

There is very little you can do about advanced soil washout unless you have the necessary tools and training to reinforce and revitalize the soil. However, there are things that you can do to prevent washout soil from advancing and having a serious impact on your property. 
 
Preventive Measures 
 
In an ideal world, it would be best to prevent soil washout from ever becoming a problem for your home in the first place. If you want to do this, you will need to consider the health of your yard and your drainage systems. Making sure your yard is properly graded and appropriately planted will go a long way toward protecting your home, as well as handling moisture levels. As such, you should also consider your drainage systems. 
 
Ensuring that you have effective foundation drainage is key to preventing avoidable soil washout. As such, you should take care of your property’s drainage systems. Your roof’s gutter system and perimeter drains are incredibly important for preventing avoidable soil erosion. As such, you should take the time to clean out your gutters and drains on a seasonal basis. Finally, make sure you set and stick to a maintenance schedule. This will ensure that your property stays in the best possible condition.  
 
Professional Intervention 
 
Once the soil in your home has advanced to a certain level or damage has taken root on your property, there is very little you can do as a homeowner. If you start to see sunken concrete slabs, damage to your driveway, or signs of foundation damage, you should immediately call a local professional to schedule an inspection. Whatever you do, do not try to address the damage yourself. DIY is never a good idea when it comes to structural repairs. 
 
Concrete lifting requires the use of special tools and products that can be dangerous when used incorrectly. Furthermore, these products can be very difficult to find outside of professional supply stores. This means you will not have all you need to attempt a successful repair. Likewise, soil erosion is a complicated issue that can take a lot of time and effort to diagnose and address. Getting a professional to undertake this work for you might seem like an unnecessary expense, but it is a fantastic choice that will give you a better result.  

To put it simply, yes. Soil erosion is always an issue that you should seek to prevent or repair. Whether you have a small yard that you use for family time or acres of land that you actively farm, soil washout will have detrimental effects on your property. 
 
Garden Problems  
 
If you use your property to grow your own vegetables, keep animals, or you are just an avid gardener, soil erosion is something you should be very concerned about. Soil washout will not only make your property less stable, but it will make the earth less fertile. This means that any plans you have for a flourishing flower bed or herb garden can be well and truly discounted. If you catch this early on, however, it can be easily rectified. 
 
The real issues start when soil erosion on a property has been allowed to snowball for years. If this happens, you will find it almost impossible to grow anything on your property, and things that do grow may be somewhat lackluster. Reversing serious damage to the quality of your soil is not easy; it can be a long and expensive process. As such, it is far better to deal with soil erosion when you first notice it. 
 
Structural Problems 
 
As well as causing issues for your land, washout soil can be incredibly damaging to your home and any other structures on your property. Unchecked soil erosion can cause a number of issues, depending on where the erosion is most prevalent. Top-level erosion, for example, is most likely to expose sections of your foundation and cause sections of your driveway to sink. It may also cause exterior steps to become uneven. 
 
Erosion may also take place below the surface as a result of saturated soil or underground water sources. This is more likely to cause problems with your property’s foundation or result in sunken sections of flooring in your outlying structures. In fact, erosion can cause a form of foundation settlement that will result in large cracks forming in your home, thereby letting water seep in from the ground up. This can have a huge number of repercussions that vary in severity. 

Washout Soil: What You Can Do

Soil washout can cause a huge number of issues for your property over time. From sunken concrete slabs and uneven driveways to foundation settlement, erosion can be incredibly destructive. This is why it pays to take preventive measures where you can. The best ways to protect your property from excessive soil washout are:

Take Care of Your Gutters and Downspouts

Your gutters and downspouts are surprisingly effective in managing day-to-day erosion because they minimize runoff. By keeping your gutters clear, preventing overspill, and positioning your downspouts correctly, you could save yourself a lot of trouble in the future. If you want to be extra careful, you could invest in extended downspouts.

Invest in Quality Perimeter Drains

Ground-level perimeter drains are excellent options for those who want to protect their foundation from water damage. Most of these systems collect water and divert them up to 30 feet away from the property perimeter. This will not only prevent washout soil near your home but will protect your home as a whole from the dangers of oversaturated backfill soil.

Take Care of Your Yard

Your yard could well be your best friend in the fight against soil erosion and foundation damage. If you are able to get professional help to adjust your yard grading, for example, you will be able to divert the majority of water away from your foundation. Furthermore, planting the right mix of foliage can help make your soil more resistant to erosion, especially in the topmost layers.

Book Annual Maintenance

Scheduling regular maintenance for your drains, gutters, and waterproofing measures is one small step that can make a truly huge difference to the severity of erosion around your property. By making sure that all of your drainage systems are in peak condition, you will prevent avoidable damage. Furthermore, professionals will be able to spot the warning signs of settlement and sinking in your property. This means you have a better chance of catching any issues early on.

Sometimes damage is inevitable, of course, and if you only notice a problem after it has progressed, there is little you can do other than repair the damage and address the underlying causes. One of the most common kinds of damage that occurs as a result of soil washout is sinking or settlement. Sunken concrete slabs and sections of the driveway are the most obvious examples of this and can generally be treated with concrete-lifting procedures. Foundation settlement or damage as a result of erosion is a little more complex and will require more intensive specialist solutions.

Either way, you should involve a professional as soon as possible to ensure you get the best advice for your situation.

Call Complete Basement Systems for Professional Concrete Lifting

If you have noticed sunken concrete slabs and other signs of soil washout around your home, the Complete Basement Systems team is here to help. We offer free inspections to homeowners across Denver and Colorado Springs, CO, that come with no obligation. All you need to do is contact us to schedule an appointment.

We have decades of collective experience and our inspectors are trained to the highest standard. As well as providing a same-day written quote, we offer transferable warranties and guarantees on our products and services to ensure peace of mind! So don’t try DIY fixes; come to the experts for a permanent solution.