The soil under your property is all-important to the overall health of your home and your yard. If you are a homeowner who likes to have a beautiful healthy garden and house, soil washout is something that should be high on your watch list. While this is a little-discussed issue, it is something many homes in Denver and Colorado Springs, CO, struggle with. In many cases, the homeowners are none the wiser until the damage becomes visible and unavoidable.
Learning about soil washout, what causes it, and how you can spot the warning signs is important for every property owner. In fact, knowing what to look for could save you a lot of money in the long run.
Soil Washout: What it is and Why You Should Worry
Often referred to as erosion, soil washout is a process by which the soil wears away. Over time, soil that is eroding can become unstable and unhealthy. This will have a huge impact on both your garden and your property.
What Causes Soil Erosion?
Broadly speaking, there are three main factors in the likelihood of seeing washout soil on your property. First, the type of soil on your property is key. Secondly, the climate and weather have a huge impact. Finally, your property’s drainage systems can either prevent or exacerbate erosion.
While all soil can technically fall prey to erosion, soil washout is most common in dry, loose soils. As such, expansive, heavy soils like clay and peat are unlikely to erode unless the conditions are incredibly severe. Lighter, looser soils like loam and sand are incredibly prone to erosion. If you have a lot of bare, sandy soil on your property, preventing washout will be something of a constant process.
The climate in Colorado lends itself well to soil washout. The cold winters and wet falls, in particular, are likely to cause some degree of erosion. Running water and high winds are two of the most influential factors in the likelihood and severity of soil washout. While loose, dry soil is likely to blow away when the wind picks up. The constant runoff streams created by heavy rainfall or repeated freezes and thaws that come in late winter and early spring will also wash away even relatively secure soil.
As such, your property’s drainage is very important. A robust perimeter drain system and well-cared-for gutters can go a long way when it comes to preventing soil washout, as can having your basement and foundation properly waterproofed.
Why You Should Worry About Soil Washout
Visible washout can seem very minor because the process takes a fairly long time, but there are a number of reasons you should be concerned.
What You See is the Tip of the Iceberg
If you can see small signs of erosion around your property, at the side of your driveway, or even in your yard, it is very likely that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Soil washout can also take place below the surface as a result of soil saturation and the presence of underground water sources. This kind of erosion is far more dangerous because it is hidden. The first sign you get of anything wrong could well be a section of your foundation starting to sink into the void that erosion leaves behind.
Soil Erosion can Damage Your Foundation
As we stated, erosion can cause foundation damage and this is a very serious thing. Foundation settlement is the most common issue caused by soil washout and it is very hard to deal with. Settlement, not to be confused with settling, is what happens when sections of your foundation break away to settle into voids in the soil underneath them. This causes many problems within a home, such as persistent issues with dampness, mold formation, pest infestation, and wider structural deterioration as a result of instability.
Advanced Erosion is Expensive to Fix
Soil washout is one of those issues that grows exponentially when left alone. Poor-quality soil is the most likely to erode, but even low-level washout can cause soil quality to deteriorate when it happens frequently. As such, soil that has been subject to washout over a long period of time will be weak and possibly infertile making it hard to stabilize. Repairing and rejuvenating soil that has been badly damaged by erosion can be a lengthy and costly process. That’s before you even consider the structural repairs that any buildings on the land might need. As such, it is in your best interest to deal with this early.
Of course, in order to deal with the problem early, you need to be able to recognize the problem signs as they present themselves. Hopefully, you’ll catch these before they surface as damage to your property or yard.
Soil Washout: The Problem Signs
One of the biggest problems with soil washout is that the warning signs can be incredibly subtle, if at all visible. Nonetheless, there are things you should take note of, should they appear around your property. They are:
If you notice patches of bare earth where there used to be grass or flowers, this is a sign that the soil is loose, unhealthy, and struggling with erosion. While harsh weather, like extreme cold, could kill grass off temporarily or cause it to wilt, this is not the same as a bald patch. If you have a patch of earth around your property where nothing will grow, even a hardy shrub, this is a serious warning sign.
If you have bushes or trees on your property and you start to see exposed roots, this is a strong indicator that your property is dealing with soil washout. Of course, there are some exceptions. If the knots of large roots are peeking up at certain points, this is often just a result of growth. If the ends of roots are exposed, however, this is a very bad sign. These areas should never be exposed.
Large (Visible) Rocks
Once again, it is normal to see rocks in the earth to a certain extent. Pebbles and small stones, for example, are very common in most sandy or loam-based soils. However, if you start to see the tops of larger rocks poking out of the soil, this is a sign that the topsoil has been worn away, either by wind or excessive rain.
Sections of Exposed Foundation
This is not always easy to spot if you do not know what you are looking for, but if you see sections of your foundation becoming exposed, you should call a professional immediately. It’s not only a strong red flag for soil erosion, but it is a sign that your property’s foundation is in real danger. Exposed foundations are more prone to becoming waterlogged and cracked and could even start to slip. As such, you should call a local basement and foundation specialist immediately. If you do not, the results could be dire.
Gaps Beneath Paving Slabs or Steps
Like exposed foundation sections, gaps underneath paving slabs or exterior stairs are a very strong sign of erosion. They are, however, slightly more benign.
If you do not deal with these gaps, you run the risk of the slabs or steps in question sinking into the gap, becoming uneven, and even cracking. This will present you with a fairly hefty repair bill, so it is far better to deal with the soil erosion before it goes any further.
These are just some of the problem signs of soil washout on your property, but they are some of the most common and instantly recognizable. Some warning signs that present themselves earlier in the process include:
- A deterioration in the quality of your garden plant life
- Mud or soil building up in the lowest points of your yard
- An increasingly uneven yard surface
If you suspect you are dealing with soil washout, however, it is important that you call a professional quickly. Like so many issues, soil washout is the cheapest and easiest to deal with when you can nip it in the bud.
What to Do About Soil Washout
If you have started to see signs of soil erosion around your property, do not panic. While this is a serious issue that should be handled quickly, it is also very treatable. The first thing you should do is make a note of what signs you have spotted and where they present themselves.
Check Your Drainage Systems
One thing that you can do as a homeowner is make sure your drainage systems are working properly. Keeping your gutters clear, your downspouts well positioned, your drains unclogged, and your foundation drainage system in good working order will prevent further soil washout. This will keep the situation stable until you can resolve it.
While it can be tempting to check websites and blogs for DIY tips, we urge you to avoid this. Soil washout is a complicated issue that requires an understanding of soil composition and the effects of long-term erosion. If you try to rejuvenate the soil alone, you could cause more harm than good.
Likewise, the structural issues that are often caused by erosion can be incredibly complex and have dangerous repair processes. Finally, a permanent solution requires correctly identifying all underlying causes, which can be tricky. As such, it is best to leave the inspection and repairs to an expert.
Call a Professional
Bringing in a professional as soon as possible is one of the best things that you can do for your home in this situation. A speedy repair process will minimize damage, as well as keep your stress levels and costs low.
When something is wrong, we know it can be hard to sit on your hands, so to speak, but it really is best to let those in the know take the lead when it comes to issues like this.
Soil washout or erosion can be caused by a number of factors, but it’s generally the result of cumulative issues. This is rarely something that takes place overnight, after all. Broadly speaking soil washout is caused by the nature of the soil and the type of climate in which it is found.
Light, loose, or weak soils are far more likely to fall prey to erosion than heavier, more moisture-reactive soils. This is because they can face erosion in two ways. It would take a very heavy, sustained current to wash away the weakest clay-based soil, but sandy loam can be subject to wind and water erosion. Wind erosion, of course, is when the topsoil is literally blown away by strong wind. This is most common when weak soils become very dehydrated.
Washout, or water-based erosion, is usually caused by extreme weather. On occasion, though, this can result from serious plumbing floods. Weak soils can be stabilized and strengthened in a number of ways, but they will never be quite as robust as their heavier counterparts. This has as much to do with their texture and layout as anything else.
The two kinds of extreme weather that are most likely to cause erosion are, of course, drought and flooding. Severe droughts, though uncommon, are not unheard of in Colorado. When they coincide with high winds, they can cause severe topsoil erosion throughout the state. Of course, heavy storms and low-level flooding are more common. These conditions strip away the topsoil relatively quickly.
The most dangerous kind of weather, however, is heavy snowfall. When a lot of snow builds up on your property, the spring thaw can bring huge amounts of runoff. If your property’s drainage systems are not up to the task, this runoff can washout soil and cause many other issues for your home. What makes this kind of weather doubly dangerous, however, is the way that repeated thaws and freezes can cause the soil around your home to be entirely saturated, making the earth below your foundation shift. When this happens, you could be dealing with a slipping or sinking foundation as well as erosion.
There are some things that you, as a homeowner, can do to prevent soil washout from becoming serious on your property. Unfortunately, these things are limited and there is a point at which you will need to contact a professional to make lasting changes.
Take Care of Your Yard and Drains
Your yard is not just the main focus for soil erosion—it can also provide a solution. This, of course, depends on you catching the issue before it progresses too far. After a certain point, soil erosion will make growing pretty much anything impossible. However, if you take the chance to grade your yard and plant it with robust plants that form widespread root systems, you could strengthen the soil and prevent serious erosion before it causes real damage.
Secondly, you can make sure your property’s drainage systems are in good working order. One of the most common causes of low-level erosion is runoff and overspill from blocked drains and gutters. By making sure your drains and gutters are free from blockages (and pointing your downspouts toward the street), you can prevent avoidable washout. This will not stop erosion altogether, but it will slow the process considerably.
Get Professional Advice
In the end, if your property is facing consistent soil washout, you will need professional advice to reverse the damage and prevent the issue from recurring. Thankfully, there are many specialists who can help with this in and around Colorado Springs and Denver. Before you consider the condition of the soil, however, you should think about your property. Erosion can cause serious damage to your foundation and the structure of your home as a whole.
As such, contacting a foundation and concrete repair specialist should be at the very top of your list. Professionals in this field will be able to help you identify the likely causes of soil erosion, as well as the damage that washout has done to your home. More importantly, they will be able to lift damaged concrete and structures back into place, stabilizing them and preventing further damage. This should be your first priority. Once your home is safe, you can consider the health of your yard.
Many homeowners think that there are times when soil erosion is not a huge problem, but this is not the case. Soil washout is always a problem for your home, and if you do not act quickly, it grows with surprising speed.
Instability is Never a Good Thing
Instability in the soil around and under your home is never a good thing. As well as causing damage directly via issues like settlement and subsidence, instability and erosion can cause your property’s foundation to slide from its intended position. This, of course, has repercussions for the structure of your home, but it can also affect your utilities.
Your home slipping to the side by a few inches may not seem like a lot in the grand scheme of things. However, it could very well cause your main water supply or sewage line to crack and start leaking. This will only add to the issues of erosion and instability and cause the problem to snowball. As such, even if your foundation does not crack, you could well end up with serious structural issues on your hands.
Soil Deterioration is Costly to Repair
On a less pressing note, there is the issue of soil health and fertility. This may not be a big issue for you if you are not an avid gardener or active agriculturalist, but you should bear it some consideration. Unhealthy soil will not allow you to grow much of anything, but it is also weaker than healthy soil. As with all problems, there comes a tipping point in soil washout where there is no chance of the issue being resolved without direct intervention.
If you reach this point within your yard, the issue of topsoil erosion will snowball. It can be a long and costly process to repair and rejuvenate soil that has been this badly damaged by erosion. The lack of nutrition means that gentler methods of rehabilitation through fertilization and savvy planting may be non-viable at first. Furthermore, there is the issue of time. Unlike structural repairs that are effective as soon as they are completed, bringing life back to damaged soil can take a long time. In fact, it could be years before your soil reaches full health again, and ensuring that erosion does not reoccur during health is a constant battle.
Call Complete Basement Systems for Quality Repairs
Complete Basement Systems is one of the most reputable foundation and concrete repair specialists in and around Colorado Springs and Denver, CO, since 1999. We know what can go wrong with your property, and our team is entirely capable of giving you the best possible results in the shortest possible time. Of course, it all starts with one of our free home inspections and repair quotes.
So, if you think that your property might be struggling with soil washout, don’t hesitate to give us a call. We are always on hand to help.