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7 Signs of Soil Washout and Erosion: A Major Concrete Problem

void under concrete sidewalk

Concrete lifting processes and services are incredibly useful to properties that are experiencing sinking, tilting, or otherwise uneven concrete surfaces. By lifting the concrete back into place and setting it there, they restore the functional and aesthetic balance of a surface and ensure that a home is safe. As a plus, it even helps maintain the property’s appeal and resale value. 

Unfortunately, there are many potential causes for this kind of damage, which can make taking care of your property seem like somewhat of an uphill struggle. Homeowners who experience repeated issues with sunken concrete in and around Raleigh and Winston-Salem, NC, are very likely to be dealing with some form of erosion or soil washout. This is a fairly common phenomenon, especially in coastal areas where the soil is particularly loose or sandy. Here’s what you need to know. 

What is Soil Washout?

soil washout and erosion

Soil washout is a phenomenon where soil around a structure is literally washed away by rainfall, flooding, or runoff. Erosion, by contrast, is the name for a similar process that sees soil being blown away by strong winds and storms. Whatever the method, however, the result is soil being removed from around and even underneath structures. As you might imagine, this can cause many different problems for a property.  

Sign of Soil Washout

There are many different issues that can be associated with soil washout and erosion. In fact, because soil washout is generally a progressive issue, you are likely to see a number of co-occurring issues in a property that has problems with washout and erosion. This can make finding a solution a little tricky. 

1. Sinking Concrete Slabs 

If you have a patio or seating area outside your home that is made up of concrete slabs, you are likely to see the effects of soil washout in these areas first. This is partially because of how exposed they are, but also because they are not deeply rooted in the earth. Concrete slabs that are subject to erosion are likely to become uneven or even sink into the voids left behind by soil that is washed away. 

2. Flooding and Rain 

If you have a basement or crawl space, you are likely to see increased levels of dampness, humidity, and even flooding once soil washout has been going on for long enough. This is because soil washout and erosion will eventually expose sections of a property’s foundation to the elements making foundation saturation and damage far more likely. 

soil erosion near foundation

3. Foundation Damage 

The foundation damage that can result from severe and prolonged soil washout usually takes one of two forms: sinking or settlement. Sinking, of course, occurs when the soil that supports the edges of a property’s foundation is worn away enough that it affects the stability of a property. The settlement, by contrast, is a process by which a property’s foundation becomes damaged and cracks, with chunks of it breaking away to sink into the voids left behind by soil washout. This can sometimes happen in the center of a property’s foundation if the soil is being washed away from beneath by moving water. 

concrete expert showing uneven concrete steps

4. Uneven Steps

Any steps that you may have around the exterior of your property will be particularly vulnerable to this issue as well. In both cases, prolonged exposure can lead to unevenness and sinking. 

tree root lifting concrete out of place

5. Exposed Tree Roots 

Sometimes trees with particularly large roots can end up with portions of those roots becoming exposed naturally. These tend to be close to the tree, however, and the parts of the root that become exposed are most likely to be bulky knots that are resistant to damage. If you see root ends exposed at any time, this is a worrying sign. Likewise, if exposed roots seem to be growing or protruding more obviously over time, this is a warning sign of soil washout and erosion. Root growth is a very slow process, and so rapid changes are more likely to be a result of changes in the soil around the root. 

bald patch of lawn

6. Bald Patches of Lawn 

If patches of your lawn start to thin, die, or go bald without explanation, it is possible that soil washout or erosion could be at work. Like most issues, washout soil does not affect a whole property evenly. These balding spots are early indicators that there is a problem in that area. If you act when you see the first bald spots, you could save yourself a lot of time and money in the long run. 

7. An Uneven Driveway 

If sudden dips or craters appear in your driveway, it is time to call in a professional. This is a sign that the soil beneath it is unstable and shifting. Whether the cause is soil washout or something else entirely, it is important that you act quickly. 

If you see any of these signs in or around your property, you should book a professional assessment of your home. A certified professional will be able to spot washout soil and its associated issues very quickly. What’s more, they will be able to formulate a solution that addresses the cause of the issue as well as repairing the damage. 

The Causes of Soil Washout

Understanding what causes soil washout is incredibly important when it comes to spotting warning signs early and preventing avoidable damage. Of course, water is a key component in soil washout, but it is not the only cause. Even flooding will not wash away strong, healthy soil unless it is persistent and severe. Soil washout is also caused by the state of the soil that is being washed away! 

1. Light, Loose Soil 

Heavy and absorbent (or expansive) soils that are primarily made up of clay or peat are far less likely to experience soil washout than looser and less stable soils that are made up of sandy loam. This has a lot to do with the way in which these heavy soils stick together, soaking up moisture and swelling as they do so. Of course, they may see some washout in very severe cases, but it is likely to be minimal and require the persistent presence of running water. 

Sand and loam-based soils, however, have a limited capacity to absorb moisture and are looser in nature. This makes them less stable and more prone to shifting when they are heavily saturated. If the soil around your home is very sandy soil, washout can occur with frightening speed, and preventing it can often seem to be an uphill battle. 

2. Fallow Soil 

The health and texture of soil are just as important as the type of soil when it comes to washout. Even relatively loose, light soil will be resistant to washout if it is healthy and has a lot of fiber holding it together. This is why planting your yard cleverly is one of the best things that you can do to protect your home from soil washout and erosion. 

The issue is that soil that is experiencing soil washout or erosion of any kind will quickly start to deteriorate in quality. Once soil washout or erosion has become advanced, in fact, it will be very hard to grow anything on your property. As the soil gets less healthy, therefore, the amount of washout soil will increase. This creates a vicious cycle. 

3. Poor Exterior Drainage 

If you experience frequent flooding and perimeter saturation in your yard or you have issues with drainage around your property, serious soil washout is far more likely.  There are two main ways water can wash away loose soil: through force or via saturation. Most soil washout is a result of a combination of these factors. 

For example, when there is heavy snowfall and it thaws, the ground around your property will become incredibly saturated. Likewise, if you have improper drainage systems in place around your property runoff and overspill from the drains and gutters that you do have in place will be very likely. This combination of saturation and force is often enough to start the process of soil washout for homes around Raleigh and Winston-Salem, NC. 

4. Extreme Weather 

Adverse weather of any level can be bad for your property in many ways, so it should come as no surprise that extreme rainfall, flooding, snowstorms, and winds can also impact the soil around your property. In fact, even a particularly humid summer with persistent but light rains can add to the process of soil washout around your property. 

As a coastal state, North Carolina sees its share of hurricanes, gales, and flooding. As such, properties in this region, even as far inland as Raleigh, can find themselves battling with soil washout and erosion quite frequently.  

5. Interior Leaks 

One potential cause of soil washout that is not discussed as often as it should be is interior flooding or leaking. Water coming from your property’s plumbing system, in particular, can wreak havoc on your yard if you experience a serious breakdown. This is partly because of the sheer amount of water that a plumbing flood can produce, but also because of the force that internal leaks exert when they spring forth. 

Of course, if you are dealing with a serious interior leak, it is unlikely that the soil around your home will be your most pressing concern. After all, interior leaks and plumbing floods are incredibly dangerous to the structure of a property as well as its furnishings. As such, keeping an eye out for damp walls and floors in your basement is a good idea. 

With so many potential factors at work, washout soil is a complex issue that can be hard to spot and even harder to prevent. The key lies in recognizing the warning signs early and acting on them. Getting a professional involved at the first sign of trouble can make all the difference. 

Washout Soil FAQs

If you have noticed unevenness and tilting to your driveway, there are a few possible causes that could be at work. Generally speaking, however, it will either be an issue in the concrete itself or in the soil beneath it! 

Concrete Issues 

Concrete is an incredibly tough and strong material, which is why it is used in most construction projects today. It is also very easy to tailor to suit a situation. After all, it is simply a mix of cement, water, and sand. When the proportions of this mix are slightly off, however, the concrete can become unstable and prone to damage. This is primarily cosmetic damage like staining and flaking, but serious miscalculations can cause structural issues too. 

Likewise, improper construction methods can leave concrete driveways and sidewalks prone to tilting, sinking, and cracking. The most common mistakes are made during the curing process. They include disturbing the concrete once it has started to set, under-curing, or failing to cure concrete. This can all lead to a final product that is simply not as robust as it should be. 

Unstable Soil 

Unless your property is newly built, it is unlikely that new damage is being caused by defects in the concrete. While it is not unheard of for damage to present itself later, most defects will make themselves known pretty quickly. Unstable, loose, or otherwise damaged soil, however, can work on healthy structures for a long time before damage begins to show. The soil issues that are most likely to cause a sinking or uneven driveway are expansive soil and soil erosion. Expansive soils are those that are highly reactive to water. By growing and shrinking depending on their level of saturation, expansive soils can cause a lot of issues for any structure that rests on them as a result of constant change. Soil erosion and washout soil, by contrast, damage surfaces by gradually removing support from beneath them.

If you suspect that you may have soil washout at work around your property, you should call in a professional immediately. We understand that this might not seem like a big deal, but it really is. 

Soil Washout Affects Every Part of a Property 

Washout soil can impact more than just your driveway and exterior steps. If you leave the issue to snowball, it could undermine the structural stability of your whole property. This is partly because of the way in which the soil left behind shifts and moves when washout soil is removed, but also because of the hidden processes that go on under the ground. 

You see, most people think that erosion and soil washout are limited to what they see at the surface level. While it is true that topsoil is the most vulnerable to erosion and washout, it is not the whole picture. Washout soil can easily come from beneath the surface because of the way that moisture moves through loose, non-expansive soils. Extreme saturation and flooding can cause erosion underneath your home and lead to serious issues like foundation settlement and subsidence. 

Returning Your Yard to Health Won’t be Easy 

As well as the damage to your home and any other structures on your property, washout soil can ruin your yard. Whether you are an avid gardener or not, it is nice to have a property with a beautifully kept yard. This is not only a matter of curb appeal but also about having an inviting outdoor space for your family to enjoy. The problem is that soil washout renders a property’s yard almost entirely barren after a while. 

If soil washout has been at work on your property for a long time, you may struggle to grow anything at all. This will be very hard to fix once it reaches a tipping point. If you catch the issue early enough, fertilizing the soil and planting it cleverly should do the trick, but after a certain amount of time, it will be necessary to undertake a program of soil rejuvenation that will need professional involvement. This is costly and time-consuming.

Obviously, the best thing you can do is to prevent soil washout and erosion from becoming a serious problem in the first place. If you can’t do that, it is time to get a professional involved. Do not try to tackle the issue alone! 

Preventing Washout Soil 

Preventing washout soil on your property is really just a matter of taking care of your home and the soil as best you can. This takes two main forms. Firstly, try to make use of the soil around your home; plant bushes, flowers, grass, miscellaneous plants, and vegetation. Do some research and choose plants that create complex root systems. This will keep the soil together, improve moisture management, and make it more robust. 

Secondly, ensure that your home has appropriate drainage systems that are set up to direct runoff away from your home and toward the street’s drains. You should be aiming to avoid soil saturation as much as possible. This will reduce the opportunity for washout soil, especially if you keep your drainage systems in good working order at all times. 

Professional Intervention 

Once soil washout has actually caused damage to your property in some way, there is nothing you can do other than call a professional in to assess the issue and suggest a solution. You should not attempt concrete lifting or structural repairs alone. This could very well end in accident, injury, or further damage to your property. This would only increase the overall cost of your repairs. 

It is important to keep in mind that specialists are widely regarded as experts for a reason. They have the tools, skills, and knowledge to tackle the many different issues that might present themselves during the repair process. Professionals also guarantee a better standard of work than a DIY undertaking could.

Call Tar Heel Basement Systems for Concrete Lifting 

If you suspect that washout soil is taking its toll on your property, we at Tar Heel Basement Systems are here to help. Since we first opened our doors in 2003, we have helped thousands of homeowners to restore their properties to optimal condition. Our team of inspectors and concrete lifting specialists is equipped to handle even the most complex of cases, so don’t hold back. Contact us today to schedule your free inspection and repair quote!

*Disclaimer: “Concrete leveling” means the process by which cracked, uneven concrete is stabilized, and in many cases lifted, by means of PolyRenewal™ polyurethane foam. Tar Heel Basement Systems does not guarantee that PolyRenewal™ can make your concrete perfectly level.

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