The liquefaction process occurs when water and loose sediments combine in your soil.
This leads to weaker-than-average soil, eventually causing property damage.
The best way to avoid liquefaction is to avoid building in susceptible areas.
Minimize liquefaction by beefing up the foundation and improving the soil.
Have your ground soil professionally inspected to further minimize risk.
Liquefaction. Just hearing the word causes homeowners to keep their local foundation repair specialist on speed dial. Simply put, liquefaction happens when loose sediment and water mix together and start undermining your ground soil. Over time, this process leads to weak soil and, eventually, severe property damage. So, what causes liquefaction, and how do you keep your property safe? Keep reading to find out.
What Is Liquefaction?
Liquefaction happens when water and sediment invade tightly compacted soil, loosening it, and—in some cases—turning it into a slurry resembling quicksand. Earthquakes are a primary force behind liquefaction, as even minor quakes change the complexity of your soil and cause it to act as a liquid. However, vibrations of all types force this issue, including construction-related activities like blasting and soil compaction.
Liquefaction and Property Damage
Liquefaction essentially turns perfectly good soil into a liquid. This causes all kinds of structural damage, as water-saturated soil no longer bears the weight of your foundation and your home. At first, liquefaction leads to small yet persistent issues, like creaking noises between walls due to beams shifting, outdoor and basement concrete cracks, and sinking and shifting paver stones. You’ll repair and prevent unsightly concrete cracks, but, over time, liquefaction leads to even more serious issues, such as total foundational disrepair.
Tips to Prevent Liquefaction
The steps to diagnose, prevent, and treat liquefaction vary according to the severity of the problem. The best defense here is a good offense, so here are some tips to prevent the issue.
Avoid Susceptible Areas
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, liquefaction in most cases is tied to certain parts of the country. Two primary factors cause the lion’s share of liquefaction issues: earthquake proximity and the prevalence of sandy, silt-laden, gravel-based soils with poor drainage.
In other words, simply living in California or another earthquake-prone state doesn’t guarantee liquefaction, as you need the right soil conditions for that to happen. Avoid the issue by doing some extra homework before purchasing or building a property. Check with local soil testers to ensure any prospective land doesn’t feature the type of soil conducive to these worsening conditions.
Beef Up Your Foundation
If you’ve already started seeing the after-effects of liquefaction or purchased a property in an impacted area, address the problem by beefing up your foundation to minimize risk. Some foundational design types decrease long-term damage from all but the most severe instances of liquefaction. Homebuilders tie components of shallow foundations together so the entire structure moves with liquefaction at once. Also, they lay down a sturdy foundation mat directly below your structure to help transfer weight loads from liquefied soil to healthier ground.
Some top-rated foundation contractors near you use high-grade reinforcing beams to prevent liquefaction damage, while others use a combination of all the above techniques. Of course, all these techniques require significant time, materials, and labor.
A simpler option? Use geotextiles, a blanket term for absorbent fabric materials used in liquefaction-heavy areas. Have you ever seen driveway fabric? That’s a geotextile. These materials are great for minimizing damage from liquified soil, as they reduce shifting, keep away unwanted moisture, and prevent the types of loose sediment contributing to liquefaction in the first place. Geotextiles are also often used on roads built over poorly graded soils, allowing for steeper embankments. Talk to a local paving company to discuss any available geotextile options.
Improve the Soil
There are many ways to better improve your soil to withstand the long-term effects of liquefaction, though most of these processes are best undertaken before building a structure.
Vibroflotation features a vibrating probe to penetrate granular soil, thus collapsing and strengthening it. Dynamic compaction features heavy steel or concrete weights to compact the soil. Other methods include installing reinforced gravel columns or pills and various drainage techniques. Discuss options with a subsurface contractor or ground improvement specialist to find the right process for your property.
Get an Inspection
Of course, prevention is the best medicine here. Diagnose liquefaction as early as possible by hiring a local foundation repair pro to give your land a thorough inspection. When conducting a foundation inspection, ensure you receive a detailed report, asking for a sample report ahead of time to suss out the level of detail. Be present during the inspection to point out any noticeable issues, and be unafraid to ask questions, particularly those regarding local conditions, local guidelines, and industry standards. Every property is different.