does freezing weather cause foundation problems?

Does Freezing Weather Cause Foundation Problems? How Can I Know?

Christmas was a very cold week for most of us across Texas and in many other parts of the country. Maybe you had some pipes freeze or were without power for a bit. Maybe you dripped faucets . . . a lot. You’re freaking out a little because you are not sure if the cold snap affected your home and what to do next.

Anchor Foundation Repair Bryan College Station

You are wondering, did this freezing weather cause problems for my foundation?

Anchor Foundation Repair has been serving the Bryan-College Station area for the past 35+ years. We’ve seen and repaired thousands of foundation problems over the years, but this freeze situation is not typical for us around here.

Even though the recent prolonged freeze was an uncommon weather event, there are a few things we do know to be true that can help you feel empowered in this situation. Let’s take a look at some things to consider about your foundation and the recent extreme weather.

How Frost Heave Affects Your Foundation

We live in an area dominated by expansive clay soils and this soil type is affected by wet and dry conditions. It expands or heaves in rainy seasons and shrinks or contracts in dry seasons.

Frozen water and liquid water both have a similar effect on expansive clay soils. Water present in the ground will expand when it freezes in cold weather. Just like when you freeze bottled water or a canned drink at home and the bottle or can bulges out, pops open, or if it’s in a glass container it might crack.

This same expansion concept can happen in the ground during a freeze. The water in the ground expands upon freezing and causes “frost heave” forces to act upon your foundation. We’ve just had one freeze event this winter and it was also fairly dry. Frost heave is not very likely to happen year after year continuously for this area of Texas.

cold weather and foundation issues
Dude, it wasn’t that cold . . .

Also, even though it felt like an extended freeze, it was realistically about 3 or 4 days of constant below-freezing temperatures. We do like to be dramatic in Texas, don’t we? Frost heave has more impact when the ground freezes and thaws many times within a season and year after year and we don’t really have that here.

Also, the recent weather was mostly dry. We didn’t have a lot of rain or snow this time (unlike the 2021 Winter Snowpocalypse). The only moisture around was likely coming from dripping faucets or possibly from pipes that froze and then busted. But we did not have extensive wet ground due to precipitation that would soak everything. So the chances of frost heave are pretty low in my opinion.

How Pipe Leaks Affect Your Foundation

Broken pipes and water leaks can cause a special variety of plumbing-related foundation problems. Usually, these are associated with long-term leaks over many years and involve the drain lines under your home. Also, the type of foundation you have will be a factor.

It’s unlikely that drain lines under a slab-on-grade foundation were affected by the freeze because it probably didn’t get cold enough under your home. Plus, drain lines aren’t under pressure so there is room for water to expand, even if they did somehow freeze.

freezing weather and foundation problems
Plumbing lines under a Texas slab are well protected from the cold

Under a crawl space home, like a pier and beam or block and base style foundation, pipes (probably supply lines) under the home that were not well insulated could have ruptured. But the amount of time that flowing water was under your home was likely not enough to cause a foundation settlement problem so quickly.

Foundation problems happen over time and with recurring stresses on the foundation caused by expansive clay soils. Even if it got pretty wet under or near your home for a bit, it’s not enough for a one-time event to cause sudden foundation problems.

Did the Freeze Cause Foundation Problems?

Even if frost heave or a pipe leak has occurred with your foundation or home this year, typically, foundation settlement does not occur as a result of a singular event. It’s too soon to tell anything.

Foundation settlement happens through a gradual series of events over many years. One earthquake, one freeze, or one heavy rain will not instantly cause catastrophic failure of your foundation in this area of Texas.

did the freeze affect my foundation?

Prolonged drought, years of extreme rainy and dry seasons, cyclic effects of expansive clay soils, gravity over time, and poor construction are more likely to cause foundation problems. These foundation issues will appear slowly over time rather than suddenly and all at once.

What Else Is Going On If the Freeze Didn’t Affect My Foundation?

does cold weather cause foundation problems?

We know you have questions about how the recent freezing weather may have affected your foundation because you are seeing some new and possibly misleading issues around your home. Things like tile popping, long drywall seams appearing, crown molding separation or even noises in the walls that sound like your home is shifting somehow.

The new issues you are seeing (or hearing!) in your home likely have causes other than foundation settlement. Now I’m just making some educated guesses here, but framing and drywall are easily affected by cold exterior temperatures up against warm interior temperatures. 

When you run your heat a lot more than usual and it’s really cold outside, your home can expand and contract in unusual ways:

  • Your heater running all the time takes all the humidity out of the air and could cause drywall seams to appear and pop or for trim to pull away from walls and ceilings. 
  • Temperature extremes affect framing timber and cause twisting, popping, and wood expansion and contraction that your home is not used to experiencing.
  • Dripping warmer water inside a bathroom can steam it up with prolonged humidity and cause drywall symptoms also.
  • Your home might even make some noise and it’s more to do with the cold outside interacting with the “home parts” getting warm inside your house. 

I even heard window frames making some loud popping noises due to expansion and contraction this year. It woke me up from a nap it was so loud! But it wasn’t my foundation . . . 

Watch for True Signs of Foundation Problems Over Time

No matter what forces have been acting on your home, whether it’s freeze, drought, or rain brought on by hurricanes, the true signs are still the same if you have a foundation problem.

As a good ol’ boy from Texas, I may not know cold weather. But I do know about our soil and how it brings about certain cues around the home that point to settlement and ones that don’t.

The most common signs of foundation issues are:

  1. Diagonal Cracks on Interior Walls
  2. Exterior Brick Cracks
  3. Doors Sticking or Not Latching
  4. Gapping or Separation of Exterior Trim
  5. Movement of Wood Trim and Other Inside Fixtures
signs of foundation issues

Many homeowners might also be seeing false signs of foundation issues around their homes after this extreme freeze. The changes in temperature, humidity, and altered heating patterns throughout the home can bring about and reveal other problems that are not foundation-related.

False signs have their root cause in workmanship, age, climate conditions, and normal expected behavior of materials over time. Minor and perfectly normal home settling can combine with these root causes to bring about the visual cues that homeowners start to think are major foundation failures but are not.

We have an article that covers both the true signs and false signs of foundation problems so that you can verify whether the symptoms you are seeing are foundation-related or something else.

Even If the Freeze Did Cause Foundation Issues, Wait a Bit

Do you want to rush right out and spend money fixing some foundation settlement that isn’t causing a true problem just yet? I wouldn’t if I were you.

We don’t recommend rushing to repair after a one-time event. I know it seems strange for a foundation repair company to tell you that we don’t want to repair your foundation, but we’re not your average foundation repair contractor.

should I worry about cold weather causing foundation problems?

Anchor Foundation Repair has been serving the Brazos Valley area for two generations and our trustworthy reputation in the community is vitally important to us. We will be the first to tell you if we think it’s better to wait on foundation repair and we are doing that now.

With an event like this 2022 freeze, we feel like it’s better to hold off and watch and make a wise decision later on when you feel ready for it. Or at the very least, have the time to save for the cost of foundation repair.

We have other articles that give reasons to wait as well as reasons to not wait if you want to further organize your thoughts on the situation going on in your home. We want you to feel confident in your next steps and these will give you the tools to make it through without feeling any rush to decide.