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the bright leaf

An ongoing informational series


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“Winter is Here: The Frost Heave Issue”

Winter is here! As tough Albertans, we are usually well prepared for brutally long winters and sub-zero temperatures. We stock up on hot chocolate, organize winter activities complete with an injection of festive cheer for the Holiday Season. Then along comes a frost heave issue and just like the dreaded grinch … it can deflate the spirits of most homeowners and property or condominium managers.


What is Frost Heave?

For most of us who do not know what frost heave is, frost heave refers to the upward or outward movement of the ground surface (or objects on, or in the ground) caused by the formation of ice in the soil. it occurs where the climate is sufficiently cold to allow freezing temperatures to propagate below the ground surface, where there is an adequate supply of soil water to feed ice lens formation, and where the soils are frost susceptible. This can be very destructive to lightly loaded structures and cause serious problems in major ones.

Three Conditions for Frost Heave

For frost heave to occur, three things must be present. 

They are as follows:

• freezing temperatures

• water

• frost-susceptible soil

Problems Caused by Frost Heave

Frost heaves commonly occur in two ways. Most often, a frost lens forms beneath a foundation or footing and heaves it upward. However, ice crystals can also grab onto the rough or porous surface of a foundation or porous surface of a foundation or footing and lift it from the side.

This can cause a myriad of negative impacts as the expansion of the soil weakens the foundation of the floors which can even cause cracks in the walls of the pillars. A shifting foundation will quickly ruin a home and cost the homeowner big bucks. Frost does its mischief on porches, garages, decks, pavements, and roads as well.

How to Cope with Frost Heave Problems?

Since there is heat loss to the surrounding soil, heated buildings rarely suffer frost heave damage. Difficulties often arise in unheated detached buildings or in unheated additions to heated buildings. Damage also occurs to pavements, driveways, sidewalks, and floor slabs of unheated buildings that are not supported by footings.


By eliminating one or several of the conditions needed for frost heave, you can help mitigate damages caused by frost heave and protect the building’s structure. This can be accomplished by reducing frost penetration; keeping water out of the freezing zone; or making sure that the soil in the freezing zone is not susceptible to frost.


Frost heave can also be avoided by extending footings below the frost line. Other factors that need to be evaluated are soil type, insulation, and drainage. Run-off water from buildings should be directed away from your foundation by proper landscaping around the building. Helical piers and helical wall anchors can also help to reinforce and stabilize your building or home foundation. If the damage is extensive, then soil stabilization and/or soil replacement might be another option that can help.


If you are currently facing any issues due to frost heave or have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact Tree of Knowledge (TOK) Engineering to find out what the optimum approach for your problem is. We are here to help.

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