3 ways your Arizona home is unique

9:25 AM, May 20, 2020
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3 ways your Arizona home is unique

Arizona may be known for its heat, the saguaro cactus, and the Grand Canyon, but some lesser-known features are also unique to this state.

You need look no further than your home, which has some features that differ from the rest of the country. For example, stucco is the most common exterior on local homes because of its ability to resist heat, and many roofs are made with tiles and have a flat slant. Additionally, tile is a popular flooring material because it is cool, durable, and easy to clean.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Arizona house foundations are also uniquely built to withstand the challenges brought on by high heat and certain soil conditions.

Here are a few things to know about your foundation — and how to recognize if it needs attention.

Arizona soil can be destructive

The state’s soil is a major challenge for houses, as its high clay content absorbs moisture like a sponge, causing it to expand when wet and then shrink when that moisture evaporates. This causes damage to swimming pools, driveways, roads and, of course, foundations

“Clays that are high in sodium can expand as much as a thousand percent when water is added,” according to The Arizona Geological Survey. “Because soils are usually not composed entirely of clay minerals, expansion is typically much less than in pure clay. However, structures may be damaged when a soil expands by as little as five percent.”

On the other hand, soils with high levels of silt lose their structure when wet, leading to something called hydrocompaction. This causes cracks in backyards and under foundations.

Most Arizona homes are built on a slab

The slabs most new Arizona houses are built on work to fight the problems caused by expanding and shrinking soil. Builders install strong steel cables before pouring concrete, and then apply tension after the concrete has set. The goal is to prevent the cracks that can be caused by soil changes.

However, not all homes have these reinforced foundations and, even then, damage can still happen. That’s why Arizona Foundation Solutions suggests you be on the lookout for stair step cracks in foundation walls, leaning chimneys, cracks and gaps around doors and windows, and cracks in drywall.

Arizona basements are rare

It might seem surprising that many homes in Arizona don’t offer basements as cool escapes from the unrelenting heat of summer, but the heat and the soil are to blame.

For starters, because the frost depth is shallow in Arizona, homes are built with shallower footings than those in colder states. Local builders dig 18 inches below the surface, versus the 48 to 72 inches required elsewhere. When footings are deep, adding a few more feet for a basement is easier outside of Arizona.

To compound this problem, in parts of the state, the soil contains a material made of calcium carbonate known as caliche. It’s often not visible before digging but can be found just 6 to 12 inches below the surface. Caliche is extremely hard, making digging a basement an expensive and timely undertaking. This makes homes that have basements in the Sonoran Desert a rare find. In Northern parts of our state, such as Flagstaff, basement homes are much more common.

Because of all the unique aspects of Arizona house foundations, it’s important to get help from experts who understand local concerns. Learn more about how you can protect your foundation, and schedule a free consultation by visiting Arizona Foundation Solutions.

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