What is Shrink Swell Soil?

And What Does it Have to Do With Brandermill?

Shrink-swell soil, also known as expansive soil, is exactly what it sounds like. It is soil that has high expansion volume when wet, and high shrinkage when dry. During heavy rain periods, this can cause significant pressure on homes foundations, roads, and other infrastructure. During dry periods this shrinkage can remove support from a homes foundation, roads, and other infrastructure. Shrink swell soil causes billions of dollars of damage every year. If you geek out at awesome engineering videos, Grady Hillhouse does a fantastic job illustrating this using Orbeez!

How is Shrink Swell Soil Tested?

Soil is tested for its expansive properties in a laboratory. A core sample is taken on site, and sent to a laboratory where some pretty scientific tests are done over the course of a few days. Check it out!

Is there Shrink Swell in Chesterfield?

Virginia in general has a lot of clay soil and it is specific clay minerals that give soil its expansive property. Below is a map that shows which areas in Chesterfield are more likely to have expansive soils. As you can see, most of west Chesterfield has a high probability to have shrink swell soils.

which areas in chesterfield have shrink swell soil

Do Home Inspectors Check For Shrink Swell Soil?

Home inspectors will look for signs of foundation issues such as cracks. They will inspect the grading to make sure it slopes away from the house which can help mitigate issues with shrink soil. Here at A House on a Rock, we are familiar with the soil problems associated with Chesterfield. That being said, home inspectors do not test the soil conditions. It is far out out of the scope of practice, and an inspectors qualifications to test the soil conditions.

What Does This Have to Do With Brandermill?

Construction in Brandermill started in 1975. It was only the second planned community in Virginia, and Better Homes and Garden magazine named it the “Best Planned Community in America”. It seems they planned for everything, except the shrink swell soil.

Since the 80’s Brandermill has been plagued by foundation issues and expensive repairs. Many community meetings in the 80’s and 90’s consisted of conversations of how to address the issue. Citizens begged for a county level solution. They asked their leaders for grand jury’s, criminal investigations, and even federal fraud investigations. Although some legal action was attempted, the statute of limitations restricted the legal recourse. County leaders proposed taxes, and even fees on developers and REALTORs, to fund a solution. Naturally, citizens opposed the taxes, and developers and Realtors opposed fees.

Some citizens pursued individual civil action against their builders. The builders were not responsible for legal fees, so even those homeowners who were awarded damages, could not afford the needed repairs after their legal expenses. Some builders declared bankruptcy and went out of business.

We are based in Chesterfield and we do a lot of inspections in Brandermill. The important thing to remember is that its still an amazing community to live in and foundations can be repaired. If you live in Brandermill, regularly look for signs of foundation issues. The longer an issue is allowed to progress, the worse and more expensive it gets. If you are buying in Brandermill, make sure you get a quality inspector to inspect for signs of foundation issues. As always, plan and budget for unexpected repairs.