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Building on Middle Tennessee's Red Clay

Building on Tennessee Red Clay



Middle Tennessee's rolling hills and scenic beauty are captivating, but beneath the charm lies a unique challenge for builders: the infamous red clay dirt. This distinct soil, while fertile and boasting vibrant color, presents a set of obstacles for construction projects. Let's delve into the negative impacts of red clay and explore how to navigate these complexities.

The Challenges: How Clay Soil Affects Your Foundation

Soils rich in clay and silt have the greatest potential to damage a foundation. Clay absorbs water easily, expanding in volume as it becomes more saturated. So-called "expansive clays" can cause foundations to crack, heave and shift.

When clay soils dry out, they shrink and crack, leaving gaps around a house where water from the next storm can penetrate easily and deeply to repeat the expansion cycle. Clay-rich soils usually cause more foundation damage by expanding than by contracting. 

The Double-Edged Sword: Building on Middle Tennessee\'s Red Clay - Image 2

Low Bearing Capacity:

Unlike coarser soils, red clay lacks structural stability. Building directly on clay without proper reinforcement can lead to uneven settling and structural failure.

How to Build on Red Clay

A house built on soils with high clay content will be susceptible to heaving forces because clay-rich soil expands significantly when it gets wet. The excavation for a foundation often gives the soil around and under a house a chance to dry out and shrink. After the house is built, clay-rich soil that gets soaked during wet spells can cause heaving problems, while also damaging foundation walls.

Foundation Reinforcement:

Deeper foundations, thicker slabs, and additional reinforcement like piers are often necessary to counteract clay movement and provide stability. At Frontier Foundation & Crawl Space Repair, we recommend installing foundation piers to stabilize, repair, and restore a foundation that's been damaged by issues related to foundation settlement and poor supporting soils. There are several different types of foundation piers; each one is designed to address a different kind of foundation problem. We install three different kinds of foundation piers: push piers, helical piers, and slab piers.

Improved Drainage Systems:

Drainage systems, sump pumps, and proper grading are essential to divert water away from foundations and prevent pooling.

The Double-Edged Sword: Building on Middle Tennessee\'s Red Clay - Image 3


Embrace the Red:
Living With Red Clay

While red clay presents challenges, it's not an insurmountable obstacle. With careful planning, experienced professionals, and appropriate construction techniques, building on red clay can result in safe and durable structures. Additionally, proper landscaping and drainage maintenance are crucial for long-term success.

Red clay contributes to the unique character of Middle Tennessee. Understanding its quirks and employing the right strategies allows builders to harness its potential and create lasting structures that blend seamlessly with the region's natural beauty.


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