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House Foundation: Types, Repair And More

9-Minute Read
Published on June 2, 2021
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Without a good foundation, your dream of homeownership could come crumbling down – literally. That’s why, when it comes to constructing your home, the first, and arguably most important, step in the process is creating the house’s foundation. Read on to learn more about what a house foundation is, why it’s important, what the different types are and how to spot and repair any foundation issues.

What Is A House Foundation? 

A house foundation supports the weight of the home, provides stability and keeps the home anchored in one place despite shifts in the soil or acts of nature. The foundation holds up your home and keeps it safe to live in. It’s also what provides a level base to build on.

What Are The House Foundation Types? 

There are four common types of house foundations you can choose from when constructing your home, each with its own pros and cons. The foundation you choose will depend on where you live, the type of home you have and your budget.

Basement Foundation

A basement foundation is entirely below ground level, and it’s the deepest residential foundation. The space spans the length and width of your home, and it’s tall enough for most people to stand in. Many homeowners use basements as additional livable space, and, because of this, many basements can increase your home value. However, since they’re underground, basements are more susceptible to leaks and water damage. When building this type of foundation, it’s recommended to waterproof your basement or you may have to in the future. This may include installing a sump pump, applying a waterproof seal to the exterior walls and surrounding the exterior with gravel.

Most basements are built with poured concrete or cinder blocks. The footers are built first, then steel rods are placed to reinforce the walls, which are constructed next. Once the walls are dry, concrete is poured to create the floor. Basement foundations are typically the most expensive house foundation types. According to Home Advisor, the average cost to build a basement for a new home is $10,000 – $30,000.

Crawl Space Foundation

A foundation built on footings and short walls – thus elevating the home off the ground – is known as a crawl space. As the name implies, there’s just enough space between the ground and floor of the home for someone to crawl through, usually about one to four feet.

There are several benefits of a crawl space foundation. These foundations typically have enough room to offer additional storage, and may hold such integral home systems as the HVAC unit, electrical and plumbing. Since all of these are above ground, you have easier access to these systems, should one of them need repair. Another benefit of a crawl space is that it’s less expensive to build than a basement. On average, it costs $7,000 – $21,000 to build, according to Home Advisor.

When thinking about building a crawl space, consider the drawbacks. Crawl spaces can be popular spots for rodents, termites, moisture and mold. To help combat these issues, make sure your crawl space has proper ventilation and insulation.

Slab Foundation

True to its name, a slab foundation is made with one slab of concrete that’s four to six inches thick and that can be reinforced with tension cables or rods. This type of home foundation is the most inexpensive, with Home Advisor estimating an average cost of $5,200 – $13,000 to build without reinforcement, or $7,000 – $21,000 to build with additional reinforcement.

Since there’s no additional space between the home and the ground, like in a crawl space, your utility bills will be lower. Along with these cost savings, slab foundations have additional benefits. For example, they take less time to build and rarely experience issues with rodents, insects, mold or mildew.

There are some drawbacks of a slab foundation, too. For one, there’s no additional space for storage or other use like there is with a basement or crawl space. You’ll also need to consider the difficulty you’ll face accessing your pipes if there’s a problem. The concrete is usually poured over plumbing, which can make a small leak a bigger issue. With the pipes concealed, you won’t notice a problem until your water bills skyrocket. And when there is an issue with your pipes, you’ll need to break through the concrete to fix it.

Pier And Beam Foundation

Pier and beam foundations were popular in homes built prior to the 1960s, and they’re still popular in homes in the South and in areas where shifting soil is common. This type of foundation consists of three main components: 

  • Piers: Concrete columns reinforced with steel poles that anchor deep into the ground.
  • Grade beams: A beam, typically made of concrete, that rests on the piers and runs from one pier to another, creating the perimeter of the home.
  • Joists: These are connected to the beams and the flooring of your home.

A pier and beam foundation also elevates the home and provides a small space to crawl through and to store and access important home systems. Because of the design, homes with pier and beam foundations may experience sagging and bouncy floors and similar problems as a crawl space foundation, including moisture, bugs and rodent problems. The average cost to build a pier and beam foundation is another similarity between the two foundations, though pier and beam can be slightly less. According to Home Advisor, the average cost is $8,000 – $15,000.

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How Do I Make House Foundation Repairs? 

Your foundation is one of the most important parts of your house. And while it’s strong enough to hold up the weight of your home, it’s not impervious to damage. Below are some of the most common types of damage to a house foundation and how to go about getting them repaired.

Cracking

Cracks in your foundation can be scary and, we’re not going to lie, could indicate a big problem. However, they can also stem from normal wear and end up being harmless. 

A good rule of thumb is if the crack is less than ⅛-inch wide, it shouldn’t be cause for alarm; however, it may be best to consult a professional. Let’s take a closer look at the different types of foundation cracks, what causes them and how to repair them.

  • Vertical cracks: Vertical cracks go up and down the foundation wall. They’re usually caused by the soil around the footing compressing or washing away, which further causes that part of the foundation to settle a little lower. While these cracks are common and do not necessarily indicate a major structural issue, they’re known to allow water in through the wall. The most common fix for this type of crack is urethane or epoxy injection, which provides a flexible seal.
  • Horizontal cracks: Horizontal cracks are the most serious type of foundation crack, and they run sideways across the wall. These cracks indicate a bowing foundation, which can lead to structural failure and cause the house to collapse. If you have horizontal cracks in your foundation, it’s imperative to have a licensed structural engineer come out to inspect the wall and create a plan to repair it. Some techniques to repair horizontal cracks involve bracing the wall with steel beams or braces, pulling the wall back with exterior anchors or installing a carbon fiber sheet over the wall.
  • Stair step cracks: Stair step cracks are vertical and horizontal, and are typically caused by soil pressure or settlement. They occur most often in brick and concrete block walls, and usually show up in the mortar joints, where two blocks meet. If the stair step cracks follow up the mortar joints, that probably doesn’t indicate a bigger problem. You can usually fix these cracks by repointing the mortar. However, if the stair step cracks are in the concrete block itself, that can be a bigger problem – maybe the foundation’s footing is moving. You’ll need to have a structural engineer take a look to best diagnose the problem and figure out how to fix it.
  • Shrinkage cracks: These cracks are ones that cause the least amount of worry. They are hairline cracks that come from normal wear or shrinkage of the concrete or mortar. They won’t change in size nor do they threaten the integrity of your foundation. You won’t need to worry about repairing these cracks, but you do need to keep an eye on them.

Leaking

Leaking is common in basements since they are underground. Leaks can come from a few places. They can come in through a crack in your foundation, seep through porous cinder blocks or be pushed up from the ground through hydrostatic pressure.

Water can cause your soil to expand or erode, both of which can cause foundation cracks and even eventual failure. If you’re building your home, waterproof the exterior of your foundation as you build it. This will help prevent any water issues and can save you a ton of money in the long run. If the home is already built, one of the best ways to prevent water issues is to install a French drain, fix the grading of your yard, extend your downspouts and figure out other ways to divert water from your home. You could also excavate around the perimeter of your home and waterproof it that way. However, this option will cost thousands of dollars.

Settling Or Sinking

Some settling is common, but serious settling or even sinking can threaten the integrity of your foundation. A few signs your home is sinking or settling are cracks in walls or above door frames, uneven flooring and doors that stick. To fix this problem, you may need to install concrete underpinning or concrete piers.

Termite Damage

Termite damage is most common in crawl spaces and pier and beam foundations, since they provide space for these pests. While they can’t cause damage to concrete or cinder block foundations, termites can weaken wood support beams.

Signs of infestation include seeing flying termites or piles of wings, mud tunnels in your crawl space and honeycomb patterns in your wood. To get rid of a termite infestation, you’ll need to contact professional exterminators who can create a custom treatment plan for your home. Treatment may include laying bait traps, using insecticides and spraying a protective barrier around the area.

FAQ: Home Foundation 

Here are a few additional things that are important to keep in mind when choosing your foundation type or when repairing foundation damage.

How Much Does It Cost To Build A House Foundation?

A home’s foundation is the most important part of the structure, which is why building one can cost up to $30,000. As you can see, there are a few different types to choose from, but not all are going to be right for the area on which you choose to build your home. For example, basement foundations are better for northern areas with a frost line, while pier and beam or slab foundations may be more suitable in areas with shifting soil.

Take care of your foundation from the beginning by choosing the right one for your home and abiding by some preventative measures from the get-go. This will ensure your foundation lasts a lifetime and keeps your home from dropping in value. If you’re buying a home, make sure you learn about the foundation before you purchase it. Ask your real estate agent, review housing disclosures for any red flags, have the home inspected and chat with your inspector about anything they find, especially with the foundation.  

How Long Will My Home’s Foundation Last?

Most foundations are built to last 100+ years. However, several factors come into play. These include:

  • Material used (wood may not last as long)
  • Type of foundation (pier and beam may have a shorter life span)
  • Quality of construction
  • Type of soil and other natural elements
  • How much water surrounds the foundation
  • Whether the foundation is reinforced

As a homeowner, some of the most important actions you can take to protect your foundation are to keep an eye on it, solve any issues immediately and keep water away from it. As a home builder, the most important thing to do is be proactive. Consult a structural engineer and choose the best foundation for the area’s soil, have waterproofing measures done to the foundation while it’s being built and choose a professional who will do a stellar job building it.

How Do I Find The Right Builder For My Home’s Foundation?

When choosing a contractor in your area to build your foundation or to make repairs to your existing foundation, consider experience first. Is the person licensed? Have they been in the business for a few years? Check their reviews. Do they have a ton of satisfied customers? Do they have complaints from homeowners who have experienced more problems or had their initial problems get worse? Shop around and get different quotes. While you want to get the best work done, you also want to be able to afford it.

The Bottom Line: Invest In Your House Foundation 

The house foundation may be expensive, but it’s the first step toward building the home of your dreams. If you want to avoid future problems with your home’s foundation, such as termite or water damage, it’s imperative that you research the type of foundation best suited for your location before moving forward with the home building process.

If you’re ready to lay your home’s foundation but not quite ready to pay for it, learn more about how construction loans can help finance your next home. While Quicken Loans doesn’t offer construction loans, we can help refinance construction loans into regular mortgages through Rocket Mortgage®.

Apply for a Mortgage with Quicken Loans®

Call our Home Loans Experts at (800) 251-9080 to begin your mortgage application, or apply online to review your loan options.

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Hanna Kielar

Hanna Kielar is an Associate Section Editor for Quicken Loans focused on personal finance, recruiting and personal loans. She has a B.A. in Professional Writing from Michigan State University.