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 foundationis, 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.
House Foundation Types
There are four common types of house foundationyou 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.
The deepest residential foundation, a basement is entirely below ground level. The space spans the length and width of your home and is tall enough for most people to stand in it. Many homeowners use basements as additional livable space and, because of this, many basements can increase your home value. However, since they are underground, basements are more susceptible to leaks and water damage. When building this type of foundation, it’s recommended to waterproof your basement at the same time 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 foundationtypes. According to Home Advisor, the average cost to build a basement for a new home is $18,000 – $30,000.
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 is just enough space between the ground and floor of the home for someone to crawl through, usually about 1 – 4 feet. There are several benefits of a crawl space. They 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 $8,000 – $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.
True to its name, slab foundation is made with one slab of concrete that’s 4 inches – 6 inches thick and can be reinforced with tension cables or rods. This type of home foundation is the most inexpensive, costing an average of $4,500 – $12,000 to build without reinforcement or $7,000 – $21,000 to build with additional reinforcement, Home Advisor estimates. And since there is 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, a slab foundation has 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 slab foundation, too. For one, there is 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 is 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 are still popular in homes in the south and in areas where shifting soil is common. This type of foundation consists of 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.
Like a crawl space, 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.
How To Repair Your Foundation
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 foundationand how to go about getting them repaired.
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 go up and down the foundation wall. They are usually caused by soil settlement. This happens when the soil around the footing is compressed or washes away, causing that part of the foundation to settle a little lower than the other parts. While these cracks are more common and do not necessarily indicate a major structural issue, they are 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.
The most serious type of foundation crack, a horizontal crack runs across the wall, sideways. These indicate a bowing foundation, which means your foundation walls are being pushed inward. A bowing foundation can lead to structural failure and cause the house to collapse. Horizontal cracks are the result of expanding and contracting soil putting extreme pressure on the foundation walls. 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.
There are a few ways to repair a bowing foundation. Some techniques 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, following a stair step pattern. These types of foundation cracks 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. In simpler terms, it means refilling or rebinding the space between the blocks. However, if the stair step cracks aren’t in the mortar joints and in the concrete block itself, that can be a bigger problem, like 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.
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 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. Whatever way it’s getting in, water is your problem here.
Water can cause your soil to expand or erode, both of which can cause foundation cracks and even eventual failure. If you are 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 is most common in crawl spaces and pier and beam foundations since they provide space for them. While they can’t cause damage to concrete or cinder block foundations, they 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 termite infestation, 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.
With any of the issues listed above, it’s important to get a professional inspection of the problem and get an expert opinion on how to fix it. Repairing your foundation can be costly, so make sure you’re choosing the right option. It may even help to get more than one opinion and price quote.
Other Things To Know About House Foundations
Here are a few additional things that are important to keep in mind when choosing your foundation type or when repairing foundation damage.
How Long (In Theory) It Will Last
Most foundations are built to last 100+ years. However, several factors come into play here. These include:
- material used (wood may not last as long)
- type of foundation you build (pier and beam may have a short life span)
- quality of construction
- type of soil and other natural elements
- how much water surrounds it
- whether it’s 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 To Choose Your Professional
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. And foundation work can be pretty expensive.
What The Overall Cost Will Be
As noted in the section on different house foundationtypes, the cost to build a foundation will depend on the type you choose. It may seem like a no-brainer to choose the most inexpensive foundation if you’re trying to save money, but there are still a few things to consider. For one, you may not be able to build a certain foundation in some areas. 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. While a basement foundation may be the more expensive choice now, it could very well save you money in the long run if it’s the best one to use in your area.
As far as how much it will cost to repair your foundation, that’s also dependent on the type and the extent of the damage. According to Home Advisor, the average cost for foundation repair ranges between $450 – $11,000. It’s best to have a professional come out and inspect the home and provide more information, including an estimate. This report will typically run you about $500.
A home’s foundation is the most important part of the structure. As you can see, there are a few different types to choose from, but not all are right for the area you choose to build your home. Take care of your foundation from the beginning by choosing the right one for your home and take 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.