Nothing is more exciting than home building plans. Planning from the ground up can get a bit tedious, but it is all a labor of love for your future home. Despite all the exciting interior features, lovely countertop and cabinetry upgrades and other exciting distractions, the real goal is to build a durable, affordable and energy efficient home. Of course your home should be beautiful as well, and it can be, but the first concern is always structural integrity. Structural integrity is not always glamorous, and in this article we will be discussing foundations and soil.
Home Building Plans – Footings
Structural Integrity begins below ground with the footings. Footings must be dug, framed with a wooden form and then poured below the frost line. Frost line varies with the climate. The frost line in most northern states is deep enough that you might as well build a basement. Concrete is poured into the footing all the way around. It is important that footings are level and that they do not crack.
A foundation consists of brick, concrete block or insulated concrete forms that runs from the footing to the floor level of a home. There are four types of foundations, basement, crawlspace, piling and slab. Choosing between these three isn’t just a matter of personal preference. It is a matter of considering the climate, the soil, the water table and even the probability of termites in the area.
Basements work well in dryer climates, where the water table is deep. In some areas, especially in the south east, basements are prone to leak because the water table is so high. The tendency for a leaky basement can be combated by pouring gravel between the earth and the basement’s exterior wall. In some cases this gravel pit must be about three foot wide, to keep the basement dry, and there is no guarantee it will work, even then. Most people in these high water table areas, who have basements, suffer with flooded basements and water damage to everything down there at least once or twice a year.
In southern climates, where the soil is clay, a crawlspace is often the best solution. Historically southern homes were not even necessarily closed in beneath and instead stood on brick pillars. Today, with energy efficiency concerns it is necessary to close in the area under the home, but be aware that in most climates this leaves the home at risk for a build up of moisture. Moisture can cause mold and rotting. To alleviate the problem, crawlspaces should be vented. The vents should be open in summer and closed in winter.
Once common these types of foundations are rare except for costal applications. Beach homes frequently use wooden stilts or pilings to avoid flooding. This type of construction can also be used in low lying swampy areas, but it does compromise durability compared to building on consistently dry land. Each piling for a beach home must be driven 20 to 25 feet into the sand in order to be stable under flood conditions. Pilings eventually rot, and replacing them is extremely difficult.
Slabs are the least expensive form of foundation, but they also have more potential for problems in most climates. They are low to the ground and at added risk for flooding, termites and rot. Termites can be combated if the gravel bed under the concrete is traversed with a network of PVC pipe with holes in it. Insecticide for termites can be pumped into these pipes to combat termites. It still doesn’t work as well as if one could get under the home, but it does protect somewhat. Plumbing is also a problem with homes built on a slab, but the best way to handle that is to keep from placing water or drain pipes under the home. Having to dig up your living room floor to repair a water pipe is not a pleasant thought.
No matter what type of foundation you use, it is absolutely vital that the footings and foundation do not crack, that it is level and that it is substantial and durable. When considering home building plans, planning from the ground up is the first step to structural stability. For more information on foundations see our many other articles and download our 98 page free book.