Living Off-Grid: Good Practices for Foundation Soils

| 7/12/2012 9:28:00 AM

So you are going to build a new home or have one built. That’s great! There are a lot of challenges but also a lot of rewards.

This blog is about one of the challenges you will face when you start your new home or addition. It’s also about one of the biggest mistakes made by seasoned builders as well as “do it yourselfers." It has to do with your foundation and what you are going to put it on.

We’ve all heard the old clichés about cornerstones and foundations being the most important key to a successful build. I won’t re-hash those here. We all know it to be true.

One of the most common mistakes made in foundation work is to put the foundation on unacceptable ground or fill.
I was asked once to build a concrete foundation for a house on crappy fill dirt. The property was sloped. The contractor had cut into the slope and then used that cut fill to level a building spot. Cut and fill to balance a site is okay, we did some of that here, but not if the fill is non compactable or unacceptable to carry a load without future settling. I refused to do the job because eventually that foundation was going to fail. One half of it was on good sub grade but the other half was going to be on poor load carrying topsoil. Where the two type soils meet there was going to be a break in the concrete foundation and settlement of one half of the house.

I have been hired to repair this exact type of damage. One half of the house settled and the other half stayed where it should. First we had to jack the sagging half of the house back up to level. Then we had to go under the sagging foundation and dig down until we hit good soil and put new foundation piers in to hold it up. It was very expensive and entirely avoidable.

In our case on our homestead, we were somewhat horrified to find that our topsoil was 4’ deep in the location we wanted to build. Most of our acreage has topsoil that averages 14” deep. It cost us more excavation money to move the topsoil off the building site but it had to be done. We had to get down to the native clay/gravel mixture you find here that is suitable to build on. We had to completely change our plans for grades around our home but again, it had to be done. It cost more than I had budgeted but not near as much as it would have if we had ignored the problem. We ended up with a completely different “look” of the grades around our house but it’s what we had to do.

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