The foundation is one of the most important parts of a home. Whether you are building, renovating, or looking to buy, consider the foundation. There are a few basic rules for new construction. They may seem obvious but they are, nevertheless, often overlooked.
- Choose the site carefully. Look for a knoll where there will be good natural drainage. If this is not possible, you will have to artificially create a good drainage system. This is not a place to pinch pennies. You do not want water in or near your foundation. Consider where your septic system will be. It should ideally be downhill from your home to allow for a gravity feed.
- Choose the best company you can find to do the concrete work. Again, this is not a place to choose a great bargain over quality. Listen to their advice and ask what their policies are. Their contract should be very detailed as to what is acceptable and what is not. Do not hire a company that simply gives you a price and a brief description of the work.
- Decide how you will insulate your foundation. We highly recommend Insulated Concrete Forms, also known as ICF Blocks. If you are not familiar with ICF blocks, there is lots of excellent information on the web. Insulating the foundation will significantly reduce your fuel costs.
- Talk to your contractor about waterproofing the foundation. Ask him for specifics. What type of material will they use under the floor, how will it be compacted, will they put plastic under the floor before pouring the concrete, and how thick will that plastic be. How will they waterproof the walls? How will your contractor prevent water from traveling up through the concrete via capillary action and into the sill plate? We still see newer homes with rotted sills because this was overlooked.
- What provisions are you making to mitigate radon? It is far better to assume there is radon and to at least put in the basic infrastructure.
- Double check the work as it is being done. Mistakes happen and they cannot be easily corrected. The person overseeing the concrete work should be familiar with the conditions necessary to get a good pour. Before the pour begins, double check the forms to ensure the measurements are accurate and that everything will be level.
- The earthwork around the foundation is as important as the concrete. You should, again, listen to the advice of your concrete company and your contractor. Make sure your contract has all of the necessary details; don’t just take someone’s word for something this important. Your contractor should be there to oversee the timing and the type of material being used around your foundation. You want a material which will promote good drainage. You should also think about making the long term maintenance of your home as easy, and therefore as inexpensive, as possible. Is the slope next to your home too steep for a ladder or staging? In most cases, your earthwork contractor can create a terrace for this purpose.
- Once your foundation is in place, do not sabotage the drainage area by adding loam past the height recommended by your contractor. Keep a good distance between your foundation and large plants. Make it as easy as possible for someone to work on your home without damaging your plants. This will save you money and headaches down the road. Mice love to run through gardens, under junipers, and trees. If you have a bird feeder too close to the house you will really encourage them to make their home near your home. The Swiss usually have a 3-5’ solid surface perimeter around their home. They use tiles, concrete squares with pebbles imbedded into them, or pavers. This surface protects the ground from erosion, prevents dirt from splashing up onto the house, and makes for a nice, clean, flat area for home maintenance projects.