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Choosing the Right Foundation Upfront

When building a new home, short-term decisions usually include what floor tile to use in the kitchen or which coverings to put on the living room bay windows. Few homeowners think about which type of foundation offers the best long-term stability.

Most of them defer to their contractors, believing the builder is best-suited to make that decision. While this belief is true, contractors can only make decisions using the information the homeowner provides.

However, with little to no information about the soil they’re building on, contractors have no idea whether any foundation will perform as it should; performing a proactive soil investigation can eliminate that uncertainty and allow the builder to choose the most beneficial foundation option.

Soil investigations, however, cost money, and many people are unwilling to pay because it doesn’t seem as pressing as shorter-term matters. Homeowners who skip the soil assessment and choose the cheapest option risk letting their foundations deteriorate, which can lead to significantly higher costs to fix them in the future.

Foundation

Think Big; Don’t Spend Small

An obvious benefit to focusing on short-term savings is decreased spending. In construction, particularly, quickly completing projects is an equally powerful reason, which is why many people choose prefab and other low-cost decisions.

Prefab structures can be quickly installed and occupied with shallow foundations that transfer the building load to soils at or near the surface. As the most common and least costly foundation options, they work in superficial soils (less than 5 feet deep) strong enough to support the building with acceptable settlement.

However, faster construction time doesn’t always equate to long-term savings. I’ve witnessed lower upfront costs lead to huge expenses and extensive foundation repairs down the line; in most instances, paying more attention upfront to a foundation can mean taking less of a financial hit later.

Preserve Your Foundation’s Long-Term Health

Forget about saving costs at the beginning of a project. Make these few conscientious decisions for more long-term savings on your home’s foundation.

1. Consult with a geo-technical or structural engineer.

Hire an expert to work with the construction team building your home. A soil and structure design specialist offers valuable insight into what kind of material your structure sits upon. This information will help the builder decide what type of foundation will work best and will fall within the allotted budget.

2. Conduct a soil investigation.

Study the soil extensively or commission a geo-technical report to identify what kind of land your house will stand on. Even if the soil investigation is something as simple as a test pit, it will help contractors know what kind of foundation would be the best fit. For instance, a simple test may reveal that shallow foundations won’t work, while helical piles or other deep foundation can.

3. Check with local building authorities.

Consult local building departments regarding minimum requirements for foundation construction in your area. Each jurisdiction has specific characteristics and requirements that must be considered, such as expansive soils, uplift resistance, drainage, slope stability, and more.

Homeowners and builders gravitate toward prefab construction, shallow foundations, and other affordable construction options. Cost efficiency is certainly important, but it shouldn’t trump building a durable foundation. Consider the long-term consequences of saving in the short term on your home’s foundation.