Identifying Your House’s Foundation (What Kind Is It?)

foundation repair pittsburgh
Published on May 19, 2021

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Many homeowners find themselves asking eventually, how do I know what kind of foundation my house has? This information is especially vital when it comes time for repairs, as your foundation contractor will typically offer different repair options for various foundation materials and construction. Different foundation types also have varying lifespan expectations and maintenance needs!

If your home doesn’t have a basement, go outside and note if it has a crawl space or room between the home’s underside and the ground. If so, you probably have a pier and beam foundation. If not, your home probably has a concrete slab foundation.

Your home’s location is also a clue as to its foundation type, as certain foundation materials and construction designs are chosen according to soil conditions and local weather! Some foundations are also faster and cheaper to install, so they’re used for quick construction and low-income or very affordable housing.

type of foundation

A foundation inspection contractor near you can make quick work of determining your home’s foundation type and needed repairs, but consider a few added tips for inspecting your property yourself. You might also note a few added details about why certain foundation types are preferred over others, so you can choose the best type for new construction and know your home will always be resting on a strong, stable foundation!

How Do I Know My Foundation Type?

Check out some simple ways of identifying your home’s foundation type and why certain foundation materials and designs are used in various areas and for different house styles as well!

Basement foundations

A basement foundation is probably the easiest to identify! Basement walls, as well as columns inside the space, make up the portion of the foundation that supports the home’s overall weight. Basements are a favorite foundation choice for residential construction as they add storage and living space, which can increase the value of a home. Finished basements can even be converted into rental space, making your home an income property!

There are two types of basements; a full basement is completely underground and might have only small windows above ground or no windows at all. A daylight basement is only partially submerged; split-level homes with a sunken family room, popular in the 1980s, are an example of a daylight basement. That family room is mostly underground and makes up the basement but still has room above ground for large windows; a daylight walkout basement will also include an exterior door!

While most basement construction uses concrete poured on-site, some builders will use concrete blocks. These are stacked and joined together to form basement walls; since the blocks are already set and cured, there is less delay during the construction process.

One drawback to basement foundations, however, is that concrete absorbs moisture from outside soil and inside air; this moisture can soften concrete, leading to cracks, chips, and other damage. Basements are not always found in areas with overly moist soil including tropical states like Florida, and cities like Seattle or other areas in the northwest United States where rainfall is heavy throughout the year.

Waterproofing is an excellent investment for basement foundations, especially in areas with moist soil or if your home tends to trap humidity along the lower levels. French drain installations direct moisture away from the structure while sump pumps remove trapped humidity from inside the home, and waterproof coatings keep basement walls and floors dry and damage-free.

basement foundation

Crawl space foundations

If you walk outside your home and notice there is a gap between the ground and the house itself, this is a crawl space foundation. Most crawl space foundations allow about three to four feet between the home and ground, and homeowners might use that space for storage! That crawl space also allows you to access plumbing pipes, electrical wiring, and other fixtures running along the home’s underside, without having to pull up floorboards inside the home.

Most crawl space foundations are constructed with piers and beams; beams are horizontal planks that sit on piers, or vertical columns holding the home in place. These might be called wood foundations if the piers and beams are constructed of wood rather than steel or concrete.

Some crawl space homes sit on large blocks rather than piers, but piers provide added support for a home. Steel piers are also more resistant to water damage caused by flooding and trapped humidity, whereas blocks are often more affordable.

While crawl spaces offer some advantages, they are also one of the most expensive foundation types in use today. They also risk sagging and creaking floors, especially along areas not supported by the piers directly. Trapped humidity can also risk wood rot, mold growth, and damage to electrical features.

To protect a crawl space, consider encapsulation, which provides a protective coating over the ground and walls of the space. A vapor barrier is less expensive as it only blocks vapors coming up from the ground, but still offers excellent protection against water damage and mold. Encapsulation and vapor barriers also keep the crawl space cleaner and drier, for more comfortable access to the home’s underside.

Slab foundations

Slab foundations, as the name implies, are a flat slab of concrete poured onto the ground. A home is then constructed on top of that slab. If you go outside and examine the outer edges of your home and the house seems to sit on the ground itself or has just a small bit of exposed concrete around its outside wall edges, you probably have a slab foundation!

Slab foundations are typically the most affordable concrete type and are quick and easy to install, making them a favorite for developers constructing an entire block of homes. Some builders even work with what are called precast concrete slabs, which are poured offsite and allowed to set and cure before being transported to a construction site.

slab foundation repair pittsburgh

Precast concrete means not having to wait for the slab to cure before you can continue construction. A concrete slab also has less risk of absorbing moisture from the ground, which is why they’re commonly found in tropical areas or those with high humidity levels and heavy rainfall.

While less ground exposure can mean less risk of water damage, properties with slab foundations still need proper drainage, to prevent flooding and resultant cracks. Slab foundations also need regular inspections for weakening and settling.

The Most Common Foundation Type

Slab foundations are probably the most installed foundation type, as said. There are a few advantages they offer; one is that a slab foundation requires far less excavation than a basement foundation and uses less concrete than pouring basement walls. In turn, a slab foundation is faster and cheaper for builders to install.

Slab foundations also need less time for curing and drying, so new home construction can proceed faster than it does with basement foundations! A slab foundation also doesn’t need as much sealing, waterproofing, and other maintenance over the years as is required for basements and crawl spaces.

The downside of slab foundations is that they don’t offer the added space you get with basements and crawl spaces. Slab foundations are also typically less insulated than other foundation types and can lose heat along their edges, making homes colder throughout the winter months.

pier & bean foundation repair pittsburgh

Cheapest Foundation to Build

While slab foundations are cheaper than basements and crawl space foundations as they require less excavation and costly materials, it’s vital that a property owner consider more than just foundation installation costs when choosing a foundation design! For instance, if you might sell your home sometime in the future, will a slab foundation offer less resale value than a foundation with added storage, such as a basement or encapsulated crawl space?

A homeowner might also note if they will need the added space provided by basements and crawl spaces, either for storage or more comfortable living. A two-bedroom, ranch-style home typically offers more than enough space for a young couple just starting out, but what about when children come along? Will a smaller home offer enough living space for everyone and storage for clothes and toys they outgrow?

Basements and crawl spaces are especially vital for homes with limited outdoor storage or room for entertaining and relaxing. If your property won’t include a garage or if the garage will be small and cramped, you don’t want to store car parts and spare tires next to the home itself, creating an eyesore and nesting place for pests. A crawl space means hidden storage for unsightly items and a basement gives you added space for enjoying hobbies or for entertaining friends, away from the rest of the family.

Best Foundation Types for Beachfront Homes

Treated wood pilings are commonly used for beachfront homes, as these pilings are tough and durable and resist water, salt damage, and harsh weather conditions. It’s also vital to note that most building codes stipulate that beachfront homes or those in certain coastal areas be built above ground level or what would be considered the first floor. Wood pilings allow you to elevate the home while also allowing water to wash under it, protecting it from flooding and collapse.

Standard pilings

Most standard wood pilings are constructed from southern yellow pine, a strong yet affordable option that works well for most home construction projects. These pilings come in round shapes for a traditional look or square pilings for something more modern and simpler.

Polymer coated pilings

A polymer is a material that doesn’t separate easily; polymer-coated pilings provide added strength and protection against damage due to wind, flooding, and saltwater exposure. Polymer coated pilings are often more expensive than standard pilings but offer a longer lifespan and far less maintenance cost over the years.

Gun barrel pilings

Most wood pilings are tapered, with the larger end inserted into the ground. Gun barrel pilings have no taper, so they offer a stronger, more attractive look. They’re also more durable than tapered pilings. Gun barrel pilings are also typically more expensive than other pilings but can mean less risk of chips and cracking over the years.

concrete foundation

The Best Type of Foundation for a House

Choosing the right foundation for new construction depends on a variety of factors. To help you decide the best choice for your new home, consider some important features and details about your various choices:

  • First consider any local building codes, especially if you’ll be constructing a beach house or a home in a flood zone; you might be required to use wood pilings, piers and beams, or other foundation materials in certain areas.
  • In colder areas, homes might need to have a foundation that extends below the frost line. Depending on the depth of the foundation needed, you might only need to spend a bit more money to create a basement foundation, with added storage and living space.
  • Consider the slope of the lot. Crawl spaces are excellent for building on a slope as you can adjust the size and height of pillars or blocks, ensuring the home stays level and even and won’t shift or settle over the years.
  • Crawl spaces also allow for easier access to plumbing and electrical features, which can keep repair costs low and make DIY repairs much easier over the years!
  • While slab foundations don’t provide the added storage of basements and crawl spaces, their quick and affordable construction makes them an excellent choice for starter homes or those you want to sell quickly.
  • Consider the soil conditions around the home you’re constructing. If you decide on a basement on a lot with excessive moisture or poor drainage, include a sump pump or French drain installation, or opt for a crawl space foundation instead.
  • A property owner should also consider long-term foundation repair and maintenance costs and storage needs. Ensure you’re prepared to encapsulate a crawl space regularly as needed or apply waterproof coatings to basement walls over the years, to ensure your home’s foundation is always in good condition.

Pittsburgh Foundation Repair Pros is happy to provide this information to our readers and hopefully, it helped answer, “How do I know what kind of foundation my house has?” If you need foundation repairs or waterproofing, rely on our expert Pittsburg foundation repair contractors! We offer high-quality, durable repairs, backed by a full warranty. To find out more, give us a call today!

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