Your Hard Working Foundation

        Since the invention of modern heating appliances,

we’ve come to expect more from our basements and

foundations than our ancestors did. They counted on

the cool, damp, consistent (and frequently flooded)

environment for food storage, and didn’t have expensive

furnaces, boilers, or water heaters to worry about.

        Nowadays, we want our foundations and

basements to never crack, never leak, and to protect

elaborate finishes,  heating equipment, and appliances,

such as washers, dryers and freezers.  Foundation walls

not only hold your home up, they work to hold back

water and soil.

        Reading a report by an engineer about the types of

soil around a building leaves you with the impression that

the soil is fluid - alternating between waves of frost, mud

and water - and flowing, expanding and contracting

constantly.  The idea of digging into this heaving mess to

create a solid, dry and permanent place to live a life

becomes a challenging one.  Your connection to this

muddy world is the foundation, the most unsung, least

glamorous, but most important part of your home.

        For a Northeast U. S. basement, it starts with a big hole, to get past the top four feet of soil that  can heave seasonally with frost, or puddle with mud.  In the days before backhoes and bulldozers, it would have involved a digging crew, skilled shovelers and pickers working their rectangular way down into the earth.  They would leave a ramp at the perimeter up two or three sides so that wheelbarrows could cycle constantly towards horses and wagons, waiting to haul away the dirt wherever the city needed it. Then and now, the digging might involve shoring up the sides of the hole, which could collapse and cave in. This sideways force never goes away. 

        Once a level hole has been dug - neat and square! - masons take over. Their medium is concrete or stone - impervious, massive materials that hold up to direct contact with the wet and moving earth, without degrading within a generation or two. In the old days, stone was the only choice, and they started with the big rocks first.  Today, a wide, thick band of concrete called the footer is usually poured first.  This is what the narrower, upright foundation wall sits on, and it spreads out the weight of the wall - now made from poured, formed concrete or cement blocks - and connects the foundation to the less dynamic deeper soil. 

        The walls rise up from here, and are expected to be strong enough to hold back the enormous pressure of saturated soil.  When you look carefully at an older basement wall, it’s quite common to see bowing, cracking and leaking.  Think of a boat, under pressure from water trying to get in. Any owner of a new or old boat will tell you that the water’s getting in all right, the important thing is controlling how much and how fast. In the case of a modern foundation, these controls are hopefully outside the wall, in the form of gutters and foundation drains and water proof materials added to the wall.

        Frequently, especially in older homes with stone foundations, the controls are inside, with a sump pump and pit, or in my memory, the whole family working with mops, brooms, buckets and backs.

        Protect your hard working foundation by keeping the water around it well controlled, and it will continue to hold you up out of the mud, and keep the wild earth at bay.

Campbell and Davies LLC    201 Dey St Suite 211 Ithaca, NY 14850   

607 216 0036    fax 607 216 0402   


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