Whether you’ve bought a home or are planning to build one from the ground up, one of the most important things to consider is the foundation. There are several types of foundations, but, in Austin, and throughout most of Central Texas, you’re most likely to find either Slab or Pier and Beam foundations.
Every home (and building as well) has a foundation, but what does it actually do? Aside from keeping your house above ground, foundations help prevent moisture, it keeps the home warm and helps stabilize it as the ground shifts over time.
The building of a foundation requires skill and patience as well as consideration for soil conditions, water drainage, the type of ground that’s being dug into and the type of materials that are used in construction. In some cases, foundation problems exist due to a rushed construction process and the use of subpar building materials. Other problems may also persist over time: poorly laid stone and brick walls can become loose over time, showing cracks and other strains, while concrete floors and patios can also form cracks, causing a variety of problems.
Four Different Types of Foundations
The Basement Foundation
While most homes in Austin and Central Texas don’t have basements, you’ll actually find a few out here. Typically, you’ll find homes with basements in the northeast, the mid-Atlantic states, and even in the midwest US. Much of this has to do with the frost line, the depth at which groundwater freezes, which is often deep underground. It rarely gets as cold in Austin as it does up north, as the frost line in Texas is often close to the surface of the ground. The lack of basements in Austin is also due to the risk of potential flooding, while the limestone bedrock in Central Texas is also seen as just too hard to cut through.
Basements are usually dug into a hole that’s around 8 feet deep and are finished off with a concrete slab. Most basement walls are constructed with cinderblocks, followed by beams being poured, then walls and then a slab inside the walled area, which helps keep the basement waterproof.
Most basements give you easy, internal access to plumbing and electrical circuits, as opposed to being underneath the house, but they also provide added square footage to your home for a laundry room or an extra family space.
The Crawl Space
While most houses in Austin have Slab or Pier and Beam foundations, you’ll find that some of these also have a crawl space, which, while a tight fit, is still easy to access. Crawl spaces provide access to any possible plumbing, electrical and mechanical issues. You’ll find it more common to have a crawl space in Austin and Central Texas homes, than you would a basement. However, crawl spaces can attract animals, so you may find a family of creatures and possibly termites living under your house if you don’t go down there that often.
Others problems you might encounter with a crawl space include sagging or sinking floors. If your floor seems not entirely level, or they bounce when you walk on them, you may have serious foundation issues. Depending on the severity, you may have to replace any rotting wood, especially if there’s excessive dampness, in order to stabilize problems with your floor.
The Pier & Beam Foundation
Pier and Beam foundations are very common in the Austin area. This type of foundation involves wood posts or concrete piers set deep into the ground in order to bear the weight of the house. Instead of resting on the ground, this type of foundation is elevated roughly 18 inches above ground level, allowing for a crawl space for easy access to electricity and plumbing.
This particular foundation is fairly easy to construct and not as expensive as the other types; it seems best suited for smaller homes, than larger ones. While it’s certainly a popular style, and not deeply rooted into the ground, you need to keep your eye out or sagging or creaky floors.
A pier and beam foundation can be problematic if it’s not water resistant. You can experience problems such as wood damage, mold and mildew, the presence of rodents and insects, temperature issues, sagging and water pools. It’s important to have this type of foundation maintained on a regular basis to prevent moisture and joist issues.
The Slab Foundation
Slab foundations are a flat layer of concrete poured onto the ground, a fairly uncomplicated process. Concrete is shaped into a beam that runs approximately two feet deep around the full perimeter of the foundation; the remaining sections of the foundation are up to 6 inches thick. Wire mesh and steel reinforcing bars (known as rebar) are then embedded in the concrete foundation.
Slab foundations are popular in warmer climates, compared to a colder one, where sub-zero temperatures can actually cause the slab to shift. One issue that can be problematic is that major pipes, including sewage, pipes are often set up before the concrete foundation is poured. This can be a headache if you have potential foundation problems and have to break away at the foundation on order to make repairs. Also, depending on how often your property experiences flooding, you could face foundation damage, such as sloping floors, doors and windows that stick and increasing cracks in your walls.
Regardless of the type of foundation your Austin home has, there’s always a chance that it may experience damage over time. If you have questions or issues with your home’s foundation, schedule an appointment with one of our Austin or San Antonio foundation repair specialists. Our experienced team will thoroughly evaluate the quality of your foundation and help you find the best route to safely repair any problems.