In some parts of the country where full basements have come to be expected, foundation walls are typically 8 inches thick and rest on a 12-inch-wide concrete footing. But like oversized headers and unnecessary framing members, these heavy-duty foundations may simply be a waste of money and resources.
Fernando Pagés Ruiz is one builder who thinks twice about the real value of building conventions and often finds a less expensive, more efficient way of getting the job done. His book, Building an Affordable House (The Taunton Press, 2005) details a variety of ways to reduce the cost and complexity of construction. By applying value engineering to foundations, he’s found a number of options that are worth exploring:
- Reduce the thickness of concrete walls, at least for some parts of the foundation.
- As soil conditions permit, skip the footing altogether.
- Consider foundation alternatives, such as treated-wood foundations and precast foundations.
- Reduce the thickness of slab foundations.
Some of these alternatives may require soil tests or special engineering, and there’s no guarantee that local code officials will embrace them. Yet the effort can pay off handsomely in the form of lower costs and a more efficient use of materials.