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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Greetings. I'm in my 20s, not a contractor, and seeking to build a home that will outlast me.

My research tells me that concrete is (somehow) still the best option for a foundation, period. It also tells me that pier & beam style foundations are the longest lasting, out of any concrete foundation.

That's good, but quite frankly, the longevity of even the best concrete foundations is far from impressive. Research in all of the corners of the internet returns similar echoes of "extremely durable" and "long lasting", shortly followed by "will crack within 10 years, allowing moisture and bugs in, and leading to the slow destruction of whatever building it's supporting". It seems like the only reason anyone still uses concrete for foundations is because we haven't found anything better. In 2020, do we still not have a better alternative? Have I missed something crucial?

My understanding is that a pier and beam foundation is no exception to cracking, but the cracking of a pier and beam foundation will not immediately allow moisture into the building. But it will still cause structural stress, which may indirectly lead to moisture and pest intrusion points.

TL;DR: I don't like the answers that I've been finding about concrete foundations, and honestly, I don't want to put my house on one. Are there alternatives? Is there a foundation material that is actually durable and long lasting?
 

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retired framer
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Most of the problems you are reading about are not a problem with concrete but the prep work the mix and the application. Done right and it will out live your grand children.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Most of the problems you are reading about are not a problem with concrete but the prep work the mix and the application. Done right and it will out live your grand children.
Would you be so kind as to drop a few hints, to point me in the right direction of what I need to know to have this done properly?
 

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Hammered Thumb
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You're overthinking longevity in terms of materials. A natural granite mountain created from the big bang will crack from shifting and water. A 1500 year old sequoia tree will have fissures. Concrete IS durable and will outlive you and many future generations if you pass on your DNA. You have 80-some years left of breath, so will you stay in that very same house, and during the house's usable life you (or another future resident if you leave) will not have any needs to change that house, the foundation, or anything else to fit the phase of life or some future invention? So is steadfast permanence really important to focus on? Are you applying the same principles to everything, so is slate roofing not good enough? What about plumbing and electrical?

There is also a misunderstanding of "pier and beam," it is not inherently better than a "slab-on-grade" or "basement stem-wall" foundation. You design one of the foundation types based first on the location, then your needs. You can't put a basement in sand or rock. You may need a raft slab for poor soils. You may want access to MEP under the floor, so crawlspace (pier and beam). You may have deep frost footings, so why not just capture the space for a basement. These design points are all separate from "concrete" as a material, and it has been performing quite well for many millenia.

An alternative to using concrete as a solid foundation for a hole in the dirt is a houseboat on water.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 · (Edited)
An alternative to using concrete as a solid foundation for a hole in the dirt is a houseboat on water.
The houseboat on water alternative is certainly an interesting thought, even though I’m quite certain it was a joke.

I suppose if I’ve opted for a water foundation 2 years from now, I’ll know who to thank. Wouldn’t be entirely surprised.
 

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Hammered Thumb
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Not trying to discourage anything, you just are a bit misled or have gone down rabbit holes on some things. I personally know, and have helped people who have formed edicts with keywords like "strong/fortress," "build it like a tank," "forever," etc which goes to the Nth degree compared to what a typical person would do by adding more screws, closer spacing, thicker stuff, whatever it may be to make them feel more comfortable. It is always that the "forest has been missed through the trees" by not fully understanding the purpose of a material or design. Anyone is free (to an extent) to do what they want; however, what I see is these kinds of paths strangles the person's thoughts and executable actions and they are stuck thinking and thinking instead of actually doing something.
 

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A good concrete foundation or concrete piers on stable earth will last for generations. I think you are worrying too much. It does not need to withstand a direct nuclear strike.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 · (Edited)
Not trying to discourage anything, you just are a bit misled or have gone down rabbit holes on some things. I personally know, and have helped people who have formed edicts with keywords like "strong/fortress," "build it like a tank," "forever," etc which goes to the Nth degree compared to what a typical person would do by adding more screws, closer spacing, thicker stuff, whatever it may be to make them feel more comfortable. It is always that the "forest has been missed through the trees" by not fully understanding the purpose of a material or design. Anyone is free (to an extent) to do what they want; however, what I see is these kinds of paths strangles the person's thoughts and executable actions and they are stuck thinking and thinking instead of actually doing something.
This thread is about improving construction quality, not discussing why you think there isn’t a point. If you have nothing valuable to contribute, then please carry on.
 

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retired framer
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Would you be so kind as to drop a few hints, to point me in the right direction of what I need to know to have this done properly?
You tubes about failure is common but concrete is the base for most anything important today. It is that for a reason.
There is a lot to look at when thinking about a foundation. Like location, landscape, size of house, soil type and condition.
 

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Hammered Thumb
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I’m sorry but the only real takeaway from your posts is “lower your standards”, and it just doesn’t resonate. This thread is about improving construction quality, not discussing why you think there isn’t a point. If you have nothing valuable to contribute, then please carry on.
Not at all, there's the missing the forest through the trees, my purpose in joining on this site was to actually raise DIYers standards and methods. Questions are good, but you are not looking for specifics, you are theorizing about practices developed, studied, and improved since B.C. to the extent that human ingenuity is currently capable, and I'm just trying to bring you back to earth.

Good luck with your spa structure!
 

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I’m sorry but the only real takeaway from your posts is “lower your standards”, and it just doesn’t resonate. This thread is about improving construction quality, not discussing why you think there isn’t a point. If you have nothing valuable to contribute, then please carry on.
I think 3onthetree's contribution would be very valuable, if you would take the time to understand it. There is building better and stronger, and there's just wasting materials and effort. More mass or more expense doesn't necessarily make it better; in many cases, it makes it worse. A foundation or structure needs to be strong enough in the right places.

You can put the house on a 3' thick, heavily reinforced slab, but all you've really done is waste money. A properly engineered concrete foundation of the right type for the soil conditions will last many lifetimes, and will more durable and cost less than one that is just made big. A pier and beam foundation is only the best where it's needed, otherwise it's worse and more expensive than the right type for the conditions.
 

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For the orig poster: So you’re only 20 (implying little experience), not a contractor (implying no experience), have read a bunch of stuff on the internet or you tube or wherever telling you that concrete is a ”lower standard” than ”pier and beam”, and have come here asking for advice. And then when you get it and it isn’t what you want to hear, you tell us that we have nothing valuable to contribute???? Just checking, since that’s what it sounds like. and ok, off I go.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 · (Edited)
I think 3onthetree's contribution would be very valuable, if you would take the time to understand it. There is building better and stronger, and there's just wasting materials and effort. More mass or more expense doesn't necessarily make it better; in many cases, it makes it worse. A foundation or structure needs to be strong enough in the right places.

You can put the house on a 3' thick, heavily reinforced slab, but all you've really done is waste money. A properly engineered concrete foundation of the right type for the soil conditions will last many lifetimes, and will more durable and cost less than one that is just made big. A pier and beam foundation is only the best where it's needed, otherwise it's worse and more expensive than the right type for the conditions.
--
 

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Concrete is he best product for most foundations. If poorly done, if faulty materials are used, or if the earth is unstable there can be failure. If you are worried about a well built concrete foundation with good materials on stable soil, I suggest that you get a home that has wheels as its foundation.
 

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Where are you building ?

Around here, continuous strip footings are common. You need to put footings down below the frost line, onto undisturbed soil. If you don't want to worry about foundation cracks, just don't build a basement. Its not like the house is going to sink or lean over (unless your builders are totally incompetent and paid off the building inspector). (Although it is potentially possible to see a drywall crack.) A foundation may crack, but unless you have a basement, you really don't need to know or care. If you have a basement there are ways to mitigate water issues from future cracks, but if you don't build the basement, its not a big issue.
 

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The OP is correct about how responses targeting motive or feasibility are losing focus on the technical aspect of the question. Progress continues and maybe developments in materials, structural engineering or study of the distant past have something new for us vis-a-vis long lasting foundations. So, not being an expert in anything in particular, I have to ask - putting aside cost, regulations and efficiency, etc - if I have an itch to create a long lasting foundation, how would I go about it? The concept is intriguing.

Some random thoughts:
  • Some buildings have been around for many hundreds of years - how are they doing it?
  • And, old European castles, at least some have original foundations and walls - how was this done?
  • Every material decays with time - could the foundation be "serviceable"?
  • When the signal-to-noise ratio of the internet is poor, go to a more authoritarian source such as a professional organization or a university research library.
  • Which common candidate material has the longest life?
  • What are some of the "unusual" foundations?
Considering that a foundation is an interface between the natural earth/rock and the lower supporting portion of the structure, foundations either float on the ground or penetrate the ground. The foundation is under compression and movement of the foundation is usually detrimental to the above structure.

I do not have experience to have a feel for which lasts longer: a slab or a pile/caisson. Is the pole always n=made of wood, steel and/or concrete? Regardless of the depth, the pile/caisson is hidden away and is deteriorating at some rate - it must reach end of life at some point. The question is: how long? Sure, there are many factors that can shorten/prolong life but even a general average would be a starting point.

After going down the slab vs pile path, there are the crazy foreign non-conformist ideas. Cantilevered, suspended, compliant, organic, floating and more - maybe one technique will prove feasible.

Off the top of my head, I would start with columns of stone (granite?), or maybe steel, of sufficient diameter and number to support the structure. Depth would probably depend on local soil conditions. Working with an engineer/firm is a good idea and is may likely be required depending on the state/county/city of the construction. Maybe extend above ground enough to allow easy access for inspection, maintenance and/or remediation of both the exposed pillars and the underside of the structure. Also, I would think that would be like a hut in the tropics: if you don't extend the siding to the ground you have a lot less insect problems.

If projected life of stone/steel falls short, I would try and come up with a means of "servicing" or replacing sections as the need arises. Not quite sure how to do this (you really cannot replace a caisson every 100 years!) but I am sure it has been discussed somewhere.

Also, there probably is a forum somewhere that has covered long lasting construction and foudations and it would be worthwhile to find it (be sure to ping me when you do!)

Updates of any ideas or project initiation would be welcome - this line of thought merits consideration.
 

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The OP is correct about how responses targeting motive or feasibility are losing focus on the technical aspect of the question. Progress continues and maybe developments in materials, structural engineering or study of the distant past have something new for us vis-a-vis long lasting foundations. So, not being an expert in anything in particular, I have to ask - putting aside cost, regulations and efficiency, etc - if I have an itch to create a long lasting foundation, how would I go about it? The concept is intriguing.

Some random thoughts:
  • Some buildings have been around for many hundreds of years - how are they doing it?
  • And, old European castles, at least some have original foundations and walls - how was this done?
  • Every material decays with time - could the foundation be "serviceable"?
  • When the signal-to-noise ratio of the internet is poor, go to a more authoritarian source such as a professional organization or a university research library.
  • Which common candidate material has the longest life?
  • What are some of the "unusual" foundations?
Considering that a foundation is an interface between the natural earth/rock and the lower supporting portion of the structure, foundations either float on the ground or penetrate the ground. The foundation is under compression and movement of the foundation is usually detrimental to the above structure.

I do not have experience to have a feel for which lasts longer: a slab or a pile/caisson. Is the pole always n=made of wood, steel and/or concrete? Regardless of the depth, the pile/caisson is hidden away and is deteriorating at some rate - it must reach end of life at some point. The question is: how long? Sure, there are many factors that can shorten/prolong life but even a general average would be a starting point.

After going down the slab vs pile path, there are the crazy foreign non-conformist ideas. Cantilevered, suspended, compliant, organic, floating and more - maybe one technique will prove feasible.

Off the top of my head, I would start with columns of stone (granite?), or maybe steel, of sufficient diameter and number to support the structure. Depth would probably depend on local soil conditions. Working with an engineer/firm is a good idea and is may likely be required depending on the state/county/city of the construction. Maybe extend above ground enough to allow easy access for inspection, maintenance and/or remediation of both the exposed pillars and the underside of the structure. Also, I would think that would be like a hut in the tropics: if you don't extend the siding to the ground you have a lot less insect problems.

If projected life of stone/steel falls short, I would try and come up with a means of "servicing" or replacing sections as the need arises. Not quite sure how to do this (you really cannot replace a caisson every 100 years!) but I am sure it has been discussed somewhere.

Also, there probably is a forum somewhere that has covered long lasting construction and foudations and it would be worthwhile to find it (be sure to ping me when you do!)

Updates of any ideas or project initiation would be welcome - this line of thought merits consideration.
Of course if you totally disregard cost, there are other materials that are as durable as concrete, at least in some environments - stainless steel, carbon fiber, fiberglass, etc. In the real world, cost can never be disregarded, though. Reinforced concrete is still one of the most durable materials for a foundation in most environments, and a fraction of the cost of any of those other options. There are better places to spend money to make a house last longer, than spending exorbitant sums on exotic materials for the foundation.

Steel reinforcing will begin to rust if the Ph level in the concrete drops too low, so stainless steel or fiberglass reinforcement is recommended where the concrete is exposed to salt water. However, the concrete itself continues to stronger over the decades and centuries. Properly engineered, a concrete foundation will long outlast the structure built on it.
 
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