Building New Slab Over Foundation Rubble

Kevin writes: In 2013 we decided to demolish our existing home (build in 1941) and build a new home in the same place. Because our neighborhood is built on 85-foot-deep clay over a glacial lake, the old cinder block foundation had failed in the basement and we had serious moisture problems as a result. To prevent a repeat, we chose to not have a basement in the new home. Our contractor initially told us that they would be digging out the old foundation and placing new footings under where the … [Read more...]

Building on Poor Soils

Sandy writes: We were told the lot we were buying had "bad dirt" which didn't compact properly. So the builder is supposedly removing all the bad dirt and replacing it so that a home on a slab foundation can be built. How common is this practice and what can we do to ensure everything was done properly? Also, my husband saw them removing dirt and dumping it on the lot next door which needs building up. Steve Bliss, of, responds: There are some types of soils that do not … [Read more...]

Beware Expansive Clay Soils

Will writes: I have purchased a home on clay-type soil. No soil samples were taken, and my foundation has moved severely -- severely enough to have eighth-inch cracks in every room and the tile has popped loose. I started having these problems within the first 4 months of living in the home. We moved in just 2 weeks after the home was finished from new construction. At one point, the ceramic tile has “teepeed” roughly 2 inches above the level of the rest of the tile. My doors also don't shut or … [Read more...]

Building on a Wet Site

Ramakant writes: We are in discussion with a builder to buy a lot to build our new home. Currently it's a wooded area. However we discovered that this particular lot had a pond at one time covering almost 50% of the lot. Is it safe to build a new home on this lot? If so what are the things we need to consider? The builder says that we just need to stabilize the foundation with more concrete and other things. He says that this is nothing unusual and that they do very often. Steve Bliss, … [Read more...]

Foundation Damage from Buried Debris

Whitney writes: I recently bought a home and found out that the entire lot is backfilled with cinder block, brick, tiles, asphalt, and metal, which is causing damage to the foundation. Also, a large section of land keeps washing away due to all the buried debris buried. What can I do? Steve Bliss, editor of,  responds: Sorry to hear about your problem. Building on filled land like yours can lead to a host of problems. In most cases, the fill is poorly compacted, leading to … [Read more...]

Soil Washed Away Under Foundation

Steve writes: A friend recently moved into a property where a downspout leaked for years causing soil under the footings to be washed away on one corner of property. Their builder said they need to fill the void with concrete to provide support in that area. Is this a good approach and what would you call this remedy? Steve Bliss of responds: This sounds like a reasonable solution, referred to, in general, as underpinning. Underpinning is required when the soil beneath a … [Read more...]

Steep-Site Building Costs

John writes:  I  thought that I got a good deal on a sloping lot near Austin, TX.  Now, it turns out that the cost for just the slab foundation would be more than $100K, which I could not afford.  I am considering  hiring an excavator to clear the site and to reduce the slope, hoping that will lower the foundation cost. Do you think this is a good approach to cutting down the foundation cost. Are there other options I should be looking at? Steve Bliss of responds:  Site … [Read more...]

Building on Filled Land

Mike writes: I purchased a lot that was owned by the city I live in. Years ago the city used the lot as a dump for tree stumps, chunks of concrete, brick, and cut logs. The builder discovered the fill when excavating for the foundation. Since he could not build on top of this, he had to dig much deeper and use much more material, which ended up costing me more than $10,000 out of pocket.  The city did not disclose that the land had been filled with trash when selling the lot.  The lot is in a … [Read more...]

How Much Slope for Good Site Drainage?

Keith writes: Is there any recommendation to how high the grade of a home needs to be above an existing drainage ditch.  What is the typical elevation above the ditch needed to get water flowing? Steve Bliss of responds: Many basement water problems result from rain and snow melt that runs of the roof,  pools around the foundation,  and then runs down the foundation wall into the basement or crawlspace. The best solution is to slope the finish grade away from the house so … [Read more...]

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