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Posted by Rickk Miller on Dec 23, 2014 in Home Help | Comments Off on Home Foundation Decisions: Should You Choose Pier and Beam or Slab?
In some parts of the U.S., there is more than one type of common foundation found in homes. That’s because construction allows for, or demands, that certain foundation types be used. For example, in North Texas and southern Oklahoma, homes use either a pier and beam (also called a post and beam) foundation or a slab (or “slab on grade”) foundation. When choosing which type for your new home, you’ll want to think about why each one is used. For that, a little history is in order.
Pier and Beam
Originally, prior to the 1960’s, all or most homes were built using a pier and beam structure. This type of structure was used primarily because the technology for laying slab concrete foundations wasn’ t as refined as it is today, but mostly pier and beam has important advantages over slab in certain parts of the country – especially those areas where soil is very expansive or where there is a distinct “wet” and “dry” season.
Then, grade beam is laid on top of the pier, and stretches across the home, connecting to other piers laid into the ground. The beam is similar, in concept, to beams in the ceiling or roof – they run long distances and are strong enough to support the home.
Under the beams are void forms. These are voids (spaces) that are left when void cartons (usually cardboard) rot away. The void cartons are used to provide structure for the concrete when it’s being poured.
These homes do not sit directly on the ground. Instead, they are situated up into the air. It’s a really cool process and, if you’re willing to pay the money for it, it’s often considered an excellent construction scheme. It’s reminiscent of the way homes “felt” in the 1800s, and it’s obviously worked well, hence why it ’s been used for so long.
The perimeter of the slab is usually only 2 feet deep, while the interior can be as little as 4 to 6 inches. Yes, this is what’s holding up the home. The concrete sits on top of 4 to 6 inches of gravel. To keep moisture from negatively affecting the concrete, a 4 millimeter sheet of plastic is used as a “vapor barrier.” Because it’s so simple to construct, many new homes use this method as it’s also less labor-intensive and doesn’t require as much time to design.
Why You Should Choose Pier and Beam
Simply put, there are a lot of advantages to using this setup. According to Foundation Repair Pros, a pier and beam foundation has a superior design over slab foundations. These types of foundations are easier to repair, it’s easier to get at plumbing under the foundation, and the wood platform construction makes for a more comfortable living space. They also help make a home more energy-efficient, since the air under the home acts as an insulator.
If constructed properly, the house will not move. Even if the pier and beam system isn’t designed and built optimally, any small shifts in the home can be easily fixed with steel shims.
Why You Shouldn’t Install Pier and Beam
Now, with all of the benefits of pier and beam, why wouldn’t you want to go with this as your first option? For starters, there’s cost. These foundations almost always cost more than slab foundations. Secondly, not all construction companies know how to build this type of foundation well. It requires a special set of skills that are, unfortunately, becoming more and more rare in the construction industry.
Low cost is replacing quality construction, largely due to demand. So, there’s simply a lack of qualified companies out there doing the job. For example, if the piers are spaced too far apart, they won’t do a good job of supporting the structure. As a result, the floor in the home might start to crack or sag. If this happens, you may experience problems opening and closing doors (they’ll shift in the frame).
Finally, if the construction crew doesn’t have experience with this design, they may not make the piers wide enough or dig deep enough into the ground, which will erase all of the benefits of pier and beam.
Why You Should Choose a Slab Foundation
The major reason to choose a slab foundation is cost. It’s much, much cheaper to build a slab foundation. Another advantage is that there’s no crawl space under the home so there’s no chance of water sitting underneath there, rotting your floorboards or foundation.
Finally, this is a super-easy foundation to pour, so many construction companies like it.
Why You Shouldn’t Install A Slab Foundation
Slab foundations have some major disadvantages, and many of them lie in the maintenance aspect of it. Slab on grade homes are hard to maintain. If you ever need repair or maintenance of pipes under the home, there’s just no easy way to repair them. There’s also easy way to repair the foundation itself if it cracks.
If you live in an area where the soil is expansive (it gets wet due to heavy rains and shifts or expands), you could find your foundation cracking over time, your house shifting or moving, or your structure becoming unstable.
Which Should You Choose?
Bottom line: if you don’t have much money to spend on labor, or you need ways to decrease the cost of the home, go with a slab foundation – especially if you live in a moderate climate. If you live in the north, or an area where there’s heavy rainfall or dramatic shifts in the temperature throughout the year, use a pier and beam foundation.
Kevin Myers is owner of Foundation Repair Pros, serving clients in Texas and Oklahoma. Kevin graduated with a B.S. in Environmental Studies from San Francisco State University in 1980 and an M. B.A in Engineering Management from University of Washington in 1991.
Kevin Myers is the owner of Foundation Repair Pro and he has completed M.B.A in Engineering Management from the University of Washington
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