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Get to know your house: Foundation types and tips

    Pop quiz: What type of home foundation do you have?

    Not sure? Don’t care? Well, the answer matters more than you may realize.

    If you would flunk a foundation exam, never fear. We’re sharing (pretty much) everything you need to know about foundations, including the different types that exist, tips for proper maintenance and how they may affect your insurance policy.

    411 on the 4 main foundations

    While quite a few foundation types exist, there are four that are considered the most common. They are the basement, crawl space, pier and beam piling and slab. 


    Basement:
    The basement foundation is an additional floor partially or completely below ground and built with poured concrete walls. It’s the deepest of the common foundation types and matches most or all of the floor space of the level above.

     

    Basements have a lot of benefits, including adding more square feet at a low cost and serving as a shelter from severe weather. However, given that basements are below ground, they’re more prone to flooding. Therefore, basements might not be ideal if your area experiences frequent floods.

     

    Crawl space: This is an enclosed area between the ground and the home’s first floor, which consists of short foundation walls that stand on footings. It provides limited access to things like plumbing, wiring, storage and other equipment.

     

    This type of foundation is often used in colder climates. It’s less expensive than a full basement, because it requires less material and labor. However, it doesn’t provide much protection from inclement weather.

     

    Pier and beam piling: This foundation uses piers that are set into the ground, with beams extending from pier to pier. Pier and beam, or pilings, are often seen in flood-prone areas and coastal towns, or on permafrost. This foundation, however, is not the right fit for areas prone to earthquakes or hurricane-strength winds.

     

    Slab: The slab is a raised perimeter foundation that supports floors and load-bearing walls. A concrete slab is often used, which serves as the bottom floor of the home. These types of foundations work best in climates that don’t experience ground freezing and thawing, because this can lead to cracks in the slab and shifting of the foundation.

    Maintenance matters

    Even if you don’t know much about foundations, you likely realize that a cracked foundation is not a good thing. Cracks happen when moisture leaves the soil and returns unevenly, which can shift the foundation, causing it to crack. Cracks can lead to interior damage, plumbing issues and sticky doors and windows.

    Foundation movement often happens during warmer weather when there’s not a lot of moisture, but there are some proactive steps you can take to keep your foundation healthy:

     

    • Inspect and catch it: Check your foundation throughout the year to look for any signs of wear and tear. If you see a crack, keep close tabs on its size – if it starts to get bigger, you may want to call a professional. 
    • Just add water: Cracks often occur due to lack of moisture, which can cause the soil to contract in different directions. To avoid this from happening, keep the ground beneath your home moist.
    • But not too much water: While moisture is good, a lot of water is bad. It’s important to check for standing water near the foundation and ensure that your home’s downspouts are directing water away from the foundation.
    • Landscape wisely: Make sure that landscaped areas are sloped away from the foundation to allow for drainage, as well as prevent moisture from invading it. Also consider where your trees are placed, because if a tree is too close to your foundation, soil shrinkage could cause damage.
    • Keep an eye on plumbing: Monitor for any plumbing issues that might arise, including leaks that release water into the ground and over-soften the soil.

     

    A peek into your homeowners policy

    Good foundation maintenance not only means a safer home, but it also means fewer insurance headaches. That’s because common foundation issues like soil expansion and poor construction are not usually covered by your homeowners insurance policy.

     

    Carriers consider these types of problems to be avoidable with proper foundation and home upkeep. However, you may be covered if the issue is related to plumbing; some policies cover water leakage from broken plumbing caused by cracking and sinking.

     

    Another instance where foundation damage might be covered is if foundation issues are a result of a natural disaster that’s included in your policy. For example, foundation destruction from a tornado, explosion or fire could lead to reimbursement.

     

    If you live in an area prone to earthquakes or floods and your home and its foundation are damaged due to one of these events, you should be protected. However, this is supplemental insurance, so you’ll need to have purchased this in addition to your regular policy (and have done so before the damage occurred).  

     

    Finding the right foundation

    When it comes to purchasing or building a home, the type of foundation may influence price but not necessarily insurance coverage. Crawl spaces and basements are more expensive to build, so they may lead to higher prices than a house built on a slab. However, one type of foundation doesn’t necessarily impact insurance prices more than another, per se. It’s more important to ensure that the home has the best type of foundation for the climate in which you live or the type of land on which you’re building. That’s because if your foundation isn’t the right fit, it’ll be more prone to damage, which will drive up the cost to fix your home.

     

    Hopefully after reading this you feel a little more knowledgeable about your home’s foundation. So, not only can you be more proactive about its upkeep, you can also ask the right questions when it comes to your insurance policy

     

     

    The ZebraResource Center