Have you ever watched a foundation crew work? They strain and sweat, lugging endless stacks of heavy, oily forms off a large flatbed truck down into the hole. They get covered with the release oil and concrete dust left on the forms from the previous job as they set them into position. In the summer, there is no shade and no relief. If the wind does make it down into the hole, it carries clouds of teeth-gritting dirt. In the winter, clothes go through freeze/thaw cycles as the work alternates between the heavy carrying and setting to the less-physical measuring, squaring, and checking.
The pressure is constant because the concrete trucks have been scheduled to arrive at a certain time and everything must be 100 percent complete. One missed piece of hardware can cause a catastrophe.
The next morning after the pour, the crew returns to strip the job and lug all the forms up out of the hole and back onto the flatbed, only to drive to the next job and start all over again. Early in my construction career as I watched a foundation crew, I said to myself, "If there is one job I never want to do..." Oh, if only I had a crystal ball back then.
In the mid 1990s, the foundation subcontractor I had been using decided to move on. He offered me a good deal on his trucks and equipment and he even included a couple of excellent workers. So I decided to supplement my construction business with a foundation company. The foundation business quickly dominated, and for the last six years, 80 percent of my work has been pouring hundreds of foundations.
So now I wear three hats -- general contractor, framer, and foundation contractor. It occurred to me that my experience in these roles gives me just the perspective I needed to write this book.
As a general contractor or construction manager, I address the design of the foundation as it relates to the characteristics of the building lot. A lot of money can be wasted trying to radically alter the contour of the surrounding land to accept a poorly thought-out design. Also, I explain the strategies to prevent either groundwater or surface runoff from becoming a problem. The cost to cure a leaky basement is astronomical compared with the effort required to prevent the problem. And, of course, there are always the contractor's budgeting questions. Why so much for angles? How much to add steel? Why should I pay for stronger concrete? Etc....
As a framer, I'm concerned with the details that will make life easier. A square and level foundation really helps to get things off to a smooth start. Correctly sized door openings, beam pockets, and anchor-bolt placement all contribute to reducing the aggravation a framer faces when he begins to work on top of a foundation. I also review the head scratching involved to determine which way to set a foundation out of square as is sometimes necessary when adding on to an existing out-of-square house.
As a foundation contractor, I explain all of the basics from concrete mixtures to forming and pouring. I put emphasis on a lot of common-sense practices and procedures and the reasoning behind them. I have poured foundations for many good builders and craftsmen who have very little knowledge in this area. As with any other trade in the construction process, the more you understand it, the better you will be with designing, budgeting, and scheduling.
In this book, I also cover flatwork (floors, walkways, patios, etc.) enough to give you a good understanding of how to form, pour, and finish it. The smaller walkways and patios are relatively easy. But if you plan to take on a larger project such as a garage or basement floor, be careful: It takes some experience to get the knack of concrete placement and finishing.
The few books about foundations that I have thumbed through over the years were either of the old school in that many of the methods are just too labor intensive, or the subject matter was too technical and did not always apply in the real world of residential construction. I wrote this book to answer all the questions I have faced as a novice and as a seasoned builder. Whether this book occupies a space in your office or gets kicked around the interior of your pickup covered with coffee stains and concrete dust, if it saves you time, steers you in the right direction, or prevents a major bungle, then I've done my job.