Why You Should Not Dig Your Own Foundation

When it comes to building an addition or a separate structure, the first step is always digging the foundation. The foundation is likely the most important part of the overall construction. Without a strong, stable foundation, your new home, building, or addition will show cracks, leaks, or other damage. 

Digging a foundation is not as easy as setting the footings and pouring the concrete. Various types of buildings, crawlspaces, and basements will require different kinds of foundations. Some foundations will need to be thicker than normal in order to resist the buildup of moisture and maintain a heavy structure’s weight.

Excavation work of any type and size is more precise than you may realize, and it may be extremely dangerous. Prior to deciding that you are able to manage the digging and management of the foundation work yourself, keep reading to learn why you should rely on professionals instead.

What Is a Foundation’s Purpose?

You may assume that a foundation’s only purpose is to maintain a structure’s weight. Without a solid foundation, a home, building, or shed would simply sink into the ground or crumble. However, a foundation’s purpose is more than just providing a base and support for a structure, as they also do the following.

  • Foundations work to ensure that moisture remains out of your structure. Without a quality foundation made out of a durable and dense material like concrete, the wood framework of the house would absorb moisture and then potentially soften, split, crack, or allow mildew or mold to grow. 
  • Foundations also insulate structures from the cold. During the summer months, the ground beneath a structure can be quite cold, and paper and wood building materials can end up absorbing this frigidity. Ultimately, a foundation will serve as a layer of protection between the ground and the structure, protecting the building from getting too cold.
  • A stable foundation helps to protect a structure against the earth moving. The ground beneath a building will not only move during an earthquake or other natural disaster, but the ground can also move during other disturbances like vehicle traffic and running water. This movement can result in the floors, walls, ceiling, and framework of the structure cracking, splitting, and chipping.

What Exactly Makes a Quality Foundation?

Foundations must fit the construction project or structure, similar to the way that a suit needs to be tailored to the individual who is wearing it. Footings must be precise or the measurements of the structure will not be accurate. This type of inaccuracy may cause windows to be off-center as well as other final details that are unsightly.

The excavation of a solid foundation needs to also account for the conditions of the soil and the water tables of the area. If the soil is extremely moist or arid, it may be unable to provide adequate support for the foundation and the concrete may need to be stronger and thicker in these instances. Heavy structures like homes that have stone countertops and floors may need stronger foundations.

Why Do Foundations Fail?

A foundation should ultimately last for decades, possibly even forever. However, all foundations are not strong, stable, and sturdy. In fact, some may develop severe chips and cracks. It can help to be familiar with some of the more common reasons that foundations fail so that you can avoid the mistakes when you are digging foundations and having the footing poured.

  • The backfill that surrounds a foundation may hold too much water. Nonorganic matter and clay tend to carry an excess amount of water, and that water is absorbed later by concrete foundations. Excess amounts of water tend to also put pressure on foundations, resulting in cracks and leaks.
  • A foundation isn’t allowed to properly cure. A lot of contractors, unfortunately, rush through a job and begin work on the structure prior to allowing the concrete foundation to cure completely. It is recommended to use plastic to wrap the cement, which allows moisture to be trapped along the surface. Give the foundation a few days to completely set before building over it, which ensures that the cement is durable before the construction commences.
  • Failing to compact the base of the foundation properly. Generally, a foundation is poured over a based of crushed rock so the concrete does not seep into the ground. However, if the stone isn’t compacted properly, the concrete may settle into the ground anyway, resulting in the concrete shifting and cracking.
  • Failing to pour the foundation all at once. In order to properly cure, concrete requires several days to sit. However, concrete starts to dry immediately after being poured. In the event that a concrete professional were to interrupt to the pouring process, such as coming back the following day, a seam or joint may form between the two separately poured sections. This joint or seam may allow moisture to get in between the concrete segments, and the foundation may then shift and settle or possibly start to crack.

Mistakes That Should Be Avoided When Digging Foundations

An excavating professional should be contacted to dig the trenches that are necessary for a structure’s foundation. However, if you make the decision to dig them yourself, you should familiarize yourself with the mistakes that you should avoid. In doing so, you can make sure that the job is done right. Alternatively, it may convince you how important it is to leave this particular type of job to the professionals.

  • Make sure that you are familiar with restrictions regarding your work, based on the permits. There are a lot of local building codes that will dictate many of the details regarding your jobsite and excavation, including the distance between the structure and the overhead power line, nearby fences, easement, etc. Minor errors in these codes can result in significant repair bills later on, often which are far more expensive than the costs of foundation excavation.
  • Make sure that you have removed the tree roots from the site where the foundation will be poured. It is not enough to simply pull up a stump to ensure that the roots will not continue to grow and essentially wrap around the concrete, resulting in cracks, splits, and other damage of the foundation.
  • Check if there is a bobcat, hydraulic digger, or other similar equipment that can access the jobsite before you actually rent it. Some equipment may be heavier or wider than you assume and may be unable to reach smaller lots or lots that have steep or narrow entryways. 
  • Make sure that you have a plan for the soil that is going to be removed. You can’t just pile the dirt next to the trench, since this can result in a landside or collapsed wall, and digging a considerable foundation may lead to even more evacuated soil than you imagined. There are some companies that will remove your fill dirt for no cost. However, whatever the case, make sure that you have considered all options before you begin the digging process.

Why Excavation Can Be So Dangerous

If you have done your due diligence regarding your permits and know what equipment you need for the job, you may assume that you are ready to go. However, this type of work can be incredibly dangerous for an assortment of reasons. To help you avoid potential risks, you should familiarize yourself with the possible dangers of excavation work, which may help you decide that you should simply leave the job to the professionals.

  • In the event that the wall to the trench should collapse, an individual could potentially get buried in the dirt. However, it is also possible for a worker to get stuck in a small pile of collapsed debris and dirt. The pressure from this dirt can cause someone to suffocate, even if the individual is not completely buried in the soil. 
  • Excavation can often create a significant amount of dust and sandy debris. If individuals on the jobsite are not wearing the appropriate breathing apparatus and protective gear, he or she may breathe in this dust and debris, causing them to suffer sinus issues, lung irritations, and eye irritations. In addition, the soil may contain mold, asbestos, and other irritants that may cause additional damage to the lungs and sinuses.
  • Homeowners may be aware of the fact that they need to have any power lines underneath the ground marked, but they may forget about the overhead power lines. Lifting a bobcat bucket or a shovel over your shoulder could result in one of those lines being hit and getting electrocuted. 
  • Without adequate bracing, the walls of any excavation can be fragile. If you move any piece of equipment too close or stand too close to the edge, it can be extremely dangerous, since the edge can potentially collapse and result in severe injury.

Aside from safety, there are numerous reasons why you should hire a professional to dig your foundation. The cost of digging the foundation may be cheaper than renting the equipment to clear the site and digging it yourself and also having the displaced soil hauled away by a company. In addition, professionals will have insurance to cover the cost of any potential damaged property and can make sure that the necessary permits are secured ahead of the job. This all ensures that your excavation job gets done safely, quickly, and effectively from the get-go.

If you would like to learn more, get in touch with us at Kurtz Excavating.