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Foundations Across Time: A Brief History

Over the centuries, the way foundations have been built and the materials used have evolved to now be the common ones found under most homes. Learn how different parts of the world choose to pave their foundations and the traditions that formed modern home building.

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When you hear the word foundation, a few things may come to mind. This word is used to describe things such as the start of a relationship, morals, and people’s characters. In the home repair industry, it takes on a more literal meaning. Your foundation is the base of your house, responsible for bearing the entire weight of its structure and keeping your family safe. When it becomes damaged or the structure begins to shift, it puts your entire home at risk.  

The origin of the word “foundation” comes from fundatio or fundare, the Latin word meaning “to lay a base for,” “confirm,” or “establish.” It also can mean bottom or base. As time went on, it turned into the common word we know today which is foundation.  

Foundation Types Across The World 

For the most part, foundations in America and many parts of Europe are built to be strong, solid, and durable, and are usually made from concrete. But in other parts of the world, foundations are built with less durable materials, some of which are weak and dangerous. In some regions of South America, as well as some Caribbean countries, they build stilt houses. As its name suggests, stilt houses are built using pillars (usually wood) to hoist the structure above ground. This is typical for areas that receive common flooding due to tides, hurricanes, or other natural storms. Although there are some homes along the coasts in America that use this approach, it still brings great risk. If in an area prone to soil erosion or washout, the stilts can become compromised if not far enough down into the soil.  

This doesn’t mean that all modern-day stilt houses are doomed to fail, most stilt homes built today use concrete to ensure longevity. Other stilt houses that use wood are usually the ones that see the most damage. Another way of building a home is called a pithouse, this type of home, frequently found in parts of Africa or other remote islands, is done by digging a pit and erecting the home in the center. This is usually done by surrounding the home with wood and mud for stability and using solid rocks to rest upon.  

The Concrete Revolution 

It is said that the Romans were some of the first people to use concrete to build large structures, but this came long after Nabataea traders in ancient Syria and Jordan used it. In around 6500 BCE, these people used to construct simple concrete floors, foundations, and rubble houses. Some of which are still in existence today.  

Centuries after, when the Romans learned of concrete’s strength, they used it extensively. For the next 700 years to be exact. This allowed them to build the domes, arches, vaults, and Coliseum which is still standing today. Their sophisticated approach to understanding the inner workings of this now widely popular building material paved the way for builders of the future. Once the Roman Empire fell, concrete became a lost art until its resurgence in the 14th century. A few hundred years later, reinforced concrete was invented in 1849. Shortly after this, the Industrial Revolution began and so did the construction of skyscrapers. 

During the 1940s when World War II was raging on, the United States experienced a building boom. As veterans returned home from war, they needed safe and durable housing. This led to the development of concrete foundations. This process was deemed faster as pouring concrete in a slab formation was more time-efficient and cost-effective than wooden beams and posts. Once concrete foundations picked up speed in the building industry, they evolved into two different types: raft foundations and strip foundations.  

During the early 1900s, when concrete foundations were becoming mainstream, raft foundations became the most common. These thick, reinforced slabs of concrete were able to effectively cover wide areas which reduced the amount of stress placed on them from a house. As decades passed, strip foundations became more relied upon as they provided support to linear structures such as walls and columns. They also were able to withstand heavier loads and were easier than raft foundations to build. 

Foundations of Today 

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During the mid-20th century, technology advanced to the point which allowed deep foundation holes to be dug by contractors. This resulted in larger buildings and eventually the skyscrapers which we see today. By digging deeper holes for foundations, larger design loads were able to be created using drilling and excavation. This allowed more stability to the buildings and different materials to be used for support such as timber and steel. These were installed by using pile drivers that forced them deep within the earth.  

Another common method of foundations is the shallow foundation. These are more typically used for the homes built today and offer more flexibility and ease of repair. They include earthbag foundations, rubble trench foundations, and slab-on-grade foundations. Along with the advancement of technology, these foundations can be repaired with helical piers, push piers, earth anchors, and retaining walls. All of which weren’t available centuries ago. 

Stabilize Your Home’s Foundation With Groundworks  

At Groundworks, we’re comprised of 19 different companies nationwide with expertise and experience in providing repair solutions for your home. We know that just like every home is unique, so is every foundation, and that’s why we offer tailor-made solutions customized to your home’s needs. During an inspection, a certified and knowledgeable member of our team will inspect your entire home and look for signs of damage. Afterward, they’ll walk you through what your home is experiencing, while giving you a written estimate of repairs. 

If your foundation is experiencing problems, don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our branches closest to you. After all is said and done, and repairs have been made, you’ll get back your peace of mind for the safety and stability of your home. It’s the Groundworks way.  

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