The Three R(s) Apply to Foundations, Too

November 5, 2014 / No Comments

It seems a bit odd to think of a building foundation as helping the planet – or at least not doing as much harm as traditional foundations.

How different can they be, one foundation to another. Well, certainly there are several very different foundation styles that include different materials used, whether or not you have a basement and what the final outcome of the foundation could be. What does it actually accomplish? Besides just hold a building in place, that is.

reduce reuse recycle The Three R(s) Apply to Foundations, Too

With absolute consistency, like an environmentalist’s mantra, it the first concept to adhere to involves three Rs – Reuse, reduce and recycle. I recently read an article on re-using forms for concrete structures as a way to go green – or at least as a way to lean in that direction.

My first thought was how bizarre. When forms are stripped off of a concrete foundation, often the wood used was scrap wood that is not much good for anything except a wood stove, let alone using the splintered pieces for another foundation form.

But, you know what? Green is so much about the little things – turning a light off in your own home – that it must be said re-use of a foundation form is the right way to go. And if the wood ends up in the wood stove, then you may help cut down on electricity demand after all. So, yes, by all means, re-use forms, even if it for a different use the next time around.

Much of what makes a foundation green is the outcome, not the foundation itself. That is to say, a damp, leaky foundation isn’t going to do anyone any favors and will require more energy use than a dry, insulated foundation.

The larger, experienced foundation building and repair companies, of course, have experience helping homeowners make informed choices. Midwest Diversified Technologies Inc., to choose one, has  wide array of options and advice for Earth-friendly building. Local colleges with engineering programs or construction courses work hand in hand with construction firms to keep both the firms and themselves up to date on developments in the field. And why wouldn’t they? MDTI reviews these kinds of questions every day.

reuse reduce recycle The Three R(s) Apply to Foundations, TooGreenBuilding.com recommends using aluminum or wood for foundation forms and insulating a basement from both the inside – with traditional insulation options and on the outside with the use of rigid foam.

To reduce material needs, use polystyrene blocks for an insulated form and pour concrete into the void to add strength and rigidity.

Foundations should be well drained, generally with a tile and gravel exterior layer.

Another trick that leans green is to specify concrete with 15 percent fly-ash, which makes for a stronger and more waterproof wall.

It is also recommended that anyone building a slab-on-grade house switch to a frost-protected shallow foundation design, with spread footing, mat slab and several other designs that use less concrete and are cheaper to build.

Green does not stop there; in fact, it only begins there. When the foundation is in place, tiling and trenching are often needed to create a lawn and a garden that will not only be beautiful. Shade trees can cut down cooling costs enormously and wind barriers (a row of trees or hedges) can cut down on cold winter winds that drive up heating costs.

Ambient sun and shade are huge additions to a building’s green credentials.

To go green and remain politically correct, landscape with plants indigenous to your area. There is beauty in every biosphere. There is no real need to use an imported variety, when local varieties are so perfectly suited to local conditions.

As mentioned, first consider the three Rs: Reduce use, re-use and recycle. That matters when building a house, but it also matters that you consider what will reduce energy use down the line. Besides using earth-friendly techniques and materials to build a foundation, thee are also long-term gains to consider: An insulated foundation minimizes long-term environmental impact. It’s not just how you put the bricks in place, it’s what the bricks do for you long after you’re done building.