The construction of every home starts with its foundation, an essential step before any walls or floors can be built. The type of foundation depends on both the style of home and its location. Basement and slab-on-grade foundations are the most common. Once the type of foundation has been determined, the excavation can begin. Digging through mainly soil will be much easier than excavating rocky areas. The water table is another important factor to consider.
Once the foundation is in place and well insulated, the exterior walls are built, either by framing with wood or steel studs, or using insulated concrete forms from the footing to the roofline.
As most framing crews are paid by the job, they rarely have the time to pick through a pile of studs to find the straightest pieces. So when it comes time to finish the basement, you may find that some of the studs are crooked, and these will produce a wall with a bow or wave in it. To remedy the situation, run a string from one side of the wall to the other and mark the studs that are not straight. Outward bows can be shaved down with a portable planer and inward ones can be shimmed to push them out from a concrete wall. If the inward-bowing stud is not against a concrete wall, the stud can be doubled with another, straighter stud. Just cut the straight one to the right length and insert it beside the bent one. Then shave the bowed side.
Basement humidity is not as noticeable in the winter, when the furnace is on, or in the summer, when the air conditioner is removing moisture from the air. In the spring and fall, however, excess humidity can cause musty odours in the home, and even lead to mould. First, check the airflow in the basement. If there is no natural airflow, your basement may need a humidity exhaust fan, which automatically extracts air when the moisture levels reach a certain threshold. Second, check the basement walls to see if there are any damp spots. Small cracks can be fixed with hydraulic cement, but a professional should be brought in to deal with larger ones. Finally, check pipes for leaks or excess condensation. Call a plumber for the leaks and use pipe insulation to stop condensation.
Many prospective house builders get caught up with the look and size of their new home and forget to carefully plan one of the most expensive steps of the process – the excavation. Whether you have a basement to build or just a slab, think about all your other potential excavation needs; trenches for geothermal heat pumps and holes for deck supports or garage footings only take a few more hours. Digging these after the home is built will be very expensive and time consuming due to the basic excavation fees as well as the need to locate utility lines and pipes and obtain the necessary clearance to carry out the work.
When installing a 4" perforated drainpipe around the footings of a home, it's easy to forget couplings and end pieces. To make a junction, cut four 10" slits lengthwise into one pipe with a utility knife. Squeeze the end of the pipe to decrease the diameter and slip it inside the second pipe. When you release it, the corrugations will catch on the inside and lock together. For an end piece, cut four 10" slits lengthwise. Cut off two and fold the other two back into the pipe.
In some homes, extra space can be created by opening up a wall. However, before blindly hacking down a wall with a reciprocating saw, you must realize that some walls are an integral part of the home's structure. A load-bearing wall helps carry the weight from the roof to the foundation. Interior walls that run perpendicular to the joists above and below are load-bearing walls. By checking the joists you will determine whether or not you can remove the studs. Before demolishing a wall, mask off the area to prevent drywall dust and sawdust from spreading through the home. Safety is an important consideration: always wear safety glasses and gloves when you work. Also remember that walls hide pipes, electrical wiring and ductwork. Turn off the mains power before you begin. Then, with a utility knife, carefully cut out the wall in small sections.
Because foundations are made from concrete, there is a good chance that cracks will form because of the stresses associated with the curing process. If a crack is wide, or if one of the wall portions has shifted askew, you should call a foundation specialist. However, small cracks up to ½" wide can be fixed with good-quality hydraulic cement. Chisel out the crack to approximately 1 ½" deep on both sides. Mix up the cement and trowel it into the crack, pressing as you work down the length. Then go back to the top and use the edge of the trowel to push the mixture deeper. Now, trowel one more time to smooth the mixture on the walls.
When building a home or garage that is not slab-on-grade, the foundation walls are built first, before the concrete floor is laid. The reason for this is that the weight of the building and the constant pressures caused by the movement and settling of the structure will cause the structure to shift slightly. The basement or garage floor floats so that it is independent of these forces and will not crack or, as can sometimes happen, break apart.
For homes built on a slope, every piece of flat ground is precious. Retaining walls can increase the square footage of land and are relatively easy to build. To build a simple, 4' wall with concrete landscape bricks, dig a trench 1' deep at the base of the slope and fill it with 1" washed gravel. Level the trench and lay the first row of bricks. Level them using a string. As you install each course of bricks, check for levelling. When you are halfway up, shovel some gravel behind the wall to provide stability. Finish building the wall and raise the gravel level to about 1' from the top. In this space between the top course and the slope, roll a piece of landscape fabric and cover this with earth. The top can be capped with special finishing stones, and shrubs or flowers can be planted in the soil.
Moisture in a basement can be caused by water running off the roof and along the foundation walls. If you already have a gutter system, an inexpensive solution to this problem is to extend the downspouts so that they deliver the water further out and downward from the foundation. Make sure to regularly clean the gutters and check for leaks or clogs.
Insulated concrete forms (ICF) are extruded polystyrene foam panels or blocks held together with plastic webbing and reinforced with rebar. Hollow walls are built with ICF from the footing up to the roofline and then filled with concrete. Once the concrete cures, the forms stay in place to act as effective insulation for the home. The webs are spaced so that siding and interior walls can be easily attached.
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