10 Best Practices for an Eco-Friendly Building Foundation

Building any kind of structure depends on a solid base. The overall sustainability of the finished product starts with eco-friendly building foundations. 

What choices should you weigh carefully to minimize the environmental damage from your project? Here are 10 best practices for an eco-friendly building design. 

1. Site Selection

The location of your build influences the type of foundation you choose and its overall eco-friendliness. Part of sustainability involves constructing things that last so you aren’t constantly spending more energy and materials on repairs. 

One of the biggest obstacles is choosing the most suitable site for drainage. Poor drainage can result in water damage, which can crumble a foundation and the building attached to it, causing environmental harm and requiring extensive remediation to render it inhabitable. 

2. Foundation Design

Another consideration is your foundation’s design. Should you go with a basement, slab, piles, pier, and beam? Local ordinances may dictate your choices, although developers working on large-scale projects may have more influence. 

Today’s tech makes it easier to design eco-friendly building foundations using precast designs. These are excellent for subdivisions with similar lots and natural features, as manufacturing occurs in a climate-controlled environment to prevent wind, rain or snow from impacting structural integrity. 

3. Water Management 

Water can destroy a building’s foundation. Those who are building on slopes must create paths for runoff to occur to prevent flooding and deterioration.

Features contractors might consider for directing water away from building foundations on slopes include: 

  • Swales
  • Dry streams
  • Rain gardens
  • Berms
  • Dry wells
  • Pervious paving
  • Retaining walls 

4. Energy Efficiency

Part of making a building’s foundation eco-friendly is how well it retains energy. Such designs may draw less power from fossil fuels and rely on readily renewable materials instead of those that require intensive extraction or both. 

Choosing low-embodied-energy building materials is wise. For example, substituting slag for concrete in building foundations creates a new purpose for industrial waste and reduces the need for mining calcium and silicon. 

5. Sustainable Materials 

Additionally, seeking sustainable materials for each stage of building foundation construction can minimize the environmental impact. However, you must also be wise. For example, hempcrete blocks provide superior acoustic and thermal insulation — they seem like a natural choice. However, you’re better off reserving them for constructing fireproof walls, as they lack sufficient compressive strength to serve as a foundation. 

Don’t throw up your hands, though. Concrete mixed with the right percentage of recycled plastic shows mechanical strength equivalent to those made from pure mortars. Increased use of such materials provides an alternative for the billions of bottles that often end up in landfills. 

6. Foundation Insulation

Insulation is a part of energy efficiency. The materials chosen and the design dictate how well a building scores. 

Exterior insulation for basement foundations often consists of three types: 

  1. Rigid mineral wool boards
  2. High-density polyurethane 
  3. Polyurethane/polyisocyanurate boards

Mineral wool is the most sustainable choice, as it comes from recycled materials like slag from the iron and ore industries. Polyurethane can contain volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), which impact air quality. However, today’s plant-based polyurethanes promise increased sustainability. 

7. Ventilation 

You might think of a foundation as solid. However, it needs to breathe, and its ability to do so influences its ability to handle minor shifts or crumble beneath its weight. 

Fresh air can prevent mold and mildew around your home’s foundation. However, having vents, you can open or close allows you to maintain superior energy efficiency in inclement weather. 

8. Foundation Planting

What you plant around a building’s foundation influences its longevity. Building a giant treehouse sounds like fun until you realize what the roots can do to the surrounding structure. 

Leave downspouts unobstructed by planting so water doesn’t pool around your structure’s foundation. Leave several feet of space between your foundation and the first plantings. Keep trees out at least 25 feet to avoid root system problems and prevent storms from sending wayward branches through your picture windows. 

9. Waterproofing

Waterproofing is essential to keeping your building’s foundation intact, which increases eco-friendliness by reducing repair needs. There are several methods to doing so on the exterior and interior

  • Interior sealants such as silicate
  • Waterproofing membranes around interior walls
  • Interior drainage systems like sump pumps
  • Crawl space encapsulation with a vapor barrier
  • Cementitious exterior waterproofing membranes
  • Downspout extensions 

Taking a preemptive approach is best, applying such solutions during the construction phase. However, those renovating older buildings can often include many of the same upgrades, although they may need to do a bit of exterior excavation to apply an exterior barrier. 

10. Monitoring and Maintenance

Finally, quickly addressing and repairing small problems before they become major headaches makes for a more eco-friendly building foundation overall. For example, you can often use epoxy resin in minor foundation cracks to prevent them from getting larger and introducing moisture and mold. 

What should you do? Inspect your foundation once per year by walking the perimeter of your structure. Inspect for cracks. Horizontal ones are more problematic than the vertical cracks that often occur during settling, especially if they involve bowing. When cracks grow big enough to slip a coin inside, it’s time to call the pros.

Best Practices for an Eco-Friendly Foundation

A building’s foundation influences its overall sustainability and plays a crucial role in supporting the rest of the structure. 

Follow the best practices above for an eco-friendly foundation that will withstand the test of time. Building better also means a more enjoyable environment for you. 

Author Bio

Jack Shaw is the senior writer for Modded, a men’s lifestyle publication. An avid outdoorsman and lover of nature, he often takes retreats to explore his environment and encourages others to do the same. His writings have been featured on sites such as Duluth Pack, Tiny Buddha, and more.

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