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What is a Foundation Wall?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A foundation wall is a wall which rests on the footers of the foundation, and provides support for the weight of a house. Foundation walls are a critical part of the construction of a home with a perimeter foundation design, and they are one of the areas of construction in which it most definitely pays to take the time to do the job right. Problems with the foundation wall will ultimately lead to problems with the house, up to and including complete structural failure.

A number of materials can be used to make a foundation wall. Poured concrete is a common and popular choice, with some contractors using modular walls which are actually poured off site and transported to a building site. Blocks, bricks, and stone can also be used. In all cases, the materials must be load bearing, and the wall needs to be designed and built so that the weight will be distributed evenly over the footers of the house.

One of the most common problems with foundation walls is cracking. Foundation cracks can be benign or serious, depending on the location of the crack, the size, and the direction of the crack. Cracks can appear because the wall was built in a hurry, backfilled before the concrete had a chance to cure, or not properly reinforced. Earthquakes and settling of the underlying ground can also result in cracking of the foundation, as can damage caused by impact to the foundation.

Foundation walls can be installed after a house is built, as seen when a house with a post and pier foundation is retrofitted to install a perimeter foundation. Likewise, damaged foundations can also be replaced. In both cases, the house is usually raised on jacks which support the weight of the house while the foundation work is done. Foundation stabilization can be tricky work, and in urban areas, there are usually entire contracting firms dedicated specifically to repairing, stabilizing, and reinforcing foundations.

For commercial structures, building foundation walls can become much more complicated. The walls must be much larger, much more heavily reinforced, and capable of bearing huge amounts of weight once the building is finished. Engineering firms are usually consulted to design the foundation wall and determine the load requirements, ensuring that the wall will ideally exceed the need, as replacing foundations as a result of a foundation wall failure on large structures is not an enjoyable or cheap process.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a About Mechanics researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By ginSoul — On Jun 20, 2011

@qwertyq – Your post reminds me that there’s a trend towards people making their basements into functional living spaces. It sounds like you’re in the business, so I guess you already know that people now use their basements as dens, game rooms, and whatever else they can think of.

I think premade basement foundation walls have made this new trend possible. Like you said, they save you money and come with preinstalled insulation, which saves time. Using premade walls, a damp, drafty basement can be transformed into a cozy sitting room with minimal effort.

By qwertyq — On Jun 18, 2011

@Animalz – You’re right. It’s 100% necessary to waterproof your foundation walls. That’s one reason why I prefer to use precast foundation walls. The fact that the walls are already made gives me more time to waterproof them. They save me money too. I can’t imagine how expensive it would be if I had to pour the concrete by hand and somehow incorporate the strengthening fibers and metal bars that some manufacturers embed into their precast walls. Many walls come with insulation integrated right into the wall, so I don’t have to fuss with buying insulation, either.

Not to mention the labor costs I save by ordering customized precast foundation walls with precut openings for doors, windows, and electrical outlets.

By Animalz — On Jun 16, 2011

Foundation wall waterproofing is an important step when the walls are being installed -- I work in construction and remodeling, and I can't tell you how many homes I've seen suffer from shoddy foundation wall waterproofing. Since the article doesn’t mention that, I’ll explain a little bit. Like the article states, concrete is the most common material used in making foundation walls.

It’s great for this because it’s sturdy and can bear loads easily. It creates a robust foundation for any house. However, it’s porous and absorbs moisture from the ground. It can also absorb moisture from the surrounding air if the house is built in a really humid area. Over time, the concrete’s collection and release of water can erode away the soil underneath the house’s foundation. That can cause major problems and expensive structural damage.

The best way to prevent this type of catastrophe is to treat the concrete foundation walls with a waterproof coating. Coatings are easy to apply. Simply spread a thick coat onto the foundation wall, let dry, and then continue with your construction project. It’s a small step that can help prevent huge problems down the line.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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