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What is a Stem Wall?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 17, 2024
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Stem walls are supporting structures that are used as a means of joining the foundation of a building with the vertical walls constructed on the foundation. The wall is often constructed with the use of concrete and steel, and works with the foundational slab to create a solid basis for the building. Along with establishing foundational integrity for the building, these walls also aid in minimizing damage to the materials used to create the vertical walls.

When creating a house foundation involving a slab, the stem wall is adhered directly to the slab. Usually, it is made using cinder blocks that are reinforced with the use of steel components and concrete. In appearance, this wall sits on top of the slab and effectively provides builders with something to attach the walls of the structure to the slab.

While the slab may be at ground level or even recessed slightly into the surrounding ground, the stem wall rises above the surrounding ground level. Along with making it easier to attach vertical walls to the slab, the wall provides a raised platform for the walls. This can be important, especially if the materials used in creating the vertical walls are subject to deterioration from exposure to ground moisture or insects such as termites. By lifting the walls of the structure slightly above ground level, damage of this type is less likely to occur.

The presence of a stem wall is common to the construction of many different types of buildings. In addition to residential housing, public buildings often include one as a means of anchoring wall construction to the foundation. Manufacturing plants are also constructed with one for added protection and stability.

Not every building design uses this type of supporting structure. Those that are raised off the ground with the use of risers may or may not find the use of this device necessary, since there is no ground slab used in the overall design. There are building designs that make use of a wooden foundation coupled with a wood stem wall protrusion. While not serving all the same purposes as the concrete wall version, it does still provide additional support for the structure that is erected on a raised foundation.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including About Mechanics, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By anon995541 — On May 08, 2016

You never did actually define what a stem wall is. A stem wall is not necessarily placed on top of an on-grade slab. It could be

placed directly on footings. You say it provides a means of attaching the walls to the foundation. Very often, the walls are attached directly to the slab on grade. It's true: raising the framed walls farther off the ground prevents water damage.

By OeKc05 — On Jun 21, 2012

I helped my dad put up stem wall forms for the work shop he was building in his back yard. I thought it was great that he planned to do it himself, with only minimal help from a few relatives.

Though I knew nothing about the process, all I had to do was follow his instructions. We put up big sheets of plywood vertically, and we propped them up with 2x4's placed at an angle to the ground.

When we had the forms complete with the empty space in the middle, we had my uncle come in and pour the concrete into the gap. The result was a perfectly solid concrete stem wall that could stand on its own.

By wavy58 — On Jun 20, 2012

I saw a stem wall construction going on across the street. My neighbor hired my uncle’s crew to build his new house, so I got to observe the whole process, from the ground up.

I never knew that it was typical for workers to pour concrete between two wooden frames like this to add to the sturdiness of a building. It reminded me of putting frosting between cake layers to hold them together.

This stem wall was rather thick, and I believe that the house will stand the test of time. If I ever have a home built, I will want a stem wall included in the plans.

By Darrien — On May 24, 2011

Interesting! I didn't understand exactly what this was. We just relocated our house and had to have the foundation and stem walls rebuilt, so now I know what that exactly means.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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