Solid Concrete Walls

Foundation Basics - Footings

By Ethan Davis

The objectives of footing design are:

  • to provide a level surface for construction of the foundation wall;

  • to provide adequate transfer and distribution of building loads to the underlying soil;

  • to provide adequate strength, in addition to the foundation wall, to prevent differential settlement of the building in weak or uncertain soil conditions;

  • to place the building foundation at a sufficient depth to avoid frost heave or thaw weakening in frost-susceptible soils and to avoid organic surface soil layers; and

  • to provide adequate anchorage or mass (when needed in addition to the foundation wall) to resist potential uplift and overturning forces resulting from high winds or severe seismic events.

By far, the most common footing in residential construction is a continuous concrete spread footing. However, concrete and gravel footings are both recognized in prescriptive footing size tables in residential building codes for most typical conditions . In contrast, special conditions give rise to some engineering concerns that need to be addressed to ensure the adequacy of any foundation design.

Special conditions include:

  • steeply sloped sites requiring a stepped footing;

  • high-wind conditions;

  • inland or coastal flooding conditions;

  • high-hazard seismic conditions; and

  • poor soil conditions.

Simple Gravel and Concrete Footing Design

Building codes for residential construction contain tables that prescribe minimum footing widths for plain concrete footings (ICC, 1998). Alternatively, footing widths may be determined in accordance with Section 4.3 based on a site’s particular loading condition and presumptive soil-bearing capacity. The following are general rules of thumb for determining the thickness of plain concrete footings for residential structures, once the required bearing width is calculated:

The minimum footing thickness should not be less than the distance the footing extends outward from the edge of the foundation wall, or 6 inches, whichever is greater.

The footing width should project a minimum of 2 inches from both faces of the wall (to allow for a minimum construction tolerance), but not greater than the footing thickness.

It should also be understood that footing widths generally follow the width increments of standard excavation equipment (a backhoe bucket size of 12, 16 or 24 inches). Even though some designers and builders may specify one or two longitudinal No. 4 bars for wall footings, steel reinforcement is not required for residential-scale structures in typical soil conditions. For situations where the rules of thumb or prescriptive code tables do not apply or where a more economical solution is possible, a more detailed footing analysis may be considered.

Much like a concrete footing, a gravel footing may be used to distribute foundation loads to a sufficient soil-bearing surface area. It also provides a continuous path for water or moisture and thus must be drained in accordance with the foundation drainage provisions of the national building codes. Gravel footings are constructed of crushed stone or gravel that is consolidated by tamping or vibrating. Pea gravel, which is naturally consolidated, does not require compaction and can be screeded to a smooth, level surface much like concrete. Although typically associated with pressure-treated wood foundations, a gravel footing can support cast-in-place or precast concrete foundation walls.

The size of a gravel footing is usually based on a 30- to 45-degree angle of repose for distributing loads; therefore, as with plain concrete footings, the required depth and width of the gravel footing depends on the width of the foundation wall, the foundation load, and soil-bearing values. Following a rule of thumb similar to that for a concrete footing, the gravel footing thickness should be no less than 1.5 times its extension beyond the edge of the foundation wall, or, in the case of a pressure-treated wood foundation, the mud sill. Just as with a concrete footing, the thickness of a gravel footing may be considered in meeting the required frost depth. In soils that are not naturally well-drained, provision should be made to adequately drain a gravel footing.

Concrete Footing Design

For the vast majority of residential footing designs, it quickly becomes evident that conventional residential footing requirements found in residential building codes are adequate, if not conservative. However, to improve performance and economy or to address peculiar conditions, a footing may need to be specially designed.

A footing is designed to resist the upward-acting pressure created by the soil beneath the footing; that pressure tends to make the footing bend upward at its edges. According to ACI-318, the three modes of failure considered in reinforced concrete footing design are one-way shear, two-way shear, and flexure. Bearing (crushing) is also a possible failure mode, but is rarely applicable to residential loading conditions. To simplify calculations for the three failure modes, the following discussion explains the relation of the failure modes to the design of plain and reinforced concrete footings. The designer should refer to ACI-318 for additional commentary and guidance. The design equations used later in this section are based on ACI-318 and principles of engineering mechanics as described below. Moreover, the approach is based on the assumption of uniform soil-bearing pressure on the bottom of the footing; therefore, walls and columns should be supported as close as possible to the center of the footings.

Reinforced Concrete Footing Design

For infrequent situations in residential construction where a plain concrete footing may not be practical, or where it is more economical to reduce the footing thickness, steel reinforcement may be considered. A reinforced concrete footing is designed similar to a plain concrete footing; however, the concrete depth to the reinforcing bar is used to check shear instead of the entire footing thickness. In addition, the moment capacity is determined differently due to the presence of the reinforcement, which resists the tension stresses induced by the bending moment. Finally, a higher resistance factor is used to reflect the more consistent bending strength of reinforced concrete relative to unreinforced concrete.

As specified by ACI-318, a minimum of 3 inches of concrete cover over steel reinforcement is required when concrete is in contact with soil. In addition, ACI-318 does not permit a depth less than 6 inches for reinforced footings supported by soil. These limits may be relaxed by the designer, provided that adequate capacity is demonstrated in the strength analysis; however, a reinforced footing thickness of significantly less than 6 inches may be considered impractical even though it may calculate acceptably. One exception may be found where a nominal 4-inch-thick slab is reinforced to serve as an integral footing for an interior load-bearing wall (that is not intended to transmit uplift forces from a shear wall overturning restraint anchorage in high-hazard wind or seismic regions). Further, the concrete cover should not be less than 2 inches for residential applications, although this recommendation may be somewhat conservative for interior footings that are generally less exposed to ground moisture and other corrosive agents.

Minimum Reinforcement

Owing to concerns with shrinkage and temperature cracking, ACI-318 requires a minimum amount of steel reinforcement. The following equations determine minimum reinforcement, although many plain concrete residential footings have performed successfully and are commonly used. Thus, the ACI minimums may be considered arbitrary, and the designer may use discretion in applying the ACI minimums in residential footing design. The minimums certainly should not be considered a strict “pass/fail” criterion. Designers often specify one or two longitudinal No. 4 bars for wall footings as nominal reinforcement in the case of questionable soils, or when required to maintain continuity of stepped footings on sloped sites, or under conditions resulting in a changed footing depth. However, for most residential foundations, the primary resistance against differential settlement is provided by the deep beam action of the foundation wall; footing reinforcement may provide limited benefit. In such cases, the footing simply acts as a platform for the wall construction and distributes loads to a larger soil-bearing area.

Lap Splices

Where reinforcement cannot be installed in one length to meet reinforcement requirements (as in continuous wall footings), reinforcement bars must be lapped to develop the bars’ full tensile capacity across the splice. In accordance with ACI-318, a minimum lap length of 40 times the diameter of the reinforcement bar is required for splices in the reinforcement. In addition, the separation between spliced or lapped bars is not to exceed eight times the diameter of the reinforcement bar, or 6 inches, whichever is less.

In our next blog, we will be discussing Foundation Walls.

(This information is taken from an article by Nick Gromicko and Ben Gromiko on the International Association of Certified Home Inspections website)