The story is told about Michael Plant, a single-handed yachtsman, who took off on a solo crossing of the North Atlantic Ocean. He left New York Harbor in his yacht “The Coyote” with its teak wood decks, brass railings, and stately mast & sails. It was a magnificent sight, but two weeks into the voyage something went awry. The Coyote was found by a crew of a freighter capsized without the 8,400 lb. lead bulb that should have been attached to the keel. Plant died, not because his boat did not look great above the waterline, but because the weight below the waterline failed.
It is always what is below the water line, that which is unseen, that supports that which is seen. This is true for building foundations just as it is true for sailboats. So what steps should be taken as you design and build the foundation system of your next project?
Know your Site Conditions: All buildings rest on soil that is below the surface. Since each building site is unique in terms of specific geological conditions, each foundation system presents unique design problems on how the building and ground interact. This is why it is important that subsurface investigation be completed by soil borings or excavated test pits.
Select a foundation system specific to your building: One size does not fit all. Foundation systems can be shallow continual or isolated footings (less than 5’ deep) or grade beams supported by driven or augered piles. Generally foundation systems are of cast-in-place concrete with steel reinforcing, designed to support loading conditions from the superstructure above (that which is seen).
Perform continual inspections & testing during construction: Subsurface soil conditions can vary greatly across a building site. This fact makes it imperative that continual inspections and testing be performed during construction to assure that the soil conditions, foundation detailing and concrete strength are in compliance with the certified documents.
Just as Michael Plant’s story tells us that a sail boat without the proper ballast will capsize, a building without a properly designed and detailed foundation will surely fail. The foundation of a building is one of the most important systems of a building project because it is so very difficult to repair if it fails. Give us a call, we would look forward to designing “what is not seen” on your next project so “what is seen” stands for a long time.