Planning for Soil Conditions and Setting the Footings

Project: Building an Addition for an Elderly Parent, Episode 1, Part 1

Bob introduces homeowner Howard Brickman, who is building a new addition for an aging parent that will nearly double the size of his colonial home in Norwell, MA. It showcases concrete building technology that is streamlined, efficient, and versatile.


There were some delays in obtaining a building permit because the home is near a quaking bog that serves as a wildlife habitat and natural filtration system for the town. Steve Ivas, an environment consultant, leads a tour of neighboring Black Pond Bog.  Formed by melting glacial remains, the pond is covered by a moss layer that has since formed a 20-foot thick fibrous mat.  At the home site, a hay-bale buffer was created on the property to protect a connected wetland from erosion or runoff during the project.


At every step, time and materials savings speed the construction and save countless hours of labor.  A monolithic pour, or single pour that would normally take three, is used for the concrete slab and frost walls.  ReddiForm's innovative plastic footing ICF forms are used to create and reinforce the structure.  Insul-Tarp is used to create an insulated vapor barrier and reflect heat back into the living spaces.  Fibers are blended into the concrete mix, eliminating the need for a traditional steel reinforced mesh.

Part 1: Planning for Soil Conditions and Setting the Footings
Bob introduces Howard Brickman, who is adding space to his home to make room for his mother-in-law. The house, approximately 2,500 square feet, was built by Brickman 24 years ago and has two stories, four bedrooms, and a full basement. With the addition—a full bedroom, bath, kitchenette, and large living area—the home will roughly double in size. In Norwell, MA, glacial activity left a mix of soil types, large rocks, and groundwater in the area surrounding the home. Steve Ivas, the environmental consultant who helped guide the homeowners through the process of securing permits for the house expansion, gives a tour of neighboring Black Pond Bog, an endangered ecosystem owned by the Nature Conservancy whose boardwalk and paths are maintained by the Massachusetts Audubon Society. The pond was formed about 10,000 years ago by a melting glacier. This is called a "quaking bog" because the surrounding plants and trees are growing on a sort of "life raft" on top of the water. Adjacent to the bog are wetlands that are protected by the town because they provide filtering of storm water and a habitat for wildlife, thus maintaining the town's ecological health. The headwaters for this interconnected wetland system are at the job site and will not be landscaped. To protect the site, an erosion-control system consisting of staked hay bales with a silt fence behind them was put in place. Bob talks with Howard Brickman about the challenging soil conditions on this project, describing the high water table and impermeable soils that must be considered for the foundation. To alleviate these problems, several tons of one-and-a-half-inch crushed stone are trucked to the job site. Waterproof Fab-Form plastic footing forms are used instead of typical wood forms to keep the water out and away from the footings. A plastic membrane is placed on the inside of the Fab-Forms to further protect the footings from water. Using this method has removed two of the three steps involved in the standard footing construction process. The forms double as the drainage-pipe material and will stay in place after the pour, eliminating the need to remove any forms once the concrete is set. With Fab-Forms, the slab and the footing with integral drainage can be poured at the same time, allowing for a smaller footing than is typically used in traditional installations.
Part 2: Preparing the Foundation
Part 3: Pouring the Foundation and Starting the Walls
More and more homeowners are converting their houses into multi-generational homes for themselves, their children, and their aging parents. In Norwell, MA, Bob Vila meets a couple making room for a mother-in-law.

Also from Building an Addition for an Elderly Parent

  • Episode 2 - Building the Foundation, Floor, and Walls


    <p>The finished addition will look like the original traditional shingled home and be indistinguishable from the house, but the construction technologies and innovative products in use are anything but traditional. Bob talks with Ron Ardres from ReddiForm about their polystyrene blocks, or ICFs, that reduce steps and labor.&nbsp; With contractor Todd LaBarge, Bob learns about Insul-Tarp and efficient concrete pours.&nbsp; Jason McKinnon of Viega North America and Tim Cutler, of TJ&rsquo;s Plumbing &amp; Heating explain PEX tubing and radiant heat.&nbsp; Jim Niehoff of the Portland Cement Association and builder Howard Brickman talk about the almost unheard of speed with which the addition is coming together and the anticipated energy-efficiency of the new building. By using concrete and foam construction for the footing, garage, first-floor slab, and walls, and also being used to set up for the upper levels of the addition, significant savings in time, energy, and cost are achieved.</p>
  • Episode 3 - Installing Garage Doors, Framing the Interior, and Upper-Floor Decking


    <p>Bob is on site where insulated, steel garage doors are being installed to replace the original, low-budget fiberboard doors. He walks through the new insulated concrete addition with the homeowner Howard Brickman, who explains how the layout of this in-law addition essentially doubles the size of the existing home. They talk about the concrete construction, how quickly it went up, and how insulated concrete form (ICF) construction allowed them to get a basement and slab, full upper story, walls, and first floor poured for nearly the same amount of concrete as a traditional basement wall-and-slab design.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This building process purposely uses innovative techniques and improved building practices &ndash; like the stay-in-place forms for the footings, the under-slab insulation and vapor barrier, the engineered lumber for I-joists and rafters, and the innovative DryPly decking being used for the second floor. Not only do these these technologies reduced waste, but any waste generated is being sorted for reuse.</p>
  • Episode 4 - Metal Roofing, Solar Roof Panels, Siding, and Trim


    <p>As the house is being closed in, work can begin on the roof. Homeowner Howard Brickman decides to install a special underlayment that will allow the roof to breathe and clear any attic moisture that might build up. A peel-and-stick membrane is applied to keep out exterior moisture before the Galvalume standing-seam metal roof is installed using a steel and aluminum mix that prevents rust and deterioration at the cut edges.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The roof is finished with a set of photovoltaic panels that will absorb the sun&rsquo;s energy and send it to a basement inverter that will convert it into AC power and store it for the household's electricity. If more power is generated than needed, it will be sent back along the power grid to the power utility for a homeowner's rebate to offset future energy spending.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The closing in of the house is completed with fiberglass-framed windows that feature low-e glass, a slim-profile sash, dual-operation sash that go up from the bottom or down from the top, and a tilt-in design for easy cleaning. The core humidity in the building materials is logged and the moisture is sucked out to dry the house before walls are installed and mold has a chance to take hold. Outside, preparations are underway to attach fiber cement siding and cellular PVC molding that will last without painting and can be profiled on site.</p>
  • Episode 5 - Finishing up with Cedar Porch, Fireplace, and Stone Veneer

Hi. I'm Bob Vila. Welcome to the show.

We're in the town of Norwell, just south of Boston, starting a new construction project that provides an in-law apartment onto this existing little garrison Colonial. We'll meet the homeowners and look at the house as it exist.

Also, an enviromental engineer helps us access the conditions of the soil and we'll look at some new construction technologies that rely on concrete. Stick around.

Many of us aging baby boomers are looking at the prospect of extending our families once again to include aging parents. This is something that we read about more and more these days.

In fact, we even read about three generations living together.

But right now, we're going to meet Howard Brickman. An old friend of the show's who's in the business of hardwood flooring installations. And Howard is a perfect example of man who is welcoming his in-laws or his mother-in-law, right?

Welcome Bob.

That's great. Howard, this is the house that you have lived in now for how long?

Twenty four years. I built the house twenty four years ago.

So you built it yourself, right?

Yes. Yes I did.

Tell me a little bit about it.

Ah, it's two stories. Its about twenty five hundred square feet, four bedrooms upstairs, full basement with partial garage underneath it.

And you've been an empty-nester in the house for a while.

About a year and a half, two years.

Interesting, and so it occurred to you, at some point, that your elderly mother- in-law was getting to the point where it made sense. I understand she's in great shape.

She's in fantastic shape and this is a great time to do a move with her. While she's, everything is, is working, she's happy, she feels good and she wants to do this so. This would be an excellent time, in her life, to make a transition.

And the important thing is kind of like, separate but equal, even though that's not a great term.

People want to have their own independence and they want to have their own kind of apartment. So tell me about what you're designing.

We've basically doubled the footprint of the house. It's about 36 by 42 feet. It'll be a bedroom , a bath and then a large area for a living room, kitchenette, that kind of thing.

That's perfect.

All right, so you've already gotten started with the project. We are only looking at the back of the existing house. Tell me a little bit about the ground conditions, et cetera.

Well, Norwell is a great town, but it's kind of the end of where the glacier stopped. So we have a variation of soils here. A lot of clay, a lot of rocks, and a lot of ground water. So we have varying conditions, including some wetlands and some other things to deal with.

And this site, we had conservation issues with the local conservation department that delayed our building permit for about eight weeks. So.

But we were lucky to get some help, right?

We got some excellent help. Steve Ivas, who is an environmental consultant jumped on board and really pushed us right through the process. He's a real professional and he really got the job done, and took a lot of the heartburn getting those things done.


We're here in a globally endangered ecosystem. Behind me is Black Pond Bog, part of the black pond nature preserve which is owned by the nature conservancy and the board walk we are standing on.

And the parts are managed by Massachusetts Autobun Society. This bog pond was formed by a ice block, after the Wisconsin glaciation, about ten thousand years ago, and what happened was the ice block melted , left the pond, and then.

The spagnum moss here grew out, over the pond and into the pond, died, and provide the substrate for all these herbatious species is here.

And in fact, this this particular bog, I'm down to the fibrous mat right about here a couple of feet down. But this fibrous mat is very thick. It's said to be about twenty feet plus in his area.

It's also called a quake ring bug because the shrubs like this, a summer sweet, or a sweet pepper bush. And then the trees here, Atlantic White Cedars, are growing on a sort of life raft on top of the water.

Across the driveway from the job site is this Vest Pocket Wetland. It's an isolated vegetated wetland about fifty feet wide. It's got a great herbaceous layer, which is the ferns that rushes sedges. It's got some great shrubs, and it's got some mature trees as an over-story above to provide great shade.

The town protects these small wetlands, which provide lots of filtering for the storm water coming off the street, also provides great wildlife habitat, and cover and nesting and food for wildlife.

Here on the job site we're at the headwaters of this little interconnected system along the roadway. There's a wetland, Vest Pocket Wetlands, here next to the other wetlands that we just saw, there are PVC pipe under the roadway. And it provides very, very good habitat and filtering for the storm water coming off the street.

Notice, it's not landscaped and it's in its pristine condition. Now, to protect this vest pocket wetland, we took and we designed erosion control system here which is composed of staked hay bales, doubly staked, with a silt fence behind it, dug in about four inches. And that prevents any erosion, sedimentation or runoff coming from our job-site here.

These systems may seem like small, insignificant, unlandscaped areas, but they're very, very important for the town's ecological health.

The soil conditions are pretty challenging here, aren't they Howard? I mean, you've got a high water table.

We have got a high water table and very impermeable soils.

And what you've done is you've trucked in several tons of, what is it inch and a half crushed stone?

Inch and a half crushed stone. I think were up to about seven or eight truckloads of it by now.

Wow. All right, explain to us how the footing went because I know that traditionally you build form work for footing using planks 2x10's or whatever. And you used an alternative here.

What we're doing is replacing the footings for the foundation that are going to support the load bearing walls.

And so we want to provide a form for doing that. And we're using a combination of a plastic material.

This is a fab form product. Its a plastic with a scrim in it that keeps the moisture from getting into the footing.

It's waterproof, so it prevents moisture incursion from below after the building is assembled.

We've replaced the normal wood form, which would have to be stripped and then an additional plastic pipe would have to placed for drainage around the foundation by using a one-piece plastic form drainage piece, and then placing our membrane on the inside of that.

When it comes to holding the forms in place and connecting the pieces together, we use a regular fine-threaded interior sheet rock screw to go through the stake, into the forming material. That way, when we go to pull the stakes out later, we just snap the screws off, and we don't have to worry about removing them and disturbing the form.

We've eliminated two of the three steps in the standard footing construction process. We have placed the form, and our form also doubles as the drainage pipe material. A standard wood form would have to be stripped away from the footing, and then drainpipe would have to placed adjacent to the footing. So, essentially we've removed all the work after the placement of the forms.

Good, good, good.

Because we can leave these forms in place, and don't have to pull them out after the concrete has cured. We take the inner form and reduce it by the thickness of the concrete slab.

This eliminate--this gives us the capability of pouring the slab and the footings at the same time and eliminates an awful lot of labor and an extra trip with the concrete truck. Okay, we're getting ready to start our first pour here at this project. We are just finishing out the footings.

We are going to be pouring this all in a monolithic pour and we're going to be able to do this by using ReddiForm. This is the first part where we're going to use ReddiForm today.

We are able to achieve our frost wall by going down four feet in these blocks. We can do that and back fill it because these blocks have a web in it and they can take compression.

And this is one of the huge advantages of ReddiForm. They go together.

We'll see a lot more of this later. But they just, snap together like that and then we stack our four foot wall up here and start to back fill it. The wall goes down four feet. And we've got a rebar cage in, and then we, what we do here is haunch the form, so we cut out the front face of the form and extended our rebar.

And essentially what we did is transfer our bearing up to the top of the slab, and conventionally this job would have taken, at this stage, three pours.

It would have done a footing, a frost wall, and then a floating slab inside. But with, by being able to do this with ready form, we are going to do all three of those pours in one pour.

This is actually our footing. We have fill coming up with, there's a wall above here at a later point. There's four foot of frost protection, which is going to be the soil, which is going to be the dirt, that's gonna give us our frost protection. So we put our footing right here. And this is ten inches thick, versus four inches thick here, and that's what we call it, is a haunch the footing, so we...

This is deeper and goes up to a shallower... It's just going to be the concrete slab for the garage floor.

This is at grade because there is going to be four feet of fill on this side. On this side there are gonna be the garage doors.

So now the garage door is going to be at grade, so you can drive in. Therefore, we need the frost wall. And by using ready form here, we can get our frost protection, four-foot frost protection, that's required by code, and have an integral footing, which is a huge savings of time.

It's gonna take three pours and turn it into one pour, and we'll be ready to do walls tomorrow.

This is a column pad which is gonna give me the bearing for my load-bearing wall. For the main beam that's going to come down, this is also a haunch And our main beam or, wall is going to come right down the middle of the garage door and the floor is going to get framed onto that. With, as a frost wall only, the ready form didn't provide enough bearing for the point load that's going to come right here so we created this column pad which is gonna be tied into the footing intricately and it's all monolithic. For the column will come down right on this point.

Okay. Concrete's coming. We're going to get ready to pour and this product that we're using for underslab insulation is called Insultop. We've been using Insultop because, for one of the main reasons the guy has just started, laying Insultop about ten minutes ago , and we're done and ready for the concrete truck.

When it rolls out here, it forms the insulation and the vapor barrier, so the labor savings
is huge. And the cost is pretty much comparable to using a rigid insulation in the poly vapor barrier, but the labor is going to be. You're going to save on some labor.

So this is what the insultop is made up of. It's designed to be reflective, so when you put a radiant tubing on here, it will reflect the heat from the radiant tube.

So, you have a reflective layer you got another kind of an air bubble layer, and then two layers of some roll out insulation and another reflective layer.

So it's all in one and it comes out equivalent to conventionally, what we would have done is rigged insulation in a vapor barrier. So Howard, the slab was poured at the same time as the footing was poured. You've really saved a lot of steps here, haven't you?

Yeah, a very streamlined process. The footings are integral with the slab, is referred to as a monolithic slab .


And what's, what's underneath the slab?

We put an Insul-Tarp product that, it combines as a vapor barrier and insulation. We found it at radiantmax dot com.

And what's it actually doing for us?

It, it provides a barrier between the moisture that would be below the concrete slab.

It also provides an insulation value , an R6 or R7 insulation value, that prevents the heat loss from the space below.


No, this is really awesome, though, because you're pouring the footings and the hunch, and the slab and any reinforcing along the middle for the ridge wall, et cetera, all in one step.

It was very efficient.

Now, Howard, traditionally we use a ten by ten reinforcing mesh, a steel mesh that goes down before we pour our concrete slab.

You're not doing that here.

No, we were able to eliminate that by replacing it with the fiber mesh reinforcement that's actually placed at the ready mix plant. It is small fibers that are actually blended in with the mix.

So it's in as an agregate.



Does that add to the cost of the concrete?

I assume it adds a little bit.

Not significantly?

Not significantly. It's still much cheaper than a traditional mesh.

And what about the thickness of the slab? Do you have to pour it thicker? No, it's a still a foreign slab, but functions the same. It's pretty much like mixing fibers and with any kind of products, when you mix plaster and horsehair. Same basic premise.

And what are the guys doing right now?

We're checking the diagonals to make sure that when we place the walls that it's very square. And everything, and the points are perpendicular.

Ron Ardrus is with us now and he's developed this ready form system. Ron, what are these made out of?

They're made out of expanded poly-styrene. They weigh nothing, it's just like a drinking cup material, right?

Exactly. The same material that, except this material is modified for flame retardant.

Okay, so the idea is that we will build this up to whatever our height is and then pour concrete in them.

Yes sir.

Now what's this man putting down?

This is our no tie re-bar chair, this will allow us to build the entire wall and drop the steel into that without tying it.

Okay, I can see it over here. What you're doing then is you're drilling into the concrete slab to install these sections of rebar.


Right through there.


That ties the wall to the existing slab.

Exactly, and they're for sheer off the wall, off the footing.


And so how high is this going to be?

This is going to be seven and a half foot high, the first floor. And then we're gonna incorporate a structural slab on top of it.

So that we'll be pouring the wall and the first floor slab, all in one pour with a different type of form?

Yes, we're going to use a foam form that goes across form this wall to the back wall as a structural slab and it has t beams in it, and that gives us the strength.

I can't wait to see it, but we're running out of time. 'Till next week I'm Bob Vila, thanks for joining us.



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