Residential Building Footings

The construction of residential building footings, particularly for two-story structures, is a multifaceted process that demands meticulous planning and execution. Building solid and stable footings is essential for the structural integrity and safety of the entire building. In this in-depth educational guide, we will probe the intricacies of constructing residential building footings. We’ll explore the critical importance of adhering to building codes, look into the dimensions of footings, and examine aspects like keyways, penetrations, excavation, form types, reinforcement, and concrete placement. We will also discuss various types of footings, their purposes, and how they impact construction. Furthermore, we’ll explore topics such as curing and protection and the significance of drainage systems in footing construction, providing a comprehensive resource for anyone involved in the construction industry.

I. Adhering to Building Codes

One of the fundamental aspects of constructing residential building footings is adherence to relevant building codes and standards. These codes are established to ensure safety and structural integrity. In the United States, the American Concrete Institute (ACI) provides essential guidelines for dimensioning and constructing footings suitable for two-story residential buildings. Compliance with these codes is vital to guarantee that footings can effectively withstand imposed loads, ensuring the safety of occupants.

II. Dimensioning Footings

Dimensioning footings is a crucial step in the construction process. The thickness and width of footings play a pivotal role in the structural stability of the building. These parameters are determined based on several factors, including the type of wall, the soil’s bearing capacity, and local building codes.

The thickness of the wall governs the width of the footing. Commonly, the footing extends by 100 mm on each side of the wall. However, it’s important to note that these dimensions can vary based on the specific requirements of the project. If the soil’s bearing capacity is lower than anticipated, the width of the footing should be increased to address the issue. A bearing capacity of 96 KPa is typically considered adequate for the footing of a residential building with a maximum of two stories. Generally, a footing thickness of around 200 mm to 250 mm is sufficient for most two-story residential buildings.

III. Keyways: Ensuring Lateral Load Resistance

Keyways are a critical component of footing construction, as they are designed to resist lateral loads at the bottom of the wall. These loads can result from various factors, including backfilling and soil pressures. The provision of keyways is particularly crucial if filling work begins before the construction of the slab.

Keyways typically have a depth of 2.5 cm and a width ranging from 2.5 mm to 3.8 mm. Alternatively, dowels can be used as keyways. A minimum dowel design consists of placing bar No. 13 (No. 4) at a spacing of 61 cm in the center of the keyway. These dowels should extend 15 cm into the footing and 30 cm above it.

IV. Penetrations and Their Impact

When dealing with penetrations or trenches under the footing, it’s imperative to take specific precautions to ensure the structural integrity of the footings. Penetrations may include utility conduits, plumbing, or other services that pass through the area where the footing will be placed. These penetrations can create localized stress points, which need to be adequately reinforced.

For bridging penetrations or trenches under the footing, it is essential to provide longitudinal reinforcement that extends 61 cm on both sides of the penetration. This reinforcement is crucial for distributing the loads evenly and preventing cracks or failures in the footing. Typically, a minimum of two bar No. 13 (No. 4) is recommended for this purpose. However, if the trench or penetration span exceeds 91 cm, it is necessary to calculate the required reinforcement area more precisely.

V. Excavation: The Foundation of Stability

The excavation process is the foundation of the entire footing construction. Proper excavation ensures that the footing is set on a stable and well-prepared base, which is essential for the structure’s stability. Several critical considerations come into play during this phase of construction.

The depth of the footing should exceed the frost line of the project site. The frost line is the depth at which the ground freezes in winter. If the excavation depth exceeds the designated frost line, additional measures must be taken to address frost protection, as frozen soil can compromise the integrity of the footing.

It’s essential to use reinforcement in the footing to bridge short soft areas in the excavated area. The presence of different soil types, such as sands, clay, and silts, can impact the stability of the excavation. Conducting soil boring tests is recommended to determine the specific soil conditions at the site. Soil boring involves drilling a minimum of two borings for a maximum area of 150 m2. These borings should reach a depth of approximately 1.5 m from the bottom of the footing. The resulting soil investigation report should contain crucial information, including soil bearing capacity, soil type, and the location of different soil layers.

To ensure the integrity of the footing, it’s vital to prevent fill placement at the bottom of the excavation. Filling with materials that are difficult to test or compact can lead to potential issues. If using fill material cannot be avoided, sand or gravel is a suitable choice, and it should be compacted thoroughly to achieve the required specific gravity.

The bottom of the excavation should be free from standing water, mud, saturated or loose soil, and materials that may be washed into the footing during the construction process. Proper site preparation is essential to create a stable foundation for the footing.

Finally, if the project site is in an area where frost is expected, measures should be taken to prevent frost-related issues. This can be achieved by using insulation materials like straw, mineral wool, polystyrene sheets, blankets, batt insulation, or polyethylene films. These materials help prevent the ground from freezing, which can have detrimental effects on the footing. In cases where the frozen soil thickness does not exceed 5 cm, the heat generated by the concrete can be sufficient to remove frost penetration.

VI. Form Types: Choosing the Right Formwork

Formwork is the framework or mold used to shape and support the concrete while it is setting. There are various form types that can be used in the construction of footings, and the choice of formwork depends on project requirements and local practices. The correct formwork is essential to maintain the desired shape and dimensions during concrete placement.

Common types of formwork materials include wood, aluminum, steel, metal fabrics, synthetic fabrics, or plastic. In some cases, the excavation trench itself can serve as a form for the footing. The choice of form material depends on factors such as the size and complexity of the project, the availability of materials, and the project’s budget.

When using the excavation trench as a form, it should be excavated to a depth and width that can maintain the desired shape during concrete placement. The concrete is then placed and compacted to the required level, ensuring that it adheres to the form’s dimensions.

VII. Reinforcement: Strengthening the Footing

Reinforcement is a critical aspect of footing construction, especially when dealing with challenging soil conditions, high wall loads, or specific design requirements. The goal of reinforcement is to enhance the structural integrity of the footing and ensure that it can bear the imposed loads effectively.

When dealing with soft spots or minor trenches in the excavation

area, longitudinal reinforcing bars may be used. These bars are placed to bridge areas of reduced stability and ensure that the footing is uniformly strong. Transverse reinforcement may also be required when the soil-bearing capacity is low or when specified by the project’s designer.

The choice of reinforcing material is significant, and grade 280 or 420 deformed steel bars are commonly used. Recommended bar sizes include No. 13 (No. 4) and No. 16 (No. 5). Proper concrete cover is essential to protect the reinforcement from environmental factors and ensure its effective functioning. A minimum concrete cover of 7.6 cm to the bottom and sides of the reinforcement is recommended. Additionally, bars should be overlapped by a minimum of 30 times their diameter (30 db) to create a continuous and strong reinforcing system.

VIII. Concrete Placement: Ensuring Strength and Durability

Concrete placement is a critical phase of footing construction. It involves the process of pouring, distributing, and consolidating the concrete to create a solid and durable footing. Several factors should be considered during this phase to ensure the strength and integrity of the concrete.

Concrete can be placed using various methods, including direct chute, wheelbarrows, crane, pump, or conveyor, depending on the project’s requirements and accessibility. The choice of placement method can impact the efficiency of the construction process.

The slump value of the foundation concrete should not exceed 15 cm. Slump is a measure of the consistency and workability of the concrete. A higher slump indicates more fluid and workable concrete, while a lower slump represents a stiffer mix. However, a slump value of 20 cm is acceptable for concrete containing a high-range water-reducing admixture. It’s important to consult the project’s specifications and design requirements to determine the appropriate slump value.

The minimum compressive strength of concrete should be at least 17 MPa at 28 days. This strength level is vital to ensure that the concrete can withstand the loads and stresses it will encounter during its service life. In some cases, higher-strength concrete mixtures may be required, especially in poor soil conditions where additional transverse reinforcing is necessary to support the footing.

IX. Types of Footings: A Structural Overview

There are various types of footings used in residential construction, each serving specific purposes and accommodating different design requirements. The choice of footing type depends on factors such as the building’s design, load distribution, and soil-bearing capacity. The following are some common types of footings used in residential construction:

a. Continuous Footings (Strip Footings):

Continuous footings, often referred to as strip footings, extend along the length of the wall, encompassing the load-bearing sections of the structure. These footings are designed to support the entire weight of the wall and distribute it evenly to the soil. The width of continuous footings extends beyond both sides of the foundation wall. However, when continuous footings extend beyond the edge of the wall in dimensions greater than the footing thickness, additional measures, such as transverse reinforcement, may be required to ensure stability.

b. Pad Footing (Spread Footing):

Pad footings, also known as spread footings, are designed to transfer concentrated loads from columns or walls to the soil. They are particularly useful when a column or wall creates a higher concentrated load, especially when the wall height is significant. The dimensions of pad footings are determined based on the load transmitted through them and the soil-bearing capacity. These footings are essential for ensuring that the loads are distributed effectively and do not cause soil settlement or structural issues.

c. Thickened Slab (Shovel Footing):

The thickened slab, often referred to as a shovel footing, is a unique type of footing that is constructed monolithically with the floor slab. This thickened section of the floor slab is located along one edge or at some point in the middle of the slab. The primary purpose of the thickened slab is to support a bearing wall in the interior of the building. This type of footing is an alternative to supporting columns and offers structural stability while maximizing the usable space within the building.

Understanding the specific requirements of each footing type and their applications is essential for effective footing design and construction. The choice of footing type should align with the project’s design and engineering specifications.

X. Curing and Protection: Ensuring Longevity

Curing and protection are crucial aspects of concrete work, ensuring that the concrete attains its desired strength and durability. Proper curing and protection measures are essential for the longevity and performance of the concrete in residential building footings.

To protect the concrete from freezing, it should not be exposed to freezing temperatures until it attains a compressive strength of 3.5 MPa. Freezing can compromise the structural integrity of the concrete, and measures should be taken to avoid it. Common methods for preventing freezing include using insulation materials such as straw, mineral wool, polystyrene sheets, blankets, batt insulation, or polyethylene films. These materials act as thermal barriers, preventing the ground from freezing.

In cases where the frozen soil thickness does not exceed 5 cm, the heat generated by the curing concrete may be sufficient to remove frost penetration. However, it’s essential to monitor temperature conditions and take appropriate measures to protect the concrete during cold weather construction.

Protecting the concrete from wind and excessive drying conditions is equally important. This can be achieved by covering the concrete with polyethylene or other forms of moisture retarders. Wind and excessive drying can lead to surface cracking and reduced concrete strength. Proper curing and protection measures should be in place until the concrete has reached its desired strength and durability.

XI. Drainage Systems: Managing Water and Pressure

Effective drainage systems are vital in residential footing construction. These systems serve multiple purposes, including relieving footings from lateral pressure generated due to the accumulation of water in the soil and preventing water penetration through cracks or footing-wall intersections.

To manage water effectively, drains are placed at all footings adjacent to interior living or storage spaces. These drains help redirect water away from the footings, ensuring that it does not accumulate and create lateral pressure. The drain system typically consists of slotted PVC drain pipes or clay pipes. In some cases, these drains are installed integrally with the footing structure to provide comprehensive drainage.

The top of the drainage system should be positioned below the top of the interior slab. This arrangement ensures that any water collected by the drain system is effectively channeled away from the footing and the structure’s interior. To further aid drainage, the drainage system is typically covered with gravel and filter paper to facilitate water flow.

The drain water collected by the system should be disposed of properly, either into a sump pump or a storm sewer. Effective drainage management is crucial for preventing water-related issues and maintaining the structural integrity of the footing.

XII. Advanced Techniques and Technologies

Modern construction practices and technologies have introduced advanced techniques for footing construction that enhance efficiency and durability. Some of these techniques include:

a. Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs):

ICFs are a type of formwork system made of insulating materials like expanded polystyrene (EPS). These forms are used to create the shape of the footing and are left in place after pouring the concrete. ICFs provide excellent insulation, reducing energy consumption and improving the building’s energy efficiency.

b. High-Strength Concrete Mixtures:

In some cases, high-strength concrete mixtures are used to achieve superior load-bearing capacity. These mixtures may include additives or admixtures that enhance concrete strength and durability.

c. Post-Tensioning:

Post-tensioning is a technique that involves applying stress to the concrete after it has cured. This process can increase the concrete’s strength and resistance to cracking. It is often used in large or complex structures.

d. Foundation Drainage Systems: Modern foundation drainage systems can include advanced features such as moisture sensors, automated pumps, and monitoring systems. These technologies help manage water effectively and prevent foundation damage.

XIII. Soil Conditions and Geotechnical Engineering

Understanding the soil conditions at a construction site is a critical aspect of footing design and construction. Geotechnical engineers play a crucial role in assessing the soil properties, conducting soil tests, and providing recommendations for the footing design.

Soil types, including sands, clays, silts, and gravels, have unique properties that impact the load-bearing capacity of the soil. The bearing capacity of the soil is a critical factor in determining the size and depth of the footings. Geotechnical reports provide essential information about the site’s soil, bearing capacity, and other geotechnical considerations.

XIV. Environmental Impact and Sustainability

Sustainability and environmental considerations have become increasingly important in construction practices. The choice of materials, construction methods, and their impact on the environment are key concerns. Green building practices focus on reducing the carbon footprint and enhancing energy efficiency. In footing construction, sustainable practices can include the use of recycled materials, responsible sourcing of materials, and energy-efficient concrete production.

XV. Quality Control and Inspection

Quality control and inspection are vital components of footing construction. A rigorous inspection process helps identify potential issues early and ensures that the footing meets the required standards. Quality control measures encompass material testing, concrete strength testing, reinforcement inspection, and adherence to design specifications. These inspections may be conducted by third-party quality control agencies or in-house inspection teams.

XVI. Footing Failures and Remediation

Footings can sometimes experience issues or failures due to various factors, including poor soil conditions, construction errors, or changes in building usage. Remediation of footing issues often involves strengthening or underpinning the existing footing to improve its load-bearing capacity. This process can be complex and requires the expertise of structural engineers and contractors experienced in foundation repair.

XVII. Cost Estimation and Budgeting

Effective cost estimation and budgeting are essential aspects of any construction project, including residential footing construction. Accurate cost estimates help project managers allocate resources efficiently and ensure that the project stays within budget. Cost estimation involves considering materials, labor, equipment, and other project-specific expenses.

XVIII. Project Management

Project management is the overarching process that encompasses all aspects of footing construction. A well-structured project management plan includes scheduling, resource allocation, risk assessment, and quality control. Project managers play a pivotal role in ensuring that the construction process runs smoothly, efficiently, and within the set timeline and budget.

XIX. Ongoing Maintenance and Inspections

Once the residential building is complete, ongoing maintenance and periodic inspections of the footings are necessary to ensure their continued performance and safety. These inspections can help identify any issues such as settlement, cracks, or water infiltration and address them promptly.


Residential building footings are the unsung heroes of the construction world, providing the essential support and stability that buildings need to stand the test of time. Understanding the complexities of footing construction, from adhering to building codes to advanced technologies, is crucial for anyone involved in the construction industry. The education and knowledge shared in this comprehensive guide are designed to equip builders, engineers, architects, and construction professionals with the tools and information they need to make informed decisions and create safe, durable, and sustainable residential footings.

Footing construction is an intricate and multi-faceted field that continues to evolve with advancements in technology, materials, and construction practices. By staying informed and adapting to these changes, construction professionals can meet the demands of the industry and ensure that residential buildings are built on solid foundations that stand the test of time.

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