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Tool Talk Discussion Forum

Re: block house foundations

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Billy NY

01-09-2013 07:17:33

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I don't see it as much of a problem, some concerns but often times around here, concrete foundations are installed well in advance of framing crews so they can work all winter.

I call block, Concrete Masonry Units or CMU. First priority is obvious, code compliance and all that it entails where you are. If CMU is acceptable, go for it, but be aware of things listed below.

Drainage, both inside the wall and out, on top of the footing, bedded in stone, and covered, wrapped with filter fabric. I've seen open foundations fill with quite a bit of water, then drain out, its amazing how fast it goes down after a heavy rain, likely the most water those drains would ever see.

CMU, would not be my first choice, but reinforced CMU, fully grouted, meaning all the cells of the CMU are filled, every course, or grouted every couple of courses if you can get bulk flowable grout delivered. I don't like hollow cell block for foundations myself, mostly in higher water tables or where water is an issue or always present. CMU is porous, more so than concrete, as the molds they are formed in get age, the surface of the block can have a rougher texture, more voids etc. Waterproofing systems on the exterior of the wall have to be installed properly, and has to be of quality material.

The structural aspect of CMU walls is likely described in local or state building code, to include certain details, some of which may be fully grouted cells every so many feet, same with #4 deformed bar placed vertically and connected to the foundation,(rebar) every so many feet.

You can build a pretty darned strong wall with CMU if reinforced, might be overkill, but I like the cells filled for many reasons, some are waterproofing, fasteners into solid cells are much stronger. I like ladder mesh every other course, you can do it every course, I will include a link to a masonry accessory supplier for reference.

One thing that would concern me is leaving a hollow CMU wall open, allowing water to get in and pond at the bottom course, that could freeze and spall the CMU at the base, fracture and so on, no weep holes. Its just like a masonry parapet wall, without the coping stone on it, will take water and freeze thaw will destroy it over time. Not a big deal, put the sill plates on or what have you to cover it up, another reason I like fully grouted walls.

Mortar used has to be good quality, below grade is no place for substandard material, I'd want a consistent 3000 psi mortar. If mixing your own, you could fill mortar cubes and have your mix design tested, once proven, do not vary the materials or quantities used. We have a big supplier south of here, that provided a consistent bag mix for contractors, though most large outfits use those big hoppers and large bags now, I did recall this supplier in Stormville NY having a very good material in a bag, always tested out fine when cubes were taken on my jobs.

CMU wall may be more labor than concrete, also be sure to coordinate and penetrations, windows, electrical if applicable, easier when the walls are being erected than after.

When purchasing CMU, you can ask the supplier, if they have masonry certifications for the type of CMU you plan to use, any reputable supplier should be able to provide this upon request or they are not legitimate. It tells you that the CMU is of a certain strength.

An interesting fact I believe is that 5000 psi CMU (high strength/75% filled cells-which means cell walls are thicker,holes smaller) is the threshold, beyond that exceeds the limitations that can be consistently achieved by this material and be certified as I was told by Clayton years ago, whom is a large supplier in NJ. I had an engineer specify 6000 psi CMU on a mid rise masonry building, 9 stories, I could not get the certifications and went with 5000 psi, building is still standing. Some of the above may be overkill or not necessary, but having quite a bit of experience in commercial construction, I know how I would do it LOL, check out the link for Clayton as well, all helpful reference information at minimum.

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Billy NY

01-09-2013 07:28:37

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 Re: block house foundations in reply to Billy NY, 01-09-2013 07:17:33  
I did not even cover backfilling, temp bracing and so on, but Ray did, and thats another reason to consider a reinforced, fully grouted CMU wall. I'd not go near a CMU wall with any fill unless the last courses installed were 28 days old, besides the bracing, and whatever else is needed to stiffen, brace and shore. You can easily blow out a CMU wall, even by filling too many courses with grout at one time, many good reasons to go for the added expense and labor to reinforce, that Hohmann-Barnard site will show you all kinds of accessories including many reinforcing materials.

The thing about masonry is that its modular, you can take your time, get everything laid out, square and all that, have vertical rebar in the footings, use the ladder mesh every course, fully grout each course, though by the time you do all that, its likely your walls will be similar in strength to concrete and a lot stronger than straight up hollow block, might pan out to just do concrete, which I know has become expensive, and you have to pay up front, vs doing masonry, where you can buy what you can afford and install at your leisure. I'd emphasize layout too, it has to be square and the walls plumb, I prefer a wet saw over hand chopped cuts, but thats a preference, and of course the top of wall elevation has to be level and the same, just more to be aware of so you build off a level/square/plumb foundation.

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