Accepting your stone foundation

Old stone homes are beautiful. They're also pretty cold, especially in the basement. Our Handyman Hint solution? Accept it for what it is, unless you're willing to pour a lot of money into it.
Old stone homes are beautiful. They’re also pretty cold, especially in the basement. Our Handyman Hint solution? Accept it for what it is, unless you’re willing to pour a lot of money into it.

We owned a century home with a stone foundation once. Once!

As a result, when it comes to giving advice to those persons looking to invest in a home built before the invention of the automobile, and who have further ideas of transforming this stone foundation into useable storage space, I can only offer the following, “may the strength and courage of your faith guide you accordingly”.

My faith guided me right back up the stairs to our kitchen table, where within 45 minutes I had completed a drawing and structural details to our future garden shed. That’s my recommendation to those persons looking to use a stone basement for anything other than keeping a few bottles of wine slightly chilled — build the more convenient and certainly more practical alternative, that being a shed.

Should all stone foundations be judged so harshly? Absolutely.

However, the guidelines as to how user friendly a stone basement is, lies entirely on the reparation work done by the previous owner. In our case, the previous tenants were farmers and retired crafters.

So, the basement was left relatively unchanged since its modest beginnings in 1825. Which, meant whitewashed stone walls, an uneven ground floor, along with the standard “be prepared to duck” floor to ceiling beam height of about 5-1/2 feet.

Plus, two inches of floodwater would appear like clockwork every first day of spring. As a result, considering this basement area for storage space (provided it was off the floor) was slim, with any thoughts of potential living area being created out of this dungeon about as likely as a Stanley Cup parade down Yonge Street.

Needless to say, we continued the trend of ignoring the basement issue, and chose to instead direct our home renewal funds towards a new kitchen and subsequent pool.

However, what an engineer, or more structurally inclined fellow would have done, is address the basement.

How? By steadying the home with a new series of joists and strategically placed hydraulic jacks, the basement floor would be dug down a further three feet.

Next, with a new footing installed, and poured concrete knee-wall supporting the existing stone structure, we would lay the lines to our internal weeping tile system and sump pump well.

Finally, a concrete floor would be spread and levelled overtop. That’s a previous owner who would have done us one heck of a favor, regardless of the cost.

Moral of the story, for best results, buy a home formerly owned by an engineer. Otherwise, most stone foundations are caught somewhere in between their original state and complete renewal, having been subject to the usual piecemeal grout repairs.
Should a future home buyer be concerned about investing in a home with a stone foundation? Absolutely not.

We loved our stone home, and could we have logistically moved it to our new property without the aid of four Sea King helicopters, we probably would have.

Like everything else in this world, if you love most of what you see, you’re going to accept some of the weaknesses.

Is a stone foundation a concern? Stone foundations are energy losers. Solid rock is a poor insulator, while the mortar joints are responsible for continual air and moisture infiltration.

Now, combine that scenario with a ground floor, or concrete floor that may be cracked or in disrepair, and we’re talking one heck of an influx of dampness.

Remedy? If you’ve got 200 thousand bucks to spend, you re-do the basement in the aforementioned manner. Otherwise, your goal will be controlling the water, which can be accomplished by addressing the sloping landscape and eavestrough systems outside, with the possible help of a weeping tile line and sump pump unit inside.

With a strategy in place to handle the rain and ground water, a proper concrete floor, complete with ridged foam board and vapor barrier, would be the next step, solving most of the moisture issues, while at least providing you with a somewhat useable storage space.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

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