Old Stone Foundations

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Your house is old, over 80 years. Back then they built things a bit differently. If your foundation is stones, you should know what to expect as a homeowner, because what is normal now was not normal back then.

1900-1930

At this point is history there was a lot of money to go around until the depression hit. Unfortunately, this is when many communities in the Midwest were really starting to get going. What material did they have that was cheap to build foundations? Limestone and a lot of it. The walls were built with the bottoms being several feet thick and the tops being only 1-2' thick. These foundations were and are still prone to water infiltration because the mortar used was made out of clay, sand, and water. When it deteriorated, it allowed water and other particles from the earth outside to enter the basement. There are actually several signs of a healthy stone foundation that will probably last another 100 years, by the way.

Salt

Because most of the stone used to build stone foundations is a variation of lime stone, it makes sense that any amount of moisture would produce lime. This looks like a white flaky substance lightly sprawled across your basement wall. This is nothing to be alarmed about. But if you have young children, they will love it in the summer months when moisture is high. My son loved it when he was 2 calling it our "snowy underground". 

This is actually a good sign because it mean that instead of actual water coming in through the basement walls, that moisture is being absorbed by the stone and being released slowly through the stone in the form of sodium or lime salt.

Double Ledge

Many people believe that people built old stone foundations with the bottom so much wider because the foundations would collapse if they didn't. They actually built them that way because when the ground freezes, it pushes on the foundation a lot. The double thick portion is actually two separate walls that are meant to move against each other to keep both of them stable. This was an easy way to keep house foundations from moving so bad that people would have to replace rafters... like barns.

Dirt Floor

If you have a dirt floor, be proud. You are standing in a home that was built by smart people. Why? Because dirt contains and allows moisture to drain. It wasn't until we decided to pour concrete that we had actual basement problems.  The good news if you want to finish off your basement floor, is you have very little work to do and you can install an interior drainage system around the foundation with little cost! 

Stability

The simple fact is no one knows how long a poured foundation will last. I have a very rare 1930s home with a poured foundation and I have had to do substantial work because the corners were not properly structured. My old house was built in 1890 and it had a stone foundation. Besides the "snow" on the wall, I never had a problem with it.

Whatever the case may be, don't let a stone foundation frighten you away from buying a great house. Just look for some lime, a double ledge, and have a thorough home inspection done, and you will be set.

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Comments 2 comments

pat sullivan 5 years ago

my house was built mid 1800s. the old stone foundation only goes about 3ft deep. i live in the northeast but have had no heaving issues.i removed some sand from under my house but did not under mine the foundation.now i am getting water seeping in.i am looking for way to get the water to drain away from my house to stop this seeping problem.any suggestions?


Energy Guild profile image

Energy Guild 5 years ago from Ripon, WI Author

Hey Pat,

The easiest way to move water away from your house is by making sure that you have an operational gutter system with leaders that extend no less than 4 feet from the house. The ground around the foundation should also pitch away from the house approximately 1/4 inch per foot. An easy way to check this is by putting a 4 foot level on the ground next to the house and measuring down the distance from the bottom of the level to the ground when the level reads level. If the ground is pitching toward the house, then you need to remove soil or add soil around the perimeter of the foundation so you have positive drainage for a minimum of 8 feet. I hope this helps. Good luck.

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