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Roof not on, winter here - frost heave?


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Ed's Forum Posts: 6

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By Ed in Des Moines, IA on 12/6/2006


I live in south central Iowa near Des Moines. The house is (well, will be!) a walkout two story. Foundation is complete including stem wall and all footings backfilled. The roof, however, won't be on for at least a month and likely six or even eight weeks. The basement slab is poured, although is sitting on 2" of rigid pink foam overtop a 6 mil poly overtop 6" or so of compacted limestone. All exterior foundation level window rough openings have plastic installed over them to help with the wind, but this is not to be confused with a heat source which is non-existent. The main level trusses and corresponding subfloor are installed. The upper walls are also ICF. We are about one and a half to two weeks away from pouring the main level, after which the second level floor system and walls will need to go up. There is pex in the basement slab, put this is just stubbed out at present. Plans call for a boiler install, but that was obviously intended to occur much later in the building process, like, say, after the house is enclosed. Novel concept, I know. Soil is medium clay content. The only fully through-slab penetration is for the rough-in tub drain which consists of a 12" or so square opening in the slab. This opening has been filled with smallish foam pieces to help keep the frost out. Obviously, other plumbing in the slab exists, but all of this is dry. Water left on the basement floor presently freezes.  Should I be looking to insulate the outer edge of my slab along the walls with some extra 2" insulation for now, should I be looking to connect a temporary heating method to push fluids through the radiant tubing, or am I likely fine as is?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/8/2006


Ed, I see you are fairly new to the site, welcome and good luck with your building project.  Now on to your question, this is a tough one I don’t think I have ever seen addressed on this site in the past several years, if ever.

 

You have footings and walls poured, the footings are backfilled, but you are not closed in and wondering if you have a chance for frost heave of your footings?  You have clay in the soil, what is the moisture level in the soil?  Although it goes without saying, it is not cold that causes the frost heave but the moisture freezing and expanding that causes the frost heave – eliminate the moisture and you eliminate the frost heave.  Now on a sandy, well-drained soil, the moisture is automatically eliminated, but this is not an assumption we can make of a clay soil.

 

I will lead you through the thought process I would follow here, and not necessarily directly to an answer.  You are backfilled, so you should not be at risk of freezing temperatures at the level of your footings, at least from outside the house.  I do not know what depth of footings you have, but here I poured the top of my footings at 36” below grade (which is above code, IIRC the bottom of my footings are required to be at 36” below grade, but it has been several years so don’t hold me to that, regardless it really isn’t relevant to your construction).  Your walkout basement should have step footings, and you indicate it has a stem wall so this is merely a language issue.

Now then the freezing potential is from inside your house, as the depth to the footings is much less.  Typically around here the slab is poured directly on top of the footings, providing a thermal channel directly from the footings to the basement slab.  Is this how your basement slab is poured?  For your walkout, you have a step footing so the footing will actually be several feet below the slab, but in the remainder of you house this may not be true.  On my house, the slab is actually elevated above the footings as we wanted to eliminate the thermal connection to the footing, the slab is fully insulated from the concrete foundation walls or the footings (ICF), and because of this I did not insulate under the slab (for me, 180 miles south of you this works out fine).  If I was pouring how you describe, I would have put the rigid foam insulation to the level so the bottom of the insulation would be level with the top of your footings, again eliminating any thermal bridge between the footings and the slab – is this how you have constructed it?  If so, you probably shouldn’t have any problems.

 

Since you have backfilled, you have obviously installed footing tile drains – correct?  Are these completely dry?  Do you footing tile drains drain from both inside and outside your footings or just outside?  Around here typical is just outside the footings, although I have seen where people put drainage tile on the inside of the footings as well.  You don’t expect to have a moisture source from inside your slab, once again it is moisture combined with temperature that is the issues, and not temperature by itself.  With a clay soil, a dry footing tile does not equate to no moisture in the soil though.

 

I have always assumed that once you have backfilled and your slab is in place then the risk of frost heave is minimal, but again I live 180 miles south of you.  What is typical new construction practice in your area?  I have some relatives that live north of you, and they vacate their house and move to Texas for the winter.  They winterize their house, but do not leave heat on.  While their house is completely closed in (unlike yours), I don’t know how much protection this offers from freezing temperatures, freezing slab, and ultimately potential for frost heave, and yet experience would indicate that they have no problems from frost heave.

 

I would also look at a typical driveway – here we have a 3-1/2” slab of concrete, no footings down below frost level, no heat source, and yet how often do these suffer frost heave in Des Moines.  Driveways are also on a bed of gravel or crushed stone, so these are well drained.

 

I guess I have only left you with a couple of questions, and a thought process I would follow to evaluate the potential for impacts.  Please take this as what it is, free advice over the Internet from an unknown source.


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By Ed in Des Moines, IA on 12/8/2006


Thanks for the thoughts, Kenneth.  My basement slab is not poured DIRECTLY on top of the footings.  I have perhaps 6" deep of 1" limestone rock in contact with the earth itself.  This rock is level with the top of the footing.  The footing itself sits on the earth directly in some places, in others there is an inch or two of rock down.  On the rock in the under-slab area is 6 mil poly, which extends to the edges of the slab and up the ICF wall a few inches.  On the 6 mil poly is that 2" rigid foam (which is for all practical purposes sitting on top of the footing itself).  That 6 mil poly wraps over the edge of the foam.  On top of that is my pex.  On top of that is a 24" O.C. #4 rebar grid.  Then comes the 4" slab, which was a 4000psi limestone mix at a 4" slump.  This should result in a thermal separation between the slab and the footing and between the slab and the earth.

As for drainage, I am using the form a drain product.  The interior drain of the footings is connected to the exterior drain of the footings.  The form a drain product is connected to 4" drainage tile at two locations, which both drain to daylight.  When it rains, this drainage substantially flows.  Backfill is completed, but grading isn't complete yet.  It sounds like I am in generally good shape, but should take this weekend's mid 40's warm spell and take care of the grading to minimize water at the base of the footing. 

The bottom of my stem wall, or step footing, is 3' down.  The frost footing itself is 10" thick, 30" wide (overkill, I know) and sets atop compacted 1" limestone rock (since I accidentally and foolishly overdug the frost wall section by up to 18" in some places).  I went ahead and installed 4" drainage tile along the base of this wall as well and have that going to a separate drain to daylight.

 

 


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