If you want to do your part to help the environment, you're not alone. Many homeowners are taking tangible steps to minimize their carbon footprints, and new home construction is a great time to go green. Of course, when it comes to building a green home, you're probably thinking about your energy usage or maybe even your roofing material, but what about your foundation?
As it turns out, the foundation you choose can have a meaningful impact on your home's environmental impact over the long term and during construction. If this is a concern for you, then a concrete slab foundation might be both the most economical and environmentally-friendly choice.
What Are Your Options?
You'll usually choose between basement, crawl space, and slab foundations for a typical American home. In practical terms, the primary difference between crawl spaces and basements is their height above the supporting slab. Your home's designer may have already selected an option for you, but this choice may have been made for you because of your home's location, making the type of foundation a necessity instead of an optional choice.
Builders typically use basements and crawl spaces in cold climates to place the supporting slab below the frost line. This approach avoids frost heaves that can threaten structural stability. Using a slab in these environments previously involved installing deep footings, but new techniques such as insulated skirts can negate this sometimes costly requirement.
Why Should You Choose a Slab Foundation?
If you can use insulated foundation techniques (or don't mind excavating for deep footings), slab-on-grade concrete foundations should be an option for most climates. Of course, just because you can do something doesn't necessarily mean you should, so why consider a slab if your neighbors mostly have basements? The two most compelling reasons are a lower cost and a significantly reduced carbon footprint.
Slab-on-grade foundations are typically much cheaper than basements for obvious reasons. Not only do they require less concrete, but you don't need to excavate deep enough for the typical 8' basement height. Since you aren't excavating nearly as much land, you'll save on costs associated with both labor and heavy digging equipment.
Additionally, using a concrete slab foundation has a significant environmental impact. By using a slab-on-grade, you'll reduce the amount of concrete used in your new home. Less concrete means a smaller greenhouse gas footprint during home construction. Additionally, your cement-based first floor will reduce HVAC use and allow you to install a high-efficiency hydronic slab system.
Ultimately, your home's foundation is a critical choice and not one you should take lightly. The advantages of using a slab-on-grade foundation are numerous, but you should also discuss your options with an experienced concrete contractor familiar with your area before making any final decisions.