Properties built before the First World War often have stone foundations. These houses may be full of character but is buying a house with stone foundations a good idea? We take a look at some of the things you should be checking before committing yourself.
If you are buying a house with stone foundations consider the problems that could occur with the foundations in the future. You’ll also need to think about how to prepare for them.
Many properties that have stone foundations have been standing for a hundred years. With proper care they will be standing for decades to come.
How Do Stone Foundations Work?
Stone foundations provide the same function as modern foundations, a strong, level base on which to build a house. It was one of main things we were looking for when househunting.
Up until the early 20th century, stone was the material of choice for foundations. This was due to its ready availability and cheap price.
Today home buyers are wary of purchasing a house with stone foundations. This reluctance is often based on an idea that a stone foundation house is going to have problems in the future.
There are checks you can do when viewing a property. These will help you decide if a house with stone foundation is right for you.
Checks For Houses With Stone Foundations
If you choose to view a house that has a stone foundation it’s a good idea to arrange to see it on a rainy day. Even better, after a period of rain. This will let you know if there is any water seepage into the basement.
A damp basement will smell musty, so you’ll notice that straight away. Stone foundations are strong, but they can let water in through the mortar between the stones.
A sump pump is used to detect rising water levels or water pressure in the surrounding ground. It will begin to pump water out through a discharge line. The pipe that takes the excess water should end at a good distance away from the house.
Having a sump pump is a good idea, but you should ask how often it has been used. This will give you an idea if rising water levels are a regular problem.
You should pay attention to the walls in a house with stone foundations particularly in the basement. There should be no bowing. This looks like the wall is bulging outwards and can be a sign of movement in the foundations.
The walls should be as plumb as you would hope in a house that is probably more than 100 years old. Diagonal cracks in the walls around windows and doors are a sign of movement in the foundations. These cracks need to be monitored.
When you are looking at an older property with stone foundations you should pay attention to any sloping floors. Some will be inevitable in older buildings and may not be a sign of anything serious.
Although, if sloping floors and cracks around windows and doors are present it may be as a result of settlement.
Cracking Or Displacement Of Stones
Any cracking or displacement of stones in the foundation of the house will be a source of concern. The severity and extent of this problem will tell you if this house is something you want to invest your time and money in.
Sand At Bottom Of Wall
When viewing a property with stone foundations check the base of the walls in the basement. If there is sand accumulating on the floor around the perimeter of the basement walls this may indicate that the mortar is breaking down.
This is not a dealbreaker as the mortar between the stones can be repointed.
Check the position of all the guttering around the property. The job of guttering is to take water away from the areas immediately around the house and its foundations. Good guttering and downpipe extensions are vital for directing water away from the house.
If water is discharging around the house it will be seeping into the ground and may cause problems with the foundations.
Can You Change A Stone Foundation?
If you have fallen in love with the property but are not sure about having a stone foundation then don’t despair. It may be possible to add a concrete foundation using either poured concrete or blocks.
It’s possible to lift the property using jacks and build a newer foundation with blocks or using a concrete slab. This can give you more peace of mind than having just the stone foundation.
Maintenance & Repairs
The maintenance of the stone foundations will determine how well they perform and how
long they will last.
The mortar in the stones will inevitably degrade and deteriorate over time and will need to be repointed. Leaving the joints unpointed will weaken the foundation.
Any problems with moisture needs to be addressed before repointing the stone foundations. Water will erode mortar over time, but it also causes problems in the surrounding soil. In the winter it can cause frost heave.
The previous point leads to the need for good drainage and guttering for the house. Having surfaces that slope away from the property ensures good water runoff. A good guttering system should displace rainwater far away from the foundations.
It is possible to apply a waterproofing system to the inside or outside of a stone foundation. These are not a cheap option and may actually cause other issues.
When set on the outside the surrounding soil is disturbed and may cause the mortar in the stones to loosen. Internal water collection systems can cause finer soil and sand to be washed away. This which can have a cumulative effect on undermining the foundations.
It is important to get the right advice when buying a house with stone foundations. This will give you peace of mind and offer guidance on what to expect from your property in the future.