Russell Higgins

Russell Higgins

New York, NY, US

Frost Proof Shallow Foundation - In progress
Frost Proof Shallow Foundation - In progress
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Frost Proof Shallow Foundation

Frost Proof Shallow Foundations

Another European idea that's been around for a hundred years.  It was re - appreciated in the last few decades and is becoming widely used in the northern countries. 

You spread a blanket of foam insulation around the perimeter of the building, sometimes even under the whole building.  This insulation keeps the ground temperatures UNDER your building from swinging with the ambient air temperatures.  Therefore, in the winter, heat is not being wicked out from your buiding edges.  Similarly, you aren't wicking heat in during the summer - YES the soil temp can easily hit ambient air, and if you are in Texas, that can be 100 degrees every day for a month!


The original purpose of this technique was NOT TO SAVE ENERGY!  It was to prevent frost heaving of the footings, allowing the footings to be on grade.  Actually, allowing the "footings" to be loose rock walls!  It's an OLD European technique!  The savings in time, energy, money from skipping the footings, coupled with fewer repairs as the building no longer shifting and cracking as the ground froze and heaved in the winter was priceless in the old days when time building meant less time farming, mining, and doing whatever else one did for money.

Synergies abound:

1.  Less foundation digging - less fuel used, smaller equipment = less ground compaction, less run off problems, less concrete used = less trucking, compaction on site, and fuel used PLUS less energy expended on making concrete (very energy intensive).

2.  Extends construction season without costly and dangerous and carbon spewing temporary heaters.

3.  For cold country with frequent blackouts, like, the mountains of NYS where I am, a well insulated building with an earth coupled first floor / basement can coast a few days with NO heat in the depths of winter.  Which is priceless considering the cost of repairs from frozen water pipes.  Also less "weathering" of building from freeze thaw cycles, condensation on inside surfaces (which produces mold, that musty smell in closed up rooms).

4.  Some applications, such as old buildings with non - insulated above grade basement walls or crawl spaces, can expand on this technique to run up the side of the building, encompassing even the rim joist, which is never easy to insulate.  Additional synergy - handy shelf for raised planters!

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Status: Built
Location: New York State, Catskill Mountains
My Role: Sustainability / Green Building Design
Additional Credits: Solar Age, the Solar Energy Research Institute (now the National Renewable Energy Laboratories), and Fine Homebuilding. All of whom over the years have done their bit to bring frost proof shallow foundations into existence in this country. Oh, and to the US ARMY, who use this at their northern bases, which pretty much proves it's validity, as the military are not big risk takers in construction(reasonable enough given their job).

Frost Proof Shallow Foundation - Finished
Frost Proof Shallow Foundation - Finished