Buying a House With Stone Foundation

All you need to know before you decide whether or not you should buy it

Updated on:

If you are going to buy a house, you have definitely wondered already which type of foundation you should stick to. And if it is easier to settle this speaking of a house that you will be building yourself, when it comes to real estate, things are somewhat different. 

There are quite many houses today on the real estate market that have an old stone foundation, and people wonder how durable and trustworthy this kind of foundation is. How long will it last? Is it possible that you will have problems with the foundation made of stone one day? 

All these concerns are easy to understand and they are not just pointless worries. For this reason, we decided to help you out a bit. In this article, you can find a lot of useful information on the subject of house foundations that are made of stone. 

First of all, we will tell you about the most common types of stone foundations, and in addition, you will learn more about each of them in detail. It will help you better understand their distinctions and some nuances of their use, thus being able to tell in advance what you should wait when dealing with each of them. 

A house with a stone foundation surrounded by greenery
By vista.com

You will find out what pros and cons each of these foundation types has as well. As a result, you will be able to realize how different types of stone foundations might work in your home and which one of them might be the best option for your specific needs. 

Stone Foundation House. All You Need to Know

Stone foundation with snow and a pipe with frozen water in winter.
By vista.com

So what shall you know about stone house foundations? First of all, we are going to provide you with some general information so that you better understand all the specifics of this material. And then, we will give you a detailed guide on three different types of stone foundations that can be found today.

So, speaking of stone house foundations, people often become concerned about their lifespan, durability, and strength. However, if we compare stone to such a popular modern material as cement, we will see that stone foundations have much more perks and benefits!

  • Stone is strong, hard, and tough
  • It is durable
  • It can bear quite a big weight of a building
  • It can be used for different types of structures

In general, building stones should be hard, durable, tough, and free of weathered soft patches, cracks, and other defects that reduce strength and durability. Massive rocks are quarried for construction stones.

Construction materials typically include such types of stone as the following:

  1. basalt
  2. marble
  3. limestone
  4. sandstone
  5. quartzite
  6. travertine
  7. slate
  8. gneiss
  9. laterite
  10. granite

The properties of each stone type determine its construction uses. For example, basalt and granite have high compressive strength and durability, which is why they are used in major construction. Gneiss, on the other hand, is more suitable for minor construction due to its low compressive strength and lack of harmful materials. Nevertheless, not any type of stone can be used for making house foundations.

There are only two downsides that stone foundations may have. Those are the price and the labor needed. However, if you are going to buy a house that is already built, there is no need to worry about the price. And basically, if the foundation is in a good condition, you can be sure that there will be no issues even if the house is pretty old.

Below, you can find a more detailed description of three stone types that are used for home foundations. Like that, you will be able to better understand their specifics and decide which type might be more suitable for you in particular.  

Fieldstone Foundation

Fieldstone is one of the most common house foundation materials. It can be usually seen in houses that are 100 years old or even older. And just like a stacked stone foundation, the one made of fieldstone also uses mortar to hold the stones together.

However, the use of mortar is one of the biggest fieldstone foundation problems. See, as this type of foundation gets older, mortar starts crumbling, and eventually it simply turns to powder! As a result, the walls lose strength, and sooner or later, they start developing cracks and bow inward. 

The inward bowing of the foundation walls is caused by the lateral or horizontal earth pressure that is pushing the weakened foundation wall inward. Lateral earth pressure increases significantly as the soil becomes saturated with water. With these older stone foundations, the problem is made worse as perimeter drain tiles were rarely installed back then. This usually can be clearly seen as the basement area may be wet.

However, this type of foundation can still be fixed. Everything depends on the condition of the walls. If the walls have no cracks and they are not bowed,  then the solution may be as simple as cleaning and tuck-pointing the mortar joints. But in some cases, some excavation works might be needed - for example, when there is no drainage system and the house’s foundation suffers from the excess moisture.

Stacked Stone Foundation

Stacked stone foundations are very common in homes 100 years or older, especially in areas of the country that had colonial settlements. They were constructed using the best building technology known back then, and this foundation type is essentially using mortar to bond stacked stones together. 

However, over the years, this mortar tends to break down into crumbles or powder. This can cause problems in structural stability that might scare off many potential buyers, but many fieldstone foundations can still have long lives ahead of them!

In fact, they can be strong and last for hundreds of years. The walls and floors can be excellent indicators of how healthy your stone foundation is. Just look for bowing and the plumbness of the walls for clues. If the foundation has been well-maintained and the surrounding property is built to drain well, the work could still be in very good condition.

Now let’s speak of such an issue as crumbling. Most homeowners take it as a bad sign. But crumbling is not always a sign that your foundation is ruined! Solid repair work is very possible most of the time. Of course, a fieldstone foundation may show signs of mortar disintegration. However, this is a very natural process that doesn’t always mean a loss of structural integrity. If you see that the foundation wall has no sustained cracks or bowing, some service to the mortar joints might be all that is needed.

Also, be realistic about the fact that fieldstone foundations, by their very nature, will not be totally resistant to moisture or pests. Nevertheless, drainage on the landscape of the property should help to avoid too much moisture and some easy steps can be taken to handle small pests like mice.

Sandstone Foundation 

Sandstone is another type of sedimentary rock. The action of mechanical sediments resulted in the formation of this stone, which is why it has a sandy structure. It results in a low strength this stone has. This is why we would not call this type of stone foundation a brilliant choice.

Among the most common sandstone foundation problems, you can find the following issues:

  • Mortar might be missing or crumbling from in between the stones
  • The stone may suffer from excess moisture
  • Paint and/or parging may trap moisture, thus damaging the stone
  • The walls might be leaning or bulging if the house is very old
  • There might be loose stones

As for the other characteristics of the sandstone, due to the fact that these rocks are sedimentary, they are stratified. They can appear in a wide range of hues, including white, gray, red, buff, brown, yellow, and even dark grey in some cases. As for the compressive strength, it can range anywhere from 1.85 to 2.7 N/mm2. Porosity can range anywhere from 5% to 25% of its total volume. 

However, when these rocks have been exposed to the elements for quite a long period of time, they become unsuitable for use as building stones. If at all possible, it is preferable to construct heavy structures out of sandstones combined with silica cement. 

Like this, now you know what the three most common types of stone foundations can be found on the real estate market today. In addition, you are now aware of certain specifics of each stone type used for these foundations. With that in mind, you will be able to better see the difference between them and understand what issues each foundation type may have.

Stone Foundation Pros And Cons

As you already know, stone foundations are not as weak as people tend to think about them. However, it doesn’t mean that they can last forever and they have no weak sides. Stone is a very durable material, that’s true since it comes from nature and is well prepared for different tough conditions. However, even natural stone has certain pros and cons as a building material.

So before you decide to buy a house that has a stone foundation, we recommend you check out what pros and cons this purchase may have for you. Below, you can get a better idea of both strengths and weaknesses of stone as a building material.

Among the strong sides of this type of foundation we can list the following ones:

  • Stone is a strong material with an average compressive strength of about 104.9 MPa
  • It is a rather durable type of house foundation because the stone is able to withstand wear, pressure, and damage
  • Stone foundations last very long without any serious deterioration (if properly maintained)

As for the downsides, they are also present and need to be taken into consideration:

  • Stone house foundation types are prone to chipping
  • Stone foundations are often cracking if the house is very old and improperly maintained
  • Some types of stone are porous which may lead to excess moisture accumulation and damage to the foundation walls

As you can see, the score is 50/50. This is probably the reason why stone foundations are not commonly used by modern builders, and why people do not very willingly buy old houses that have this type of foundation as well.

But it often happens that you find a house that you immediately fall in love with, and even a stone foundation can’t keep you apart! In this case, you might be wondering how you can tell that the foundation of your potential home is not doing well. In fact, there are several easy tricks that can help you do that. 

How to Tell That Your Stone Foundation Needs Repair

It does not matter whether you already live in a house that has a stone foundation, or you just going to buy one. It is always good to know about the most prominent signs that will tell you the foundation walls needs some repair. When you are aware of them, you will be able to spot the very first stage of deterioration and take action instead of making things even worse by neglecting the problem.

Mortar Is Falling Out 

As you surely know, mortar is a workable paste that hardens and is used to bind stones together. Mortar is also used to seal irregular gaps, spread the weight, and sometimes add decorative colors. 

But when you see that your stone foundation’s mortar starts crumbling, this means the time to act has come! Crumbling mortar is always a risky thing. You never know what happens next: the structure might not move, or it could collapse the whole system.

Bulging Or Leaning Wall 

If enough of the old mortar falls out, the stones of your stone foundation will start shifting around. As a result, the wall will start to lean and bulge. So if you notice any leaning, this is a red sign and you must act quickly!

Loose Stones 

This issue is mostly present in very old houses that were not properly maintained. Once the mortar starts to flake and fall out, the stones will begin to shift and fall out as well. Falling stones are most common on walls and corners on the outside above the ground, so check those spots when inspecting the house you are going to buy.

Cracked Stone Walls  

This is one of the most obvious and easy-to-notice signs. If you notice any cracks in the stones on your foundation walls, it is a good time to start repairing them. Cracking will not stop by itself, so don’t skip this step and make sure you fix the problem as soon as possible.

Water Leakage  

Dry-laid stone walls placed without the use of mortar are prone to leaking water. Initially, the water was meant to pass through the wall, and continue across a sloped floor. Then it would be collected outside.

Now you also know what signs will tell you if anything is wrong with your foundation's stone walls. Keep these life hacks in mind all the time, especially when inspecting a house that you are going to buy. Like this, you will save time for yourself because, if you notice any of the described problems at once, you will be able to calculate and figure out whether or not you will cope with them. Or, perhaps, it makes more sense to look for another house in a better condition?

Well, dear friends, you have learned all that one needs to know about stone house foundations. We told you what types of stones are typically used for this building purpose, what pros and cons stone foundations have, and how you can tell whether a foundation needs repair. With all this information, you will be able to choose the house of your dream much quicker, and moreover, you will not have to pay extra money on the foundation repair.

Links on this topic to authoritative sources:
  1. Foundation (engineering) : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foundation_(engineering)
  2. Foundation Types in Construction: Definition and 5 Primary Types : https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/foundations-types

Facts

  1. Durability Record: Stone foundations, if maintained properly, can last for centuries. Some of the oldest homes in Europe and Asia, which are several centuries old, still stand on their original stone foundations.
  2. Historic Connection: In the United States, houses with stone foundations are typically found in older properties built in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of these historic homes have been preserved and are often located in areas of cultural or historical significance.
  3. Resilience Ranks: Stone foundations are known for their strength and resilience. They are capable of withstanding heavy loads and extreme weather conditions.
  4. Thermal Consistency: Stone is a natural insulator. Therefore, homes with stone foundations often maintain a more consistent internal temperature, reducing energy costs for heating or cooling.
  5. Unusual Finds: During renovations or inspections of old stone foundations, homeowners and inspectors have often discovered interesting artifacts. From antique tools to historical documents, these finds give a glimpse into the past life of the property.
  6. Seismic Strength: In regions prone to earthquakes, homes with stone foundations have surprisingly stood the test of time, owing to the stone's natural flexibility that allows it to move with the earth rather than cracking under pressure.
  7. Value for Money: While homes with stone foundations can require more maintenance, their historical and aesthetic appeal often makes them a worthy investment. In many cases, these properties have a higher resale value.

Expert Advice

  1. Consider Age and Maintenance: Stone foundations are usually found in older homes. While they are incredibly sturdy, they might have faced more wear and tear than a younger house. Look at the maintenance records, if any, to understand how well the foundation has been cared for.
  2. Evaluate the Mortar: The strength of a stone foundation often lies in the condition of the mortar holding the stones together. Over time, this can deteriorate. It might be a good idea to have a professional inspect the mortar and the overall state of the foundation.
  3. Check for Moisture Issues: Stone foundations can sometimes be prone to moisture problems, especially in wet climates. Look for signs of dampness, mold, or water damage. If these issues are present, you'll need to consider the cost of necessary repairs or waterproofing measures.
  4. Get a Professional Inspection: Due to the complexity and importance of a foundation, it's crucial to have a professional inspect the property before purchase. They can identify any potential problems or necessary repairs that might not be immediately visible.
  5. Consider Energy Efficiency: Stone foundations, especially in older homes, can lead to higher heating and cooling costs due to lack of insulation. However, this can be remedied with modern insulation techniques.
  6. Understand the Cost and Availability of Repairs: If repairs are needed, finding the right materials and skilled craftsmen familiar with stone foundations can sometimes be challenging. Consider this when budgeting for potential repair costs.
  7. Appreciate the Aesthetic: Part of the charm of buying a house with a stone foundation is its aesthetic appeal. The unique look and history of these homes can be a significant draw for potential homeowners, providing a sense of character that modern properties often lack.
  8. Look Into Insurance: Some insurance companies might charge higher premiums for older homes with stone foundations due to perceived risk. It's worthwhile to check with several insurance providers to get an understanding of potential costs.

Safety

Here are some safety guidelines to follow when buying a house with a stone foundation:
  1. Professional Inspection: Always get the house professionally inspected. The inspector will examine the state of the stone foundation, checking for any potential structural issues, wear and tear, or signs of degradation.
  2. Assess Cracks: Any cracks in the stone foundation need immediate attention. Small fissures might signal the beginning of larger structural issues. In case of large cracks, it could point towards the risk of collapse.
  3. Look for Signs of Water Damage: Stone foundations can often become victims of water damage, leading to structural issues. Inspect for dampness, mold, or efflorescence (a white powdery substance on the stone), as these could indicate a significant water issue.
  4. Ventilation: Ensure the basement or crawlspace has sufficient ventilation. Poor ventilation can cause humidity levels to rise, leading to condensation and encouraging mold growth, which could affect the health of the inhabitants.
  5. Safety Equipment: When inspecting a stone foundation, wear appropriate safety equipment. This includes hard hats in case of falling debris, gloves to protect hands, and masks if there is a risk of mold or dust.
  6. Emergency Measures: Have a plan in case of natural disasters like earthquakes or floods. Stone foundations can be sturdy, but they might be vulnerable to such events. Ensure the house has an adequate emergency response plan, including evacuation routes.
  7. Future-proofing: Consider the use of waterproofing measures and structural reinforcements. This proactive approach ensures that the stone foundation remains safe and robust for years to come.
  8. Insurance: Ensure the property has a comprehensive insurance plan covering potential damages to the foundation. This not only provides financial protection but also enforces a level of safety standard upkeep to meet insurance requirements.

Safety, after all, is a continuous process, and these steps will help ensure that your investment in a stone foundation home is a secure one.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is A Stone Foundation Suitable For All Climates?

A stone foundation is suitable for most climates, but in regions with extreme temperature fluctuations or significant freeze-thaw cycles, proper construction techniques and insulation are crucial.

How Long Does A Stone Foundation Last?

A stone foundation can last for up to 100 years or even longer! Everything depends on how well it is maintained.

Can Any Type Of Stone Be Used For Stone Foundations?

No, somekindof stones are not suitable because they are too weak or porous. The proper foundation stone must be tough, strong, and damage-resistant.

Do Stone Foundations Always Use Mortar?

Typically yes, they do. Mortar is neede for keeping the stones together.

Publication date:
@livewireScriptss