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What Are Block Foundation Walls?

block wall

Most homes in the U.S. – 42 million – have a basement. This makes basements a strong favorite when it comes to lower-grade units. Basements are useful in so many ways; they can be a good place to store your belongings or an extra living room.

Basements are often constructed with concrete blocks and just like all other construction elements, these have their benefits and disadvantages. Let’s take a closer look at block foundation walls by talking about how builders construct them, what you can do to improve them, and much more.

What Is a Block Foundation Wall?

cracked block foundation wall

This type of foundation wall is built out of hollow concrete blocks. They are usually constructed on top of foundation footings that provide the necessary support. 

Concrete blocks are stacked on top of each other and joined using mortar. Each row of blocks forms its course until the wall reaches the height that the basement requires. Some builders will use rebar to further increase their strength. In most cases, these blocks weigh around 40 pounds and measure 16” x 8” x 8”.

Block foundation walls are quite popular in Michigan and other parts of the Midwest. However, just like any other structure out there, these walls are prone to numerous issues and problems. The most common of these are water and pest related. Since they’re porous, they allow for flooding and critters to sneak through the joints.

The History of Block Foundation Walls

For many years now, homeowners have been using these walls for their foundations and basements. Still, it wasn’t until the early 19th century that Americans would start utilizing them for housing. The first block building was constructed in Staten Island, New York. 

In the late 1900s, Harmon S. Palmer patented the very first hollow concrete block. With this design, which became popular immediately, he would pave the way for builders to start using gravel and sand for blocks. 

Since they’re light and easy to store, unlike stones or bricks, concrete blocks can be found on construction sites across the country. Today, we mostly use them for below-ground foundation walls.

The Benefits of Using Block Foundation Walls

The biggest pro of using block foundation walls is the fact that they can carry huge loads. Moreover, their load-bearing capacity is even higher than that of poured concrete walls. Hence, if the builders construct them properly, they can be sturdy foundations for the whole structure above them. On the other hand, you can also use them as retention walls for years to come. They provide great resistance to the lateral pressure of the soil surrounding them.

Block foundation walls are also easy and cheaper to construct. A crew of builders with experience can assemble them in no time; all they need are some shovels, a mortar mixer, trowels, and levels. Block foundation walls are a perfect choice for any homeowner on a tight budget.

Common Block Foundation Wall Problems: Hydrostatic Pressure

bowing block basement wall

Block foundation walls can bow and buckle, which means that you may have to repair them at some point.

The seams between blocks are more prone to basement wall cracks and leaking than other types of foundation walls.

Hydrostatic Pressure

Block foundation walls can succumb to hydrostatic pressure and let water in, which means that you will most likely have to spend more to waterproof them properly. If you don’t, the moisture will eventually wear off the mortar between the joints, causing further problems.

It’s pretty common to hear about hydrostatic pressure when you’re talking to professionals about basement and foundation walls. It’s one of the worst enemies your lower-grade area will come across. Hydrostatic pressure pushes up against your walls when there’s too much water in the surrounding ground. With time, it will damage the blocks so much that they can crack and bow, allowing moisture inside.

How to Reinforce Block Foundation Walls

Most of the time, construction professionals will suggest reinforcing block foundation walls. If you choose to do so, builders will pour concrete or use cement-based mortar to fill the gaps between the blocks. It’s best to use small gravel concrete since it will flow better and find its way into every void in your wall. Another thing you can do to reinforce them is to use half-inch steel rods between these gaps and voids starting from the bottom.

Solution: Waterproof Your Block Foundation Walls

The best way to deal with water-related problems is to waterproof your basement. Waterproofing can be a big undertaking, but it will eventually prove to be beneficial as you’ll no longer have moisture and flooding issues in your lower-grade area.

You can contact professionals at FSM to waterproof your basement. Our team provides services to homeowners throughout the Detroit area, Grand Rapids, Traverse City, and surrounding areas in Michigan. If you schedule a free estimate right now, you’ll be able to protect your home in no time. After initial assessments of the situation, the team will offer several solutions depending on the state of your basement. So, be quick and act now.

Block Foundation Wall FAQs

Yes, FSM has extensive experience dealing with various types of foundations. Whether you have a concrete slab, block foundation, or stone foundation, our experts are trained to handle the unique challenges posed by each material. 

The cost of repairing bowing basement walls varies depending on the severity of the problem, the methods used for repair, and the condition of the surrounding environment. Ignoring the issue usually results in more severe problems down the line, which can be significantly more expensive to address. Foundation Systems of Michigan offers free inspections to provide a detailed analysis and quote tailored to your specific needs. 

While there are some DIY methods on the market, repairing bowing basement walls is a complex process that typically requires professional evaluation and intervention. The issue often signals more serious structural problems, and incorrect repairs can lead to more significant damage over time. 

Leah Leitow

Leah Leitow

Content Writer

Leah is a Content Writer for Groundworks with nearly ten years of experience working in the foundation repair industry. Her experience ranges from working with homeowners to find the right solution to training inspectors and staff. In her background as a Michigan journalist, she gained invaluable insight into people's lives throughout our state. Leah lives in metro Detroit with her husband and two sons.

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