Foundation work is hard work and is often subcontracted out, but it's something that the adventurous do-it-yourselfer can take on with the right set of skills, knowledge and resources. Michael Buchtel took a class in foundation work, got a certification and did the work of constructing his house foundation and wall structure himself. He utilized the skills he learned to continue doing this type of work as a subcontractor in other home-constructions.
Fred Samuels — the ultimate in adventurous do-it-yourselfers — did nearly all of the foundation for his Tennessee country home himself. His story is not typical, however. Foundation work is not typically a one-person job. If you work with a subcontractor, you may want to discuss with them at the outset whether there is any part of the job you can do yourself. For example, one of our contractors and his son participated in the process by pouring the concrete grout into the cinderblock foundation. In this way they saved some of the expense associated with their house foundation.
Fred first built a basic cinderblock foundation, but then employed shorewall to complete the foundation walls. Shorewall is a fiberglass mixture embedded in polymer, and is mixed separately and applied to the concrete in a manner similar to stucco. When shorewall is used, the cinderblock wall is set dry (without mortar between blocks), and the shorewall mixture is then applied to the outside. The result is a fiberglass-based "skin" that encases the cinderblock wall. Fred believes that this results in a stronger and more durable wall. He coated the shorewall with a coat of cement stain.
Al Sain opted to use insulated concrete forms (or ICF) for his house foundation. This type of foundation utilizes two layers of foam with concrete poured between them. This was a relatively new technology at the time that Al's house was being built. One advantage that it provides is a well-insulated basement.
When working with concrete foundations, you should be prepared that unexpected problems may come up. Al Sain experienced this when the foam broke out in one location when the concrete was being in the ICF. Fortunately, the framing had already been built in behind the foundation, and it held the foam in position while a repair could be made.
Betty King and John Spracklen had to purchase several truckloads of concrete for their large home. When the concrete arrived, it was discovered that there was no sand in the mix. The trucks had to be sent back to get the proper concrete mix. This setback might have led to some serious (and costly) scheduling problems if this portion of the job were not being handled by a subcontractor. Their subcontractor was fortunately organized and flexible enough to handle this troublesome situation.
The builders were also flexible enough to work with Betty and John on their desire to use only non-toxic building materials in the foundation building. Rather than using toxic petroleum products to help the poured concrete release from the shaping forms that hold it in place, the subcontractors were persuaded to actually use salad oil as a substitute for the toxic petroleum material.