How to Dig a Footer for New Construction

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The footer is the base of any building. This concrete structure provides the support for the foundation, which ultimately supports the entire building. Footers are always below grade or ground level. The process of excavating the soil for the footers is known as digging a footer -- and takes on additional importance if the footers are not formed by a frame, but made up of concrete poured into the excavated trench.

Things You'll Need

  • Stakes
  • Carpenter's string
  • Tape measure
  • Excavator
  • Mark the corner locations for the footers with wood stakes. Stretch carpenter's string from stake to stake to form the outline of the footers and foundation. Alternatively, you can mark the ground with spray paint to indicate the locations of the footers.

  • Excavate the soil from the marked locations with a backhoe or excavator. Remove the soil to create a trench to the depth indicated on the building plans. Have an assistant standing by with a stick marked with spray paint to the proper depth. Check the depth often. The bottom of the excavation for the footers should be uniform all the way around the building.

  • Leave the soil at the bottom of the excavation undisturbed. The cement footer should be poured on undisturbed soil.

Tips & Warnings

  • Depending on the building plans, the footer could be below the frost level -- the level that soil freezes during a normal winter in the area. In northern climates, the frost level could be as deep as 5 feet. The foundation extends from the footers up to the bottom of the building.
  • Excavate the soil for the footers as close as possible to the time when you pour the concrete for the footers. Exposed soil can loosen -- or worse, be rained on -- providing less support for the footer. If the footers aren’t on solid ground, the building will settle, possibly causing stress cracks in the building. Because the process of digging footers requires heavy equipment used with precision, the task is commonly left to building contractors.

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