Permanent Wood Foundation Vs. Concrete Basement

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Wood foundation enthusiasts claim that wood basements are cheaper and warmer than concrete.
Wood foundation enthusiasts claim that wood basements are cheaper and warmer than concrete. (Image: Hans Hansen/Lifesize/Getty Images)

A house is only as good as its foundation. That's an old cliche, but it remains true and is often overlooked. A good foundation is meant to keep basements or crawlspaces dry, support the load of the house and protect against heat loss. Wood foundations are often ignored because, commonly, wood is not considered a strong material for basements. Concrete is the default choice for this reason. Wood manufacturers and other parties strongly contest this idea.

Wood Foundations

One of the most important benefits of wood is its insulating properties. Wood is far more energy efficient than concrete, partially because concrete is both porous and absorbs heat, leaving the room cold. Wood does the opposite. Wood basements and foundations require less heat. Wood is lighter, and most of the time, the concrete footing can be dispensed with. Wood foundations are built atop a level of gravel that both supports the structure and assists in drainage. Wood is also more elastic than concrete, and in a sense, acts like a strong liquid as it supports the house. Concrete can crack, while wood, if properly treated, resists cracking.

Wood Costs

Wood is far cheaper than concrete, whether poured or block. This is partially because the woodwork that frames the rest of the house is just extended to the foundation. You only need to hire one crew. With concrete foundations, a developer must hire a separate concrete contractor with high labor costs. The Wood Foundation organization, a trade group backing wood-based building, reports that savings of up to $25,000 per house have been reported with wood vs. concrete basements.

Wood Benefits

Pro-wood organizations like the Wood Foundation organization claim that wood is easier to wire. Concrete must be drilled for later wiring that is not specifically part of the initial design of the house. In other words, concrete offers fewer options down the road. Wood is fairly easy to wire at any time.

The Case for Concrete

The far more common concrete foundations are strong. Concrete organizations such as the Concrete Foundation Association claim that concrete basements are both stronger and more moisture resistant than wood. Those suspicious of wood foundations claim, as the CFA does, that wood might be an excellent short-term option, but wood's lifespan is less than concrete. Significantly, the CFA and many others also claim that the toxic salts and other chemicals used to treat the wood -- making it stronger and termite repellent -- can leak into the soil, poisoning it. Furthermore, the CFA claims that wood is less versatile than concrete. Poured concrete foundations can be created in any number of shapes, while wood has its limits in this regard.

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