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Concrete Foundation Timeline?

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A follow-up on the cast concrete home thread that recently appeared - Would someone post a timeline for concrete foundations in general:

Dates of first or early use of:

cast, poured, and block foundations


What are the characteristics of cast iron vs. steel support posts? Could someone post some photos of examples of each?


I posted a couple of questions last week regarding a home cited as built in 1880, and based on the discussion it generated it seems like this home was probably built closer to 1900. Should I send an addendum to my report or follow up in some other way with my client regarding this date discrepancy?

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There's also the chance that the house has a newer foundation beneath it that was added decades after it was built. I find houses all the time that were originally built post-on-pier and have basements beneath them now. Sometimes they aren't even post-on-pier types and have conventional box sill construction.

Had one yesterday. The client said it was built in 1920. Big flat corner lot with what looked like 40-year old firs growing around it in the yard. As soon as I walked around it, I felt that something just wasn't kosher. Although all of the house windows were brand new vinyl double-paned types, the garage windows were vintage 50's - 60's aluminum casement types and the blockwork of the foundation just had "something" about it that said 60's to me (Don't ask me what - it just did. S'funny, I can look at brick and block and do that with a fair degree of accuracy. Guess I've been doing this too long.).

Up on the roof, the top portion of chimney above the ridge line had been re-bricked with 60's era brick and the bottom was older, softer stuff with well worn joints that was really showing its age. When I walked through it, the framing and most everything about the structure said 1920, but the house felt too straight, square and level to be an 86 year old house on a lot that flat and soft.

The second I walked into the basement I knew instantly I was on the right track. I Noticed that all of the posts were smooth planed, as were the beams that had been laid up from several planks, instead of being one solid 6 by 6 or 6 by 8 timber, and the box sill framing above those was all rougher surface actual 2" stuff on 2-ft centers with pretty wide T & G dougfir decking.

Definitely early 20th century, but not the beams and posts or that CMU foundation. There was lots of 50-60's-era Romex rag-wrap all over the place mixed in with the original K & T, that made it look like the romex was added all in one fell swoop.

My gut told me that it had either been built on that lot and had the basement hollowed out and added later, or it had been moved onto the lot on steel. I was thinking to myself that the second option, that the house was sitting on steel when the foundation was added, would explain the perfectly flat floors, when I found the furnace. The furnace proved me right. It was a 1963 GE gas furnace, complete with the original 1963 permits for the furnace, wiring and plumbing but nothing else. A house in that area prior to the 60's would have had an oil furnace, and there would have been other signs of pre-60's site work.

So, the 40-year-old firs - probably planted when the house was first placed on the lot, the flatness of the platform that said "STEEL", the chimney that had been taken down to make it easier to move under wires and branches, combined with 60's era windows, rag wrap, '63 gas furnace and plumbing, combined with no evidence of a pre-60's heating method, have me convinced that it was probably moved onto the lot on steel from somewhere else, set on cribbing, and then the footings and basement were bricked up beneath it and it was set down onto the walls.

So, your basement could be newer.

Is there such a thing as a paleohouseagist?



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I agree that dating a building by foundation type alone would be sketchy.

Really good building stone is plentiful in these parts. No reason to buy and transport manufactured products when your tripping over a very durable natural product on site (fieldstone). Even quarried stone is within a mile or 2 of each old stone building. Regular use of concrete and CMU came very late to this area. I've seen many homes from the 50s and even a few from the early 60s with stone foundations.

In another thread I posted what I know about concrete (I know more about pre-1900 materials than recent stuff). I also have a few notes about concrete block.

First, the names concrete blocks, cinder blocks and clinker blocks do not determine age, it just indicates the aggregate content. In the UK, they're called breezeblocks.

1882 is the first well known process of forming hollow core concrete blocks. Although there was one manufacturer at that time, most were molded individually, on site. But they are still very rare this early. A rather simple machine was developed for on site use, manufactured and sold from about 1900.


What eventually became the American Concrete Institute (ACI) was a group that met in 1904 to "form an association of manufac­turers of concrete block machines to educate the users of such machines in the proper methods of making good block". There are many published building design guides for concrete block buildings dating from 1906 to 1917.

It seems that around 1910 is when concrete blocks were commercially manufactured and distributed widely. The early 20s is about when rusticated blocks became popular on some late foursquares and many commercial buildings. They lost their popularity by the end of the 1930's for decorative use, but continued on until the end of the 20th century as the primary foundation material.

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