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A shallow foundation is often selected when the structural load will not cause excessive settlement of the underlying soil layers.

Shallow Foundations - An Overview

In general, shallow foundations are more economical to construct than deep foundations. Common types of shallow foundations are listed in Table 1 and described later:

Table 1. Types of shallow foundations

Category Common Types Comments
Shallow foundations Spread footings Spread footings (also called pad footings) are often square in plan view, are of uniform reinforced concrete thickness,
and are used to support a single column load located directly in the center of the footing.
Strip footings Strip footings (also called wall footings) are often used for load-bearing walls. They are usually long reinforced concrete
members of uniform width and shallow depth.
Combined footings Reinforced-concrete combined footings are often rectangular or trapezoidal in plan view, and carry more than one column load.
Conventional slab-on-grade A continuous reinforced-concrete foundation consisting of bearing wall footings and a slab-on-grade.
Concrete reinforcement often consists of steel rebar in the footings and wire mesh in the concrete slab.
Posttensioned slab-on-grade A continuous posttensioned concrete foundation. The posttensioning effect is created by tensioning steel tendons or cables
embedded within the concrete. Common posttensioned foundations are the ribbed foundation, California slab, and PTI foundation.
Raised wood floor Perimeter footings that support wood beams and a floor system. Interior support is provided by pad or strip footings. There is a
crawl space below the wood floor.
Mat foundation A large and thick reinforced-concrete foundation, often of uniform thickness, that is continuous and supports the entire structure.
A mat foundation is considered to be a shallow foundation if it is constructed at or near ground surface.


1. Spread Footings, Combined Footings, and Strip Footings

These types of shallow foundations are probably the most common types of building foundations. Figure 1 shows various types of shallow foundations.


Figure 1. Examples of shallow foundations. (a) Combined footing; (b) combined trapezoidal footing; (c) cantilever or strap footing; (d) octagonal footing; (e) eccentric loaded footing with resultant coincident with area so soil pressure is uniform. (Reproduced from Bowles, 1982; McGraw-Hill, Inc.)
Figure 1. Examples of shallow foundations. (a) Combined footing; (b) combined trapezoidal footing; (c) cantilever or strap footing; (d) octagonal footing; (e) eccentric loaded footing with resultant coincident with area so soil pressure is uniform. (Reproduced from Bowles, 1982; McGraw-Hill, Inc.)

2. Mat Foundation

Figure 2 shows various types of mat foundations. Based on economic considerations, mat foundations are often constructed for the following reasons (NAVFAC DM-7.2, 1982):

Figure 2. Examples of mat foundations. (a) Flat plate; (b) plate thickened under columns; (c) beam-and-slab; (d) plate with pedestals; (e) basement walls as part of mat. (Reproduced from Bowles, 1982; McGraw-Hill, Inc.)
Figure 2. Examples of mat foundations. (a) Flat plate; (b) plate thickened under columns; (c) beam-and-slab; (d) plate with pedestals; (e) basement walls as part of mat. (Reproduced from Bowles, 1982; McGraw-Hill, Inc.)
i. Large individual footings. A mat foundation is often constructed when the sum of individual footing areas exceeds about one-half of the total foundation area.

ii. Cavities or compressible lenses. A mat foundation can be used when the subsurface exploration indicates that there will be unequal settlement caused by small cavities or compressible lenses below the foundation. A mat foundation would tend to span over the small cavities or weak lenses and create a more uniform settlement condition.

iii. Shallow settlements. A mat foundation can be recommended when shallow settlements predominate and the mat foundation would minimize differential settlements.

iv. Unequal distribution of loads. For some structures, there can be a large difference in building loads acting on different areas of the foundation. Conventional spread footings could be subjected to excessive differential settlement, but a mat foundation would tend to distribute the unequal building loads and reduce the differential settlements.

v. Hydrostatic uplift. When the foundation will be subjected to hydrostatic uplift due to a high groundwater table, a mat foundation could be used to resist the uplift forces.

3. Posttensioned Slab-on-Grade

Posttensioned slab-on-grade is common in southern California and other parts of the United States. The most common uses of posttensioned slab-on-grade are to resist expansive soil forces or when the projected differential settlement exceeds the tolerable value for a conventional (lightly reinforced) slab-on-grade. For example, posttensioned slabs-on-grade are frequently recommended if the projected differential settlement is expected to exceed 0.75 in. (2 cm).

The Post-Tensioning Institute (1996) has prepared installation and field inspection procedures for posttensioned slab-on-grade. Posttensioned slab-on-grade consists of concrete with embedded steel tendons that are encased in thick plastic sheaths. The plastic sheath prevents the tendon from coming in contact with the concrete and permits the tendon to slide within the hardened concrete during the tensioning operations. Usually tendons have a dead end (anchoring plate) in the perimeter (edge) beam and a stressing end at the opposite perimeter beam to enable the tendons to be stressed from one end. However, it is often recommend that the tendons in excess of 100 ft (30 m) b stressed from both ends.

Because posttensioned slab-on-grade perform better (i.e., less shrinkage related concrete cracking) than conventional slab-on-grade, they are more popular even for situations where low levels of settlement are expected. Posttensioned slab-on-grade has become common for situations where it is desirable to limit the amount and width of concrete shrinkage cracks.

4. Shallow Foundation Alternatives

If the expected settlement for a proposed shallow foundation is too large, then other options for foundation support or soil stabilization must be evaluated. Some commonly used alternatives are as follows:

i. Grading. Grading operations can be used to remove the compressible soil layer and replace it with structural fill. Usually the grading option is only economical if the compressible soil layer is near the ground surface and the groundwater table is below the compressible soil layer or the groundwater table can be economically lowered.

ii. Surcharge. If the site contains an underlying compressible cohesive soil layer, the site can be surcharged with a fill layer placed at the ground surface. Vertical drains (such as wick drains or sand drains) can be installed in the compressible soil layer to reduce the drainage paths and speedup the consolidation process. Once the compressible cohesive soil layer has had sufficient consolidation, the fill surcharge layer is removed and the building is constructed.

iii. Densification of soil. There are many different methods that can be used to densify loose or soft soil. For example, vibro-flotation and dynamic compaction are often effective at increasing the density of loose sand deposits. Another option is compaction grouting, which consists of intruding a mass of very thick consistency grout into the soil, which both displaces and compacts the loose soil.

iv. Floating foundation. A floating foundation is a special type of deep foundation where the weight of the structure is balanced by the removal of soil and construction of an underground basement.




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