Types of foundation

Foundations provide support for structures, transferring their load to layers of soil or rock that have sufficient bearing capacity and suitable settlement characteristics.

Foundations are classified into two major categories

  1. shallow foundations
  2. Deep foundations

The words shallow and deep refer to the depth of soil in which the foundation is made. Shallow foundations can be made in depths of as little as 3ft (1m), while deep foundations can be made at depths of 60 – 200ft (20 – 65m).


Shallow foundations are also called spread footings or open footings. The ‘open’ refers to the fact that the foundations are made by first excavating all the earth till the bottom of the footing, and then constructing the footing. During the early stages of work, the entire footing is visible to the eye, and is therefore called an open foundation. The idea is that each footing takes the concentrated load of the column and spreads it out over a large area, so that the actual weight on the soil does not exceed the safe bearing capacity of the soil.

Shallows foundations are used when surface soils are sufficiently strong and stiff to support the imposed loads; they are generally unsuitable in weak or highly compressible soils, such as poorly-compacted backfill.

types of shallow foundations 

  • Strip foundations
  • Pad foundations
  • Raft foundations



pad foundations 

 Pad foundations are also known as individual footings, isolated footings  or single footings.Pad foundations are used to support an individual point load such as a structural column, a group of columns or a framed structure. They may be circular, square or reactangular. They usually consist of a block or slab of uniform thickness, but they may be stepped or haunched if they are required to spread the load from a heavy column. Pad foundations are usually shallow, but deep pad foundations can also be used depending on the ground conditions.The load  from the columns is then transmitted by the pad to the bearing layer of soil or rock below.

Individual footings awaiting concreting of the footing column



strip foundations 

Strip foundations are used to support a line of loads, either due to a load-bearing wall, or if a line of columns and act as a long strip that supports the weight of an entire wall. These are used where the building loads are carried by entire walls rather than isolated columns, such as in older buildings made of masonry.

strip foundation


Raft foundation

Raft Foundations, also called Mat Foundations, are most often used when basements are to be constructed. In a raft, the entire basement floor slab acts as the foundation; the weight of the building is spread evenly over the entire footprint of the building. Raft foundation is used when soil bearing capacity is low.

A raft foundation normally consists of a concrete slab which extends over the entire loaded area. It may be stiffened by ribs or beams incorporated into the foundation.

Raft foundations have the advantage of reducing differential settlements as the concrete slab resists differential movements between loading positions. They are often needed on soft or loose soils with low bearing capacity as they can spread the loads over a larger area.

concrete slab of a raft foundation



PILE FOUNDATIONS -A pile is basically a long cylinder of a strong material such as concrete that is pushed into the ground so that structures can be supported on top of it.

Pile foundations are used in the following situations:

  • When there is a layer of weak soil at the surface. This layer cannot support the weight of the building, so the loads of the building have to bypass this layer and be transferred to the layer of stronger soil or rock that is below the weak layer.
  • When a building has very heavy, concentrated loads, such as in a high rise structure.

Pile foundations are capable of taking higher loads than spread footings.

There are two types of pile foundations, each of which works in its own way.

  • End bearing piles
  • Friction piles

In end bearing piles, the bottom end of the pile rests on a layer of especially strong soil or rock. The load of the building is transferred through the pile onto the strong layer. In a sense, this pile acts like a column. The key principle is that the bottom end rests on the surface which is the intersection of a weak and strong layer. The load therefore bypasses the weak layer and is safely transferred to the strong layer.

Friction piles work on a different principle. The pile transfers the load of the building to the soil across the full height of the pile, by friction. In other words, the entire surface of the pile, which is cylindrical in shape, works to transfer the forces to the soil.

To visualise how this works, imagine you are pushing a solid metal rod of say 4mm diameter into a tub of frozen ice cream. Once you have pushed it in, it is strong enough to support some load. The greater the embedment depth in the ice cream, the more load it can support. This is very similar to how a friction pile works. In a friction pile, the amount of load a pile can support is directly proportionate to its length.

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