How Is Stem Wall Foundation Different From Monolithic Slab?

Typically, builders hone in on five different types of foundations. Yet, the stem wall foundation and the monolithic slab are two of the most popular variations.

Each has its upshot and each has its downside. Stem walls are far more labor-intensive. But, they also serve homeowners well when the land can’t be perfectly leveled and compacted.

So, they provide a bit of assurance that a home can be built on varying terrain and, due to the elevation they create, they also serve people well who live in flood plains.

Still, the monolithic slab is a front-runner for the ease in which this type of foundation can be laid. But, there are quite a few determining factors that often rule it out, predominantly a lack of level ground.

Below, we’re going to break down the difference between the two.  And, since the stem wall requires more work, we’ll spend a little more time breaking down the process, from start to finish.

In the end, if you’re gearing up to sit down with the home builders of your dreams, you can walk into the conversation armed with some useful knowledge. The foundation is where the dreams begin and, without a sturdy one, nothing else truly matters.

What Is a Stem Wall

As we can see, a stem wall foundation is one of the most common forms of house foundations. Its main competition is usually the monolithic slab, providing the ground meets certain criteria (which we’ll get into in just a moment).

But, let’s stay with stem walls for a moment. These walls are short constructs that are attached to a concrete footing. So, the first thing that needs to be erected is a footer. This is poured at the ground level.

Once the footer is poured, cement blocks are laid which create a wall up to the finished slab elevation. This form of foundation is quite sturdy and it does well on land that can’t be perfectly leveled out or compacted.

How Are They Constructed?

When laying a stem wall foundation, the first thing you’ll want to do is clear the land. Make sure you don’t leave behind any major stumps.

Then, you’ll want to compact the subgrade. If needed, make sure you make additions to the soil to create a dense and uniform surface for your foundation.

Once all this is done, it’ll be time to pour the footings for the house. The concrete bases in stem walls need to be at least 12 inches below the subgrade. They also need to be approximately 12 inches wide.

Stem walls are often constructed with cinder blocks. They can be stacked until they rise to meet the finished slab elevation.

Poured concrete is also an option, albeit a far more labor-intensive process because forms and bracing are required.

Still, stem walls create little crawl spaces beneath a home, elevating it above flood plains and creating crude storage spaces, if need be.

Stem Walls vs. Monolithic Slabs

So, let’s return to monolithic slabs. We mentioned they require certain criteria and the main element there is flat land.

Need for Flat Land

Monolithic slabs are foundations that are laid in one, single pour. So, they create a neat, level foundation with extra density underneath load-bearing walls, along the perimeter of the house, and other important support points.

These foundations tend to be laid faster than stem walls. As such, they also come with lower labor costs.

So, if you’re dealing with nice, level ground and you’re looking for a fast build, a monolithic slab can be absolutely ideal for your conditions.

Risk of Cracking

But, they pose a few difficulties. If they’re not set on level ground, monolithic slabs can crack. The ground really needs to be densely compacted for success.

And, of course, the foundation alone may not crack. The drywall and flooring also run the risk of cracking over time. So, this truly is a major cause for concern when laying a monolithic foundation.

Bad for Flood Zones

You’ll have noticed that slab walls are slightly elevated. Hence the nice, little crawl space they may provide. Monolithic slabs don’t have this.

So, if you’re building in areas that are prone to flooding, you might want to consider the stem wall system. This will provide an extra barrier against the treacheries of a potential flood zone.

A Stem Wall Foundation for Sturdy Success

And there you have it. If you’re dealing with level, compacted ground, then you may be in the running for a single-pour, monolithic foundation.

If, however, you’re looking at a flood zone or land that can never be fully leveled out, then a stem wall foundation will provide you with a sound structure and peace of mind.

Did you know that your own, personal paradise is just a build away? Here at Coral Isle Builders, we’re your Southwest Florida home builders.

From the first time we meet to discuss your construction project, we offer a perfectly personalized process. That means you’ll have a say from the foundation to the ceiling of your future home.

And don’t forget the joys that come with selecting the right carpet, tiles, and amenities for your coastal oasis. Come explore all our floor plans and see which one strikes your fancy.

Currently, we build in Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Pine Island, Estero, and Bonita Springs. If you have land in any of these areas, we’d be more than happy to build on your lot and hand-deliver the custom home of your dreams.