NH15-457-1998-eng .

NH15-457-1998-eng .
A Design Guide for Rural, Northern
and First Nations Housing
This publication has been developed by the Ontario First Nations Technical
Services Corporation (OFNTSC), with financial assistance from Canada
Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). We would like to acknowledge
the following people for their contribution in the development and review
of this publication:
Buchan, Lawton, Parent Ltd.
Guy Titley, Dow Chemical Canada Inc.
Michael Shirlaw, Portland Cement Association
Oliver Drerup, CMHC
REIC (Consulting) Ltd.
The McLeod Associates
The booklet is solely intended for the purposes of slab-on-grade, frostprotected, shallow foundations subject to the limitations set out. The
scope is not intended to encompass any other aspects of the house
The design and the construction of the foundation is solely the responsibility
of the builder/contractor. Consequently, we cannot accept liability for
modifications to the design method or for use of the design method
outside the stated limitations, or for designs not built according to Codes
and good building practice. Furthermore, we cannot accept responsibility
for material defects, specific site conditions or for the builder/contractor’s
judgment and as such, no warranty is expressed or implied.
Consulting Engineers
30 East Beaver Creek Road, #210
Richmond Hill, Ontario
L4B 1G6
Tel: (905) 886-9270
Fax: (905) 886-9271
Insulated Slab-on-Grade
Table of Contents
Section 1:
Section 2:
Design Limitations and Assumptions
Section 3:
Design Procedure
Section 4:
Construction Procedures
Section 5:
Purpose of this Guide
Slab-on-grade foundations are gaining increasing interest across Canada
and hold considerable potential for rural, northern and First Nations
housing as a means of constructing a lower cost, durable and energyefficient foundation. When properly designed and constructed, slab-ongrade foundations minimize many of the problems commonly found with
conventional foundation practices in northern and First Nations housing.
This booklet is intended to act as a concise guide, taking builders beyond
interest in the subject to a point where they have design resources to be
able to successfully construct a frost-protected, slab-on-grade foundation.
The guide is intended to give builders the knowledge and confidence to
design and construct trouble-free foundations.
For design and site conditions that fall within the guidelines set out in this
booklet, a frost-protected, slab-on-grade foundation can be designed and
constructed using the information in this guide, without having to retain
a professional engineer, except in extreme or non-typical circumstances.
A Brief History
In Canada, tradition and concerns about frost heave have led to the
mistaken impression that good design practice requires that foundations
must be constructed on footings located below the frost line. In the days
before full basement construction, however, leaves, straw, seaweed and
even snow were frequently placed next to exterior walls to protect
foundations from temperature extremes. Modern frost protection
methods are an extension of this practice—using rigid insulation to
protect the foundation.
Modern frost-protected shallow foundations (FPSF) have been in common
usage for more than 35 years. In Scandinavia, more than a million FPSF
have been built with very successful results. Interestingly, the design
guides used in these countries are largely based on Canadian research.
Many Canadian authorities have concluded that slab-on-grade foundations
provide one of the most effective ways of improving the affordability and
quality of housing in northern climates. The Ontario First Nations Technical
Services Corporation (OFNTSC) and Canada Mortgage and Housing
Corporation (CMHC) have prepared this booklet specifically to remove
barriers to the use of frost-protected, shallow foundations in rural,
northern and First Nations housing.
Benefits of Insulated Slab-on-Grade
A properly designed insulated, slab-on-grade foundation has been
proven to provide trouble-free, comfortable construction for a variety
of residential and non-residential buildings. The benefits of using such
foundations include:
reduced construction costs;
reduced excavation costs;
reduced use of materials (concrete, concrete block, fill, etc.);
greater ease and speed of construction;
reduced need to drain adjacent soils; and
avoidance of problems related to moisture.
Many people question the concept of digging a large hole in the ground for
a foundation. They liken the practice to that used by farmers to collect
water for their livestock. Conventional foundation techniques—especially
in northern communities—are prone to develop moisture problems. The
action of frost, soil pressures and hydrostatic water pressures can all
result in water leakage into conventional foundations. High moisture levels
in these foundation systems are common and, in extreme conditions, can
result in the premature deterioration of the building.
The concept behind a slab-on-grade foundation is premised on several
by maintaining the foundation at grade level, the potential for
moisture-related problems is minimized;
by eliminating the basement, the costs of heating an additional volume
of air is eliminated; and
by keeping the foundation at grade, problems relating to soil pressures
are minimized.
Slab-on-grade construction has some inherent limitations relative to design:
by eliminating the basement or crawl space, mechanical systems
take up space on the house main floor;
storage facilities must be integrated into the house design;
the technique is less suitable in locations where access to ready-mix
concrete is limited; and
planning of services (phone, plumbing, etc.) must be accurately
identified prior to placing of concrete.
Issues and Concerns
The most common technical concerns associated with slab-on-grade
foundation construction in Canadian climates relate to the potential for
frost heave and settlement leading to foundation cracks, movement of the
structure, damage to finishes and structural problems. These problems
can be expensive to repair.
With the placement of footings at or near grade, care is needed with
respect to items such as:
structural issues–foundations must bear on undisturbed soil,
free of organic matter. The slab must be capable of transferring
the building loads through to the bearing soils;
heat flow–insulation levels and placement procedures must account
for both occupant comfort as well as frost protection concerns;
air leakage–the foundation system must be designed to avoid the
entry of soil gases into the home; and
moisture–foundations must be designed to restrict the entry of
water and to prevent the entry of soil vapour into the building.
Traditional slab-on-grade designs have employed frost walls around the
building perimeter. Insulated or frost-protected slab-on-grade foundations
use insulation in place of soil to control heat loss and avoid freezing
conditions next to and beneath the slab. Simply stated, 2" (50 mm)
of insulation serves the same function as 4' (1,200 mm) of soil in
protecting the footings.
Insulation is used to retain the heat immediately adjacent to the
foundation, which comes from two sources:
heat flowing from inside of the house to the soil beneath and beside
the slab; and
geothermal heat from the deep soil—heat stored in the earth below
the frost level.
Design Principles
Heated space
(Cold air)
To understand the rationale behind insulated slab-on-grade design,
it is important to understand the nature of heat flows affecting
slab-on-grade construction.
The most significant heat loss from the slab-on-grade occurs
in the perimeter band of soil immediately adjacent to the building.
Heat loss at corners is most pronounced because it occurs
in two directions.
By strategically placing insulation in the ground, this heat loss
can be used to keep the slab from freezing and heaving.
Geothermal heat
Heat Flows from Slab-on-Grade Foundations
Horizontal insulation installed in “wings” sloping outward,
around the perimeter of the slab, has the following effects:
it extends the heat flow path;
it controls heat loss; and
it moves the line of frost penetration away from the slab.
Proper detailing will also promote drainage and help keep structural
elements warm and dry.
Heat loss is greatest
at corners
Heat Flows from Perimeter of Slab
Level of frost penetration
Frost Penetration from Typical Slab-on-Grade
Level of frost penetration
Frost Penetration from Insulated Slab-on-Grade
Design Limitations and
The design method used in this booklet is intended to accommodate
designs for most geographic regions in Canada. The following limitations
to the method must be noted:
The design method is intended for use on Part 9 residential buildings:
– of two storeys or less;
– with typical house floor loads.
Construction will be in non-permafrost regions (i.e., regions having
an average mean annual temperature greater than 32°F (0°C).
Foundation design in permafrost usually includes strategies
to keep the ground frozen rather than unfrozen.
Slab design will be appropriate to the bearing capacity of soils and will
take into account any unusual loading conditions.
It is assumed that such designs are only to be applied in the following
On heated buildings, it will not adequately protect buildings which
are unheated for prolonged periods.
On buildings completed, backfilled and heated before freezing weather
Elements above the foundation must comply with local Codes and/or the
National Building Code.
Insulation in contact with soil as specified in the design must be either
Type II, III, or IV.
Builders using the method should note that the insulation levels specified
will probably be found to be adequate for floor comfort. The design method
assumes the worst case for soil frost-susceptibility and as such, the
specified insulation levels may be conservative in some cases.
Proper site grading is required, sloping the finished grade level away from
the structure to direct surface water away from the foundation.
Adequate measures must also be taken to avoid damage to the slab
insulation—both during construction and over the expected service
life of the assembly—typically by covering the wing insulation with
a minimum of 8" (200 mm) of backfill.
Design Procedure
The design procedure specifies the thickness and width of the horizontal
wing of insulation that is to be installed around the perimeter of the
slab-on-grade. It assumes that the area under the slab as well as the
slab edge are insulated to a minimum of R 10 (RSI 1.8). The thermal
resistance and width of the perimeter insulation is specified based on
the severity of the climate — as indicated by degree days below 18°C.
Step 1
Select the closest location as listed in Table 1, or consult the Ontario
Building Code for the degree day rating of your specific location. The
rating provides an indication of the severity of the climatic conditions
in the vicinity of the site.
Big Trout Lake
North York
North Bay
Parry Sound
Sioux Lookout
Thunder Bay
Degree Days C
Table 1:
Degree Day C (Below 18˚C) by Location
Design Procedure
Step 2
Consult Table 2 for the wing width and thickness for the insulation layer
that is required to protect the footing. While in warmer parts of the province,
only a 4' (1.2 m) wing will be required; in more severe climates, the width of
the wing might need to extend out 6' (1.8 m) from the foundation perimeter.
House slab
Perimeter Foundation Zones
Required R (RSI) Value
of Insulation by Zone
Representing 2' (600 mm)
Degree Days
Below 18˚C
Less than 3800˚C
10 (1.76)
3800 – 6000˚C
10 (1.76)
10 (1.76)
More than 6000˚C
10 (1.76)
10 (1.76)
5.0 (0.88)
Table 2:
Determining Required Insulation
This design will produce a foundation with a typical cross section as shown
below. Some important design considerations are assumed:
The excavation is sloped to an outflow point (exterior drain or dry well)
and lined with a minimum of 6" (150 mm) of free-draining granular material.
The entire slab is insulated to a level of R 10 (RSI 1.8). Insulation in
contact with the soil is Expanded Polystyrene Type II or III, or Extruded
Polystyrene Type IV, meeting requirements of CGSB 51.20-M.
Design Procedure
A 6-mil polyethylene sheet is provided over top of the sub-slab
insulation to meet soil gas control requirements of Building Codes.
Wood formwork and plates cast into concrete are pressure-treated
The concrete specified is a minimum of 25 MPa, with 5-7 per cent
air entrainment.
Where 25 MPa concrete is unavailable, welded wire mesh must be
installed at the mid-point of the slab as reinforcing.
Where required, wire mesh should be a minimum 6x6" (152x152 mm)
welded wire mesh (and should be over-lapped a minimum of 8" (200 mm)
at joints.
All reinforcing steel (#10) placed in the concrete must be covered with
a minimum of 3" (75 mm) of concrete (top, bottom and edges).
Good concrete curing practices are applied and saw-cut control joints
are provided every 14-18' (4-5 m).
152x152 mm
18.7x18.7 mm wire mesh
2x6 P.T.
let in sill plate
1/2" P.T. plywood
2" rigid foam
Minimum 6"
25 MPa concrete
5-7% air entrainment
Min. 3"
Min. 6" compacted sand
4" backfill
2" clean
2" rigid
4" clean
2" Type II, III, IV
rigid foam
Minimum 6" clean
gravel compacted
Wing insulation
as per Table 2
10 M or 15 M
reinforcing steel
Construction Procedures
Having established the key variables associated with the design configuration, construction details must be considered.
The site work can proceed quickly and easily by means of the following steps.
Step 1:
Step 1
Excavate to a depth of 6-12"
and to an area extending
4' past the perimeter of
the building —or more, as
required by Table 2.
Remove all organic material within the footprint
Remove all organic material: topsoil, leaves, trees,
roots, etc. This often requires excavation/scraping
to a depth of 6-12" (150-200 mm). The area
excavated should be large enough to accommodate
the footprint of the building as well as the required
width of the perimeter wing insulation surrounding
the building. Trenching for services entrances should
also be performed at this point.
Step 2:
Step 2
Clear the Site and Level for
Slope Excavation to an Outflow
Level the subsoil, paying particular attention to
maintaining undisturbed soil beneath the building.
The excavation should be sloped to an outflow point
or dry well located away from the building. Ensure
that positive drainage is achieved. A slope of 1/4"/ft.
(1:50) should be provided.
Slope excavation to outflow point
Step 3:
Step 3
Planned form
Fill entire excavation
with clean stone
(3/4" dia. compacted)
Build up gravel as temporary
bracing to base of forms
Place Stone Drainage Bed
Use a minimum of 6" (150 mm) of 3/4" (19 mm)
diameter clear stone under the proposed building
footprint. Allow the gravel to extend 2' (600 mm)
beyond the slab perimeter. Place and level the stone.
To avoid undermining the slab, do not use drainage tile
or “O” pipe in the trench for additional drainage. Compact
stone over top of trenches provided for services
(water, waste and electrical) to ensure good bearing.
If constructing on sensitive clays or silty soils,
install a sand filter or geotextile membrane to
minimize disturbance of the soil, which can reduce
bearing capacity.
Construction Procedures
Step 4:
Step 4
2 x 6 PWF
anchor bolts
Nail PWF plywood
to baseplate using
galvanized nails
Glue insulation
to plywood
Build and Erect Formwork
Stake out the perimeter of the building accounting
for the thickness of the plywood forms and slab edge
insulation. Drive rebar stakes through the gravel at
the corners of the building to locate and support
the formwork.
The slab edge insulation, pressure-treated plywood
and wall baseplate can be constructed and used
as formwork employing the following steps:
Cut pressure-treated plywood into 16" (300 mm)
Pre-drill 1/2" (12.7 mm) holes for anchor bolts
through a 2x6 (38x140 mm) treated plate at 10'
(2.4 m) on centre. The holes should be located
at 11⁄2" (38 mm) from the inside edge of the plate.
Nail the baseplate to the top edge of the
plywood using hot-dipped galvanized nails.
Fasten the perimeter slab insulation to the
inside edge of the plywood.
Brace the form. Wood stakes can be used as
midpoint supports.
Attach the completed form to the layout stakes
on three sides of the perimeter, leaving one side
open for ease of movement of materials. Trench
the forms into the drainage layer to depth of 4"
(100 mm).
Insert the 1/2" (12.7 mm) anchor bolts.
Brace the formwork to prevent kick-out during the
pour. Remember, concrete is heavy and will exert
significant pressures on the forms.
Step 5
Step 5:
Place Insulation Layer
Location of form
Install rigid insulation
within ìfoo tprint” of
the slab-on-grade
6" compacted stone
Undisturbed soil
Place the layer of rigid polystyrene insulation
(R 10 (RSI 1.76)) over the levelled stone drainage bed
inside of the forms. Ensure joints in the rigid board
insulation are tight fitting. Fit the insulation tightly
around service entrances. A shiplap joint configuration
will provide optimum coverage along the length of the
sheets. Make certain that the insulation is in full
contact with the granular material.
Construction Procedures
Step 6:
Install Polyethylene and Sand
Step 6
Slab profile to be poured
Spread sand to a level of 6" with a slope of 1:1
6 mil polyethylene sheet
Lay a 6 mil polyethylene sheet over top of the
insulation layer inside of the perimeter of the
foundation. Joints in the polyethylene should
be overlapped a minimum of 12" (300 mm).
Place a 6" (150 mm) layer of sand over the centre
area of the excavation. Spread, level and compact
the sand so that it slopes to the base of the
perimeter footing at a 1:1 slope (45-degree angle).
16" footing for interior
bearing wall as required
Note re: Mechanical Services
Slab-on-grade construction requires careful layout and installation of
services to ensure that they extend from the slab in the correct locations.
Service entrances must be adequately braced to ensure they are not
dislocated during the concrete pour.
Where the house design requires an interior bearing
wall to carry roof or second floor loads, the slab
must be thickened to provide additional bearing
support. When spreading the sand, allow for a 16"
(400 mm) width footing to be centred under the
bearing wall. Where the load is carried on posts, a
36" (900 mm) diameter footing is required. In both
cases, the concrete should be the same thickness
as that at the perimeter footing.
Install the fourth and final section of the formwork
and brace the form as in Step 4.
Step 7: Place Reinforcing Steel, Wire
Mesh (as required) and Pour Concrete
Step 7
Footing rebar should be placed so that 3" (75 mm)
of concrete coverage is attained. The steel can be
temporarily supported at the required position
using either stone or “chairs”fabricated from
folded wire mesh.
Keep heavy equipment
8' away from forms
Wire mesh
as required
Where required, install wire mesh using chairs to
maintain its position. Wire mesh can also be installed
and worked into the concrete during placement of
the concrete, 3" (75 mm) coverage is required.
Reinforced bar held 3" away
from ends with chairs
The slab-on-grade must be at least 6" (150 mm)
thick. Place the concrete carefully to minimize
segregation of the aggregates. Never add water on
the site as this will result in weaker concrete and
increases the potential for shrinkage cracking.
Construction Procedures
Step 8:
Finish Concrete
Step 8
Control joints at a
maximum of 4-5 metres
Do not finish the concrete when bleed water is present.
This will result in fines rising to the top of the slab,
increasing the likelihood of spalling of the finish.
Control joints are required to minimize cracking of
larger slabs. Sawcut 6-16 hours after placement of
the slab. The depth of the cuts should be 1/4 of the
thickness of the slab—approximately 11⁄2" (38 mm).
Control joints should be located at 14-18' (4-5 m),
ideally under partition wall locations. Weaker aggregates
in the mix (i.e., crushed limestone) dictate reduced
spacing. Stronger aggregates (crushed granite)
allow increased spacing of control joints.
Sawcut minimum 1 1/2" and fill
completely with polysulphide
or polyurethane caulking
Concrete should be kept continuously moist for at
least three days after placement. Cover the slab
with tarps or polyethylene to reduce evaporation.
In freezing weather, the concrete should also be
kept warm using either insulating blankets or straw.
Finish the control joints and penetrations in the slab
with a gun-grade polysulphide or polyurethane caulking.
Step 9:
Step 9
Geotextile membrane
2" of rigid insulation sloped
away from perimeter of building
Insulate Horizontal Trench
Adjacent to the Building
and Backfill
Remove the form stakes and bracing. Complete
drainage layer and install the horizontal wing
insulation around the perimeter of the building as
required by the design. Ensure that there is a slope
away from the building. Insulation panels should be
butted tightly together. Shiplap edge insulation may
be used to facilitate this.
Cover the insulation with a minimum of 2" (50 mm)
of gravel, and cover with a geotextile membrane to
minimize soil migration into the drainage layer.
Backfill with a minimum of 4" (100 mm) of soil for
ballast and protection. Ensure 8" (200 mm)
clearance from the final grade to siding materials.
Ensure that when completed, the house is equipped
with eavestrough, downspouts and splashblocks to
minimize splashing and ponding of water against the
foundation walls.
For further information on specific topics covered in this booklet, consult
the following references:
1. National Building Code of Canada, National Research Council of Canada,
2. Design Guide for Frost-Protected Shallow Foundations, National
Association of Home Builders Research Centre, NAHB, 1995.
3. Design of Insulated Foundations, Robinsky, Eli. I. et al, Journal of the
Soil Mechanics and Foundation Division, ASCE Vol. 99, No. SM9, Proc.
Paper 10009, September, 1973, pp. 649-667.
4. Slab-on-Grade Foundations for Heated Buildings, A521.111 Part 1
Building Research Design Sheets, Norwegian Building Research
Institute, Oslo Norway, Spring 1986.
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