Building a Strong Foundation

Big Red Car here on a lovely, bright Sunday morning in the ATX. We are going to start a short series on the importance of building a strong foundation for your business.

This is an Old School concept but it will be very useful for raw startups as well as established businesses who are circling back to check, doublecheck and re-check the quality of their planning.

A great business will plan its future — plan your work — and work their plan. It is as old as business which is as old as the Garden of Eden.

Old School foundation

The Boss loves the smell of sawdust and construction in general. It is a great metaphor for building a business, any business. While traveling around his old ‘hood in the ATX he came upon one of the finest examples of a “pier & beam” foundation.

It was one of the best such examples he had seen. Many homes these days are constructed on a “slab on grade” which is cheap and efficient but often simply transfers any geotechnical faults (e.g. shifting or expanding soils with high plasticity indices due to the native expansive clays, a common Austin problem) to the structure.

A well done pier and beam foundation gets below many of the expansive soils and anesthetizes the structure from this potential challenge while also providing a very sound and perfectly flat base upon which to construct the home.

Here is  good looking pier and beam foundation under construction. Click on it to see a bigger picture.

What you are looking at is the piers poking out from square footings just a foot or so beneath the soil and a system of beams constructed on top of those piers. [You are also looking at three indigenous, native workers — very small work force to do this hand work — likely not legally in this country? This is the face of illegal immigration taking jobs and not unskilled jobs, my friend. A topic for another day perhaps?]

Here is a closeup which shows how the piers support the beams. Pretty damn strong — just like your business should be, no?

I want you to see a couple of things in particular.

1. These are auxiliary piers likely to pick up the weight of a second story stair or fireplace. They are in addition to the regular piers. Note the big triple beam in the upper right corner laying flat. Big load somewhere.

2. The layout is precise with the beams sitting directly on the centers of the piers. Note the layout strings.

3. The piers are sitting on very simple square foundations a couple of feet below the surface.

4. There are a four pieces of reinforcing steel in the vertical pier. Houses are fairly light loads when distributed correctly.

5. The power tools used are simple and powerful in this case a digging spade. They multiply the force of the labor involved.

6. There is a waterproofing membrane with gravel on top to prevent any growth under the house and to keep the moisture from rising. The floor itself will be insulated from below and sealed off later.

7. The beams/joists sit on both edge nails and steel hangers making them incredibly powerful. Just a splash of technology.

8. There are mid-joist (long boards between beams) stiffeners to add strength by creating a diaphragm and to lend stiffness to the completed assembly. [OK, The Boss is a freakin’ structural engineer by education and can’t resist a bit of jargon. Sorry.]

9. Note the work – life balance of the indigenous work force. [This is a joke.]

As you can see, there are many details to make a sound foundation, just like your business. Does your planning incorporate such attention to detail?

At the edge, you can see many interesting details.

This pictures shows some very interesting details.

1. The edge beam is tripled for long term strength and because it may be exposed to the elements.

2. The edge beam is both glued (note the Liquid Nails tube at the ground) as well as nailed thereby creating an assembly which is incredibly strong. The exterior walls will stand on this strong base and be supported for their entire width.

3. The three beams are perfectly placed on the edge of the exterior piers thereby allowing for a skirt or an exterior masonry cladding. Notice how lovely the fit is. Tight, straight and perfect.

4. The exterior beams are “plumbed” and then held in place by the long boards which are shown. This foundation is both level and plumb. It is a great starting place for the structure which will become the house. You have to start level and plumb to finish level and plumb. The parallels for your business are incredible.

5. Note also the waterproof undergarment — plastic and gravel to keep things neat. [Slight quibble, The Boss would have poured a three inch “mud cap” of concrete which would have allowed future work to be undertaken by a guy with an automotive slider. But, hey, that’s The Boss.]

Next comes the subflooring which is 1 1/4 tongue and groove plyscore which is the thickest subflooring available. [The Boss might double it up but he’s a bit of a stickler on subfloors. He is nuts on them actually but his is a very expensive decision. At 1 1/4 T & G, you are already at the very best.]

You may also note there are a few sheets of treated subfloor indicating perhaps a section of the foundation is exposed to the elements but you would have to have very sharp eyes to find them.

And, here is the finished product — a perfectly flat, strong as Hell, subfloor ready to receive the structure. This the foundation metaphor you want for your business. And why not?

The Big Red Car cannot resist one more shot showing a few key details.

In this picture note the following:

1. The 1 1/4 inch subfloor is glued and screwed to the beams and joists at very right intervals. This creates a diaphragm as we have mentioned before.

2. The tongue and groove function is clear. This adds a lot of strength to the completed assembly. Things are always stronger when they work together.

3. The shim in the lower right corner is an example of the painstaking detail adhered to to deliver a flat and level floor. Both perfectly flat and level.

These details are what are necessary to deliver exacting perfection in any foundation including your business.

Now, brilliant entrepreneur/founder/CEO, let’s see the same attention to detail in creating the foundation of your business, OK? If these guys can do it, why not you?

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car.







  • Love this post. I think this would be a great series from you. Going around your daily environment and showing how well the well-built things are–that there aren’t coincidences in life. You want a long-lasting structure, you’re gonna hafta assure solidness at the base.

    Great metaphor. Happy 4th!

    • JLM

      Thx and be safe.


  • Well said. Your points are well “grounded” 🙂

    But I never totally understood why they don’t build more homes with cement/concrete and bricks instead of wood. Is it affordability and speed?

    • JLM

      In the US homes gets built with the local conditions taken into consideration — an example: some areas have basements and some do not. A place like Austin, Texas has very few because rock is typically just 3′ below the surface in many places. [I love basements.]

      In other areas, the cost of freight dictates building materials.

      The proximity of building materials [e.g. the South where there is good clay for brick making has lots of red brick building] often dictates usage.