Blog Cabin 2013: Tree Trunk Foundations

The remodeling team discovered a primitive yet sturdy pine underpinning when they lifted Blog Cabin above ground.

When the Blog Cabin 2013 remodeling team lifted the home above its foundation, they discovered an unusual support structure. The circa-1892 cottage rested atop several dozen logs, each 6 to 9 inches in diameter. “The bottoms had been hand-hewn into points and hammered a few inches into the sandy soil every four to six feet under the first-floor beams,” says DIY Network’s general contractor for the project, Ryan Crosser.

As iffy as this building technique sounds, it was actually standard procedure in 19th-century coastal North Carolina, according to restoration specialist John Wood of the State Historic Preservation Office. “There was no natural stone in the area and making bricks was a labor-intensive job saved for building fancy homes,” he says.

Longleaf pine, abundant in the 1800s along the Core Sound, was tapped for its thick and resinous sap, used to seal boat hulls and make turpentine, and felled to build houses, barns and outbuildings. The trees’ natural resins largely staved off termites and rot, even in areas where timbers touched the ground.

Lifting Blog Cabin and Building a New Foundation

To underpin structures like Blog Cabin 2013, settlers cut tree trunks to height, occasionally hand-hewing timbers into square blocks or sharpening the bottoms to reduce the chances of shifting. Set under the house’s main carrying beams, these log supports proved durable over time. “When we do see damage to these log foundations, it’s usually fairly recent, and happened after people tried to shore up their structures by adding brick between the logs — or insulated and sealed their buildings,” Wood says. Those well-intentioned steps sometimes wound up trapping moisture around the logs, fostering termite attack.

Although most foundation logs at Blog Cabin were still standing strong, says project manager and designer Dylan Eastman, the decision was made to replace the primitive structure with a taller, more stable foundation, one that meets Federal Emergency Management Agency building codes and raises the home eight feet above sea level (the original home was just six inches above grade).

To construct a new foundation, Blog Cabin was lifted off the tree-trunk underpinning and set on a temporary brace. Next, terrain underneath the home was excavated and a masonry foundation installed. Then the home was lowered and, to combat hurricane-force winds, bolted onto its new foundation.

Eastman promises that old foundation logs won’t go to waste. “We saved some pristine ones and will reuse them somewhere in the house, possibly as an exposed architectural feature, a piece of furniture or a tabletop centerpiece,” he says. “That way we can preserve the house’s story.”

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