What is a Stem Wall?

Safety is a usual concern when constructing a house from scratch. You have to ensure that the house will be able to stand any ground shaking and flood, especially if you build your house in flood- and earthquake-prone areas. To do this, you have to put the right foundation in place.

The main purpose of a foundation is to support the house. No matter how big or even small the house is, it still weighs several tons and can be doomed to erode when built on the ground with no appropriate support. Moreover, when properly designed, planned, and installed, the foundation will keep the house from moisture by serving as an effect dam against groundwater. As a result, the stem wall prevents dampness and mold formulation.

So how do you build the foundation?

With reference to DIY Network, the following are the 7 basic steps in putting up your house’s foundation:

  1. Choose the site and investigate the soil condition. A contracted builder and designer are the best people to do these.
  2. Get a surveyor to determine and pinpoint the actual corners where your foundation should be constructed.
  3. Have an excavator contractor do the digging.
  4. Start the installation of the footings by either pouring concrete directly into trenches or into wood forms.
  5. Put a high-quality sealer on the footings to protect them from moisture.
  6. Once the concrete has settled, create stem walls by using concrete blocks. This is crucial in securing the consistency of all basement walls.
  7. Put on another round of sealers to keep moisture away

What Is A Stem Wall?

A stem wall is a supporting structure because it attaches the walls of the house to the foundation. The main ingredients in building a stem wall are concrete and steel. This works best with a foundation slab in creating a solid base for the house.

Because the height of a stem wall is commonly up to several feet only, this is usually applicable to houses with vented or unvented crawl spaces, and in areas where ground shaking frequently occurs. Therefore, if your house has a full basement, a stem wall is not your best option.

Difference from Monolithic Slab

Stem walls and monolithic slabs are the two types of foundations that are mostly used in house construction. Before groundbreaking, you should discuss which type of foundation you prefer to use for your home because the construction design for stem walls and monolithic slabs are different from each other.

The construction of a wall-stem slab is made up of multiple stages. The first of these is building the stem wall with concrete blocks up to the planned slab height. After that, fill dirt is added and flattened. Pouring of the slab to the planned level serves as the final stage.

On the other hand, monolithic is a single-pour process that involves a concrete slab with load-bearing walls and perimeter edges instead of footers. This makes the monolithic slab faster and has a lower labor cost. When used properly, a monolithic slab can be as sturdy as the stem wall. However, one critical disadvantage of a monolithic slab is that it can easily crack when used in flood-zone areas because floods will put too much pressure on the perimeter walls and load-bearing walls.

Other disadvantages of monolithic slabs are the following:

  • Unlike stem wall, houses built on a monolithic foundation does not provide access beneath the house for repairs.
  • It is cheaper than a stem wall during construction, but it can be more expensive to repair when it cracks.
  • It cannot protect the house from floods because the base of the house is only elevated to up to 6 inches from the ground.
  • If ever you plan to sell your house, a monolithic slab foundation can be one of the reasons for a decreased house value because the prospective buyer knows that second-hand houses need repair and monolithic is expensive to repair.

Pros and Cons of Stem Wall

Stem wall may be the most sought-after type of foundation, but its efficiency depends on the ground condition where you will put up your house. Having said that, it is rightful to know the advantages and disadvantages of using a stem wall foundation.


  1. It is applicable to a house with a basement or a crawlspace.
  2. It enables easy access beneath the house in case of repair. It separates the base of the house from the ground, so it is protected from floods and other environmental hazards.
  3. This foundation is proven highly durable. It transmits the weight of the entire house to the footing.
  4. Applicable to most soil conditions, but do best with soil not prone to moisture.


  1. This type of foundation can be very expensive. The larger the floor area, the more it gets costly.
  2. Since stem wall is not preferable in the moistened ground, a high level of frost can raise some issues in the long run.
  3. It requires appropriate insulation to ensure energy efficiency and protection against common home pests such as termites.


Building a house can be very technical and needs expertise, but if there is one thing we are sure of is that we want it to be built on safe ground with a strong foundation. There are many types of foundations to choose from, but 2 of these are widely used by homeowners. These are the stem wall slab and monolithic slab foundations.

These types of foundations, as discussed above, differ from each other in many ways. However, if you were to look closely, it is quite conclusive that a stem wall is very much preferable.

With a stem wall foundation, you are not only assured that you have a strong house foundation, but also it protects your property from floodings. It elevates your house higher than the monolithic slab, so it provides easy access for repair underneath the house.

On the other hand, you have to take into consideration the disadvantages and requirements of the stem wall, otherwise, you will not be able to enjoy its benefits. Stem wall does not work best in areas with high frost levels, so you have to think twice if you are going to use it in cold areas. Always talk to your contractor about these matters to make sure that the foundation you choose is what your house really needs.

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Stay Connected


Latest Articles