On a flat lot, footings can be oriented with precision using batter boards, string and a water level.
Synopsis: The author explains the process of laying out a foundation with string lines and batter boards. The house is a simple rectangle, but the principles are universal. Clear illustrations help.
Driving that first stake is always exciting. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been designing and dreaming about the house for years, or you’re beginning the first day of actual work on what you hope will be a profitable contract. Laying out the site in preparation for foundation work is your first chance to visualize the house full scale in its setting. The accuracy of your layout and the foundation it defines will also determine how much you will have to struggle to make your house tight and square.
Unless you are building on a sloped site, all you will need to do the job right is a 100-ft. tape measure, a water level, a ball of nylon string, enough lumber for batter boards, a helper and the application of some practical geometry.
Let’s assume that the house is a simple rectangle, and that one of the long walls faces south. If precise solar orientation is important, use a compass or one of the many commercially available siting devices. If such precision is unnecessary, stand facing the midday sun. Your outstretched left arm will point to the east and your right arm to the west. Unroll a ball of string along this axis for a distance a few feet greater than one of the long walls of your building. I use braided nylon string because it will take an awesome amount of tension before it breaks, and because braided string doesn’t unravel and can be used indefinitely. It comes in a highly visible yellow as well as in white.
Select one end of…