Foundations: original details

Original villas had suspended timber floors supported by piles set into the ground.

The most common original villa foundations were timber-framed with timber boarding around the perimeter fixed to piles, or jack framing using a packing piece, sometimes with a small gap to provide ventilation.



Natural timber (ex log) piles of puriri and totara were the typical earliest foundation material for villas. Those built after 1900 may have been founded on sawn totara blocks or occasionally brick piers. In his book Old New Zealand Houses 1800–1940, Jeremy Salmond reports the use of octagonal glazed earthenware blocks filled with concrete in some locations, such as Devonport, around the early 1900s.


Brick piles were not always well founded and there was commonly little or no connection to bearers. The mortar joints could also deteriorate (Figure 1).


In the 1920s, concrete began to replace timber, first as cast in-situ piles and later as precast units. Concrete came to be used almost exclusively until the introduction of sawn radiata pine treated for use in the ground, when timber piles came into general use again.


Piles were generally spaced at 4’ (1200 mm) to support the timber bearers.

Replacement of original piles

Most original piles have now been replaced, initially with brick piers or concrete pads to support timber jack framing, posts or concrete piles – some of which still remain.

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Foundation walls

Early villas

Prior to about 1900–1915, the perimeter walls of houses were commonly supported on totara piles connected by a stringer plate that was notched into the pile. The wall framing sat on the piles and the floor joists were supported on the stringer plate.

The outside face of the pile was sawn flat to support the weatherboards below the plate level. For concrete and brick piles, a totara fillet was incorporated into the pile to allow the boards to be nail-fixed (Figure 2).

The joists were supported on rows of piles that carried a bearer.

Both the piles and the rows of piles were spaced almost invariably at 4’ 6” (1350 mm) centres. The number of intermediate rows of piles would depend on the size of the house, but there were usually four.

On sloping sites, the difference in level was taken up by either longer piles or by jack framing. In some cases, in order to keep the finished floor as near as possible to outside ground level, there is limited access space under the bearers, and sometimes the ground was trenched around them.

On sloping sites in some instances, the excavated material was disposed of under the floor around the longer piles. Occasionally on soft ground, 12 x 4” (300 x 100 mm) sleepers were dug in and placed longitudinally under the row of piles.

From around 1900

Around 1900, the framing system began to change, and the joists were carried through onto the perimeter plate and the framing plate was fixed directly to the joists. The foundation was clad in either weatherboards or horizontal plain boards and taken to ground level. The transition between the weatherboards fixed to the wall framing and the baseboards was commonly defined by a timber capping board (Figure 3).

Paving or paths around the building were generally laid up against the baseboards (Figure 4).

A small number of villas were constructed with double brick foundation or continuous concrete foundation walls to support double brick walls above.