Building America Case Study: Excavationless: Exterior-Side Foundation Insulation for Existing Homes, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Research output: NRELFact Sheet


Building science research supports installing exterior (soil side) foundation insulation as the optimal method to enhance the hygrothermal performance of new homes. With exterior foundation insulation, water management strategies are maximized while insulating the basement space and ensuring a more even temperature at the foundation wall. However, such an approach can be very costly and disruptive when applied to an existing home, requiring deep excavation around the entire house. The NorthernSTAR Building America Partnership team implemented an innovative, minimally invasive foundation insulation upgrade technique on an existing home. The approach consisted of using hydrovac excavation technology combined with a liquid insulating foam. The team was able to excavate a continuous 4' wide by 4' to 5' deep trench around the entire house, 128 linear feet, except for one small part under the stoop that was obstructed with concrete debris. The combination pressure washer and vacuum extraction technology also enabled the elimination of large trenches and soil stockpiles normally produced by backhoe excavation. The resulting trench was filled with liquid insulating foam, which also served as a water-control layer of the assembly. The insulation was brought above grade using a liquid foam/rigid foam hybrid system and terminated at the top of the rim joist. Cost savings over the traditional excavation process ranged from 23% to 50%. The excavationless process could result in even greater savings since replacement of building structures, exterior features, utility meters, and landscaping would be minimal or non-existent in an excavationless process.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages2
StatePublished - 2014

Bibliographical note

Work performed by NorthernSTAR

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/FS-5500-62557

Other Report Number

  • DOE/GO-102014-4488


  • Building America
  • foundation insulation
  • hydrovac excavation technology
  • liquid insulating foam
  • NorthernSTAR
  • residential
  • residential buildings
  • thermal enclosure
  • walls below grade


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