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Innovative foundation technology will save nearly $1 million in direct and indirect construction costs for Comal County Taxpayers

(NEW BRAUNFELS, TEXAS—May 21, 2018) Comal County, Texas, and the Yates-Sundt joint venture announced today they have chosen Tella Firma Foundations, a Dallas-based construction-technology company, to provide an innovative foundation design for the new Comal County Jail, currently under construction.

This foundation solution, chosen through a competitive bidding process, will save the county and its taxpayers nearly $1 million in direct and indirect construction costs.

“We selected Tella Firma not only because we knew they would deliver a high-quality foundation,” said Randy Powell, Senior Vice President of Yates Construction, “but also based on the cost savings and time savings they demonstrated they would bring to the project.”

The building site for the new jail requires a foundation design that can withstand significant vertical soil movement of up to 6.25 inches because of active clay soils that expand and contract in response to changes in moisture. Tella Firma’s solution, which incorporates steel helical piers and steel lifting mechanisms to elevate the concrete slab, creates a 10-inch under-slab void space. The void space is over 1.5 times the potential vertical rise of the underlying soil, allowing for expansion of soils under the slab without damage to the foundation.

“We encouraged our general contractor and A/E partners to consider various opportunities for cost savings throughout the project, including the Tella Firma solution,” said James A. Broaddus, Ph.D., P.E., project manager of Broaddus and Associates. “We’re excited to bring this type of innovative technology to the Comal County Jail.”

“Tella Firma’s innovative design is based on using steel piers placed closer together with a thinner slab, resulting in cost savings by using substantially less concrete in the slab and eliminating the use of expensive concrete piers and other materials”, said Jim Fontaine, the company’s CEO.

The Tella Firma design provides the same level of structural integrity and reliability as traditional foundation design, but at a substantially reduced cost. In addition, the Tella Firma foundation can be installed in less time than traditional methods, creating further cost savings.

The system has been used by dozens of builders, with more than 1,200 foundations installed in commercial and residential projects, and is backed by seven issued patents. This solution is an environmentally friendly installation process that avoids the need for any type of chemical or water injection into the soil as part of construction.

“As with all phases of this project, the county aims to deliver a strong return on taxpayers’ investment,” said Tom Hornseth, Comal County engineer. “At the end of the day, we feel the Tella Firma foundation will represent the best value for our community.”

About Yates Construction
Yates Construction is one of the nation’s largest privately held construction companies providing general construction, at-risk construction management, design-build, preconstruction and specialized turnkey services from 16 offices throughout eight states in the U.S., including two Texas offices in San Antonio and Fort Worth. Founded in 1964, Yates is ranked among the top construction services providers in the country by Engineering News Record, with its highest ranking of No. 6 in “Correctional Facilities.”

About Sundt Construction
Sundt Construction Inc. is one of the country’s largest and most respected general contractors, with 11 offices in Texas, Arizona, California and Utah. Known for its commitment to quality and its innovative approach to construction services, Sundt was named the nation’s safest construction company by the Associated General Contractors of America in 2016. Over the past three decades, Sundt has constructed more than 100,000 detention beds in various custody levels.

About the Yates-Sundt Joint Venture
Building on the success of their established joint venture on a previous project, Yates-Sundt again joined forces for the express purpose of constructing the Comal County Jail and renovating the Sheriff’s Office. Over the past 10 years, Yates and Sundt, collectively have completed more than $1.5 billion in justice and law-enforcement-center projects throughout the U.S.; 16 of those projects were with HDR, the architect on the Comal County project, and three with Broaddus & Associates, Comal County’s project manager.

About Tella Firma Foundations
Dallas-based Tella Firma is a construction-technology firm that is revolutionizing the way foundations are built. Tella Firma gets its name from the Latin words meaning “strong home.” Foundations with the company’s product have been installed in residential and light commercial projects in Texas and Colorado, and the company continues to expand into new markets throughout the region. For additional information, visit


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Tella Firma Foundations Names Jim Roach and Tim Looney to its Advisory Board as it Expands into Commercial Market

(DALLAS—March 19, 2018) Tella Firma Foundations, a construction-tech company, today announced that it has added two new Advisory Board members – Jim Roach and Tim Looney. An Advisory Board member acts as strategic advisor and sounding board for the company, supporting its mission to revolutionize the foundation industry.

“Our goal is to form a group of world-class advisors who will provide sound advice while guiding and challenging our thinking as we pursue our strategy for growth,” Fontaine said. “Both Jim and Tim bring a solid business background and specific industry expertise that will benefit Tella Firma as it expands into commercial markets. We are very pleased they have agreed to lend their talents to the company.”

Jim Roach brings 44 years of experience in the commercial construction markets in his role as Commercial Advisor.  He currently works for Tribble & Stephens Construction in Houston, serving as manager of preconstruction activities (bidding through design phase) for the company’s commercial retail, office, mid- and high-rise residential, lodging and hospitality, and warehouse design-and-build projects throughout the region. His prior experience includes serving as vice president in charge of estimation for Jordan Foster, a large commercial construction company. Roach is a retired licensed structural engineer with a civil engineering degree from Clemson University and an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Tim Looney brings over 40 years of experience including executive management of the design and manufacture of ruggedized precision products. He is currently president of TWL Group, a private investment firm with holdings in real estate, healthcare, financial services, social media, and operations/services companies. Prior to founding his current business in 2006, Looney was co-founder of Optex Systems Inc., a defense contractor that produced sighting systems for the U.S. military, which are used in various applications such as Abrams M1 tanks, Stryker armored combat vehicles, and Assault Amphibious Vehicles. He completed the sale of Optex to Pequot Capital in 2006. Looney has served on multiple private, public and non-profit boards during the past 30 years, and currently serves as a director for Vital Art and Science, a medical software company, and Encore Propane, a commercial propane service provider. He served with Fontaine as co-chair of the North Texas Angel Network in 2012.

The Tella Firma foundation system has been used by dozens of builders, with more than 1,200 foundations installed in commercial and residential projects, and is backed by seven issued patents. Tella Firma foundations are designed to protect a building’s foundation from damaging active soil movement with a field-tested process of elevating a slab-on-grade foundation using piers, creating a protective void between the ground and the foundation itself. This application isolates the slab from active soils and guards it from unexpected movement. Tella Firma’s solution is an environmentally friendly, green installation process that avoids the need for any type of chemical or water injection into the soil as part of construction.

About Tella Firma Foundations
Dallas-based Tella Firma is a construction technology firm that is revolutionizing the way foundations are built. Tella Firma gets its name from the Latin words meaning “strong home.” Foundations with the company’s product have been installed in residential and light commercial projects in Texas and Colorado, and the company continues to expand into new markets throughout the region. For additional information, visit


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FORM studios Architecture planned the building as a mixed-type construction project, with one-half of the building constructed with wood for a one-story classroom built on a slab foundation, and the other half a taller steel structure with columns to support a wide-open area for the sanctuary. Each side would need a different treatment for the foundation to deliver the proper support.   

The building site presented additional challenges. Geotechnical reports indicated the site contained very expansive soils with a high PVR (potential vertical rise), and the original plan was to use water and chemical injections with a pier-and-beam foundation to ensure stability. Yet the builder encountered a significant amount of water underground when the drilling began, indicating another approach would be necessary.

According to Jason Presley of FORM studios, the firm had worked with the same contractor when building the Spanish House Immersion School in Dallas the year before, and had success working with the Tella Firma Foundations solution, which elevates the foundation off the ground and away from the expansive soils. This time, Tella Firma helped create a hybrid approach for the Kingdom Life Christian Center, with lifting piers supporting the slab under the classroom and sanctuary sides of the structure, and non-lifting, cased piers supporting the steel columns only in the sanctuary. The team designed a pour strip in between the two sections of the building, and metal stud infill was utilized around the columns. The two sides of the foundation were lifted at different times.    

Mr. Presley said the hybrid solution required a little more planning and preparation at the outset, but was well worth the effort in terms of saving money on construction. Beyond the savings realized based on the projected cost of a pier-and-beam foundation, the originally planned remediation of the soil would have increased both the time and cost of the project overall.

According to Mr. Presley, one of the most important considerations for this job was to have a good engineer who could assume responsibility for the design of the foundation around the steel grid. And the outcome demonstrates the benefit of looking at both sides of the equation.


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How does Tella Firma contribute to sustainability?

Sustainable_ConstructionWe hear a lot about sustainability throughout business, and the construction industry is no exception.  As one of the largest components of the industrial sector, construction accounts for as much as 10% of the world GDP and around 12% in the U.S.  At Tella Firma, we’re part of a much larger multidisciplinary industry that may have an impact on the environment.  As such, the industry as a whole has both the opportunity and the responsibility to seek ways to utilize sustainable processes and minimize this impact.

Looking around the industry, there are several key areas of focus where stakeholders in the building and construction sector are beginning to make an impact in terms of sustainability: building design, use of materials, energy use, and impact on land.

In the area of design, the concept of “cradle-to-cradle” design is gaining traction, based on the principles of using materials that can later be reconstituted into other products, and designing buildings that can serve multiple purposes.  For example, designs that allow for reconfiguration, that provide easy access for maintenance, and that facilitate replacement of shorter-life-span components, will support the transition from one use to the next.  Cradle-to-cradle builders use production techniques that are not only efficient, but are essentially waste-free.

As construction is believed to consume about half of all resources we take from nature (including about 25% of the wood harvest), building materials are a prime focus in sustainability efforts.  Solutions include not only an increased use of recycled and reclaimed materials, but also innovative efforts such as utilizing recycled construction and demolition (C&D) materials in new construction, thus avoiding the need to mine untouched resources while also eliminating the disposal of construction waste.

On a related note, the selection of materials in the building process also has an impact on energy usage.  Since much of the energy used in construction relates to the production of bulk materials including steel, cement, paper, plastic and aluminum, designing buildings with alternate materials, or with more efficient use of materials, also will reduce energy consumption.

For example, the production of cement, which is indispensable for construction, accounts for about 5% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.  Tella Firma’s process for building a slab-on-grade foundation consumes on average 25-30% less concrete than alternate methods, which not only saves money but also helps reduce the amount of greenhouse gases produced through cement production.

The use of land has many potential effects on the environment, caused by factors including deforestation, agriculture and land development.  Some types of land development, such as suburbanization, can contribute to a number of environmental concerns, including increased air pollution and the formation of urban and suburban heat islands.  In addition, land pollution caused by the deposition of solid or liquid waste materials, on the land or underground, is a concern in terms of public health and longer-terms effects on the environment. 

Introducing chemicals into the environment through the land is one particular area of consideration when thinking about sustainability, and Tella Firma is proud that its innovative process for building an elevated slab-on-grade foundation does not require any type of pre-treatment for the soil, such as water or chemical injections that might change the composition of the soil or harm the environment.

One thing is certain: Responsible construction and development must continue, to keep up with growth in population, communities and businesses.  With Tella Firma’s green foundation solution, we’re doing our part to help the construction sector work toward a more sustainable future.


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The Dirt on Soils in Texas

All soils are not created equal. And when building a foundation, these differences in soil types become critically important.

Some soils tend to act like a sponge, expanding when water is absorbed and shrinking when they dry out. These soils are known by several names – expansive soils, active soils, shrink-swell soils, expandable clay – but the end result is often the same: Expansive soils can cause foundation problems and threaten the structural integrity of any building constructed on a site with this type of soil composition.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimates that half of all homes in the U.S. are built on expansive soils, and half of those homes will experience some level of expansive soil damage. The estimated damage to buildings, roads and other structures built on expansive soil exceeds $15 billion annually, according to an international engineering study, and the ASCE has stated, historically, that expansive soils account for more home-related damage each year than floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes combined.

Globally, expansive soils create serious engineering problems and economic losses in at least 19 countries. Damage in the U.S. is generally concentrated in certain parts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, and North and South Dakota.

Of the approximate 1.2M annual U.S. housing starts, Tella Firma estimates that over a quarter million housing starts occur in areas with active soils. Texas alone accounts for over 40% of the housing starts with active clay soils.

What’s Underground in Texas?
TellaFirma_TexasSoilThe Central Texas corridor and coastal areas of Texas have some of the most pronounced regions of expansive soils in the country, and these areas are ripe for enabling foundation damage. Weather itself can pose a problem, with the effects of Texas rain and wind contributing to soil movement and erosion at the base of foundations. Beyond that, rapid population growth, increased urbanization of Texas suburbs, and the expansion into reclaimed farmland are contributing factors to a significant increase in construction where expansive soils are present.

Texas is divided into 21 different Major Land Resource Areas that have similar or related soils, vegetation, topography, climate, and land uses. Here’s what we find in the major metropolitan areas:

  • Dallas – The Dallas area is in the Blackland Prairie, with soils comprised of three primary types (Austin chalk, Ozan Marl and Eagle Ford), often referred to as “cracking clays” due to the large deep cracks caused by dry weather. The unique blend of soil, with a higher clay content, is susceptible to significant expansion that can lead to foundation issues.
  • Fort Worth – As part of the Grand Prairie region, Fort Worth soils include both Eagle Ford and Woodbine, a composition that is entirely different from that found in Dallas, but still represents a threat to the integrity of foundations.
  • Houston – Houston soils are somewhat similar to those found in the Dallas/Fort Worth region, but the presence of sand can create a different type of reaction. Sandy soil presents the unique ability for soil to shift laterally underneath a foundation.
  • Austin and San Antonio – Central Texas soil conditions can vary significantly from location to location within a community. For example, the east side of Austin and northeast San Antonio both feature very expansive soils compared to the more stable western areas of both cities, where the Hill Country begins. The Hill Country of Texas has a rockier terrain that generally will provide more stability for a foundation.

Foundation Solutions
The types of foundations used in homes and other buildings vary by region, climate and building size, but the foundation method used most frequently in new home construction in Texas – the concrete slab-on-grade foundation – registers the poorest performance on expansive soils. When soils expand and contract, pressure can create uplift against concrete slabs, causing damages such as cracking, water leaks, broken pipes or water lines, and interior drywall damage.

While a slab-on-grade foundation generally is less expensive than an elevated solution, builders utilizing this method may be sacrificing quality and creating a higher risk of foundation damage in the future. As an alternative, Tella Firma’s solution offers a cost-effective elevated slab option that protects the foundation against soil movement, but represents a much lower cost than a traditional pier-and-beam. 

Even in the presence of volatile Texas dirt, the Tella Firma foundation rests on solid ground.


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Innovative Foundation Solution Receives Good Marks at Spanish House Immersion School


The new Spanish House Immersion School in Dallas gets an “A” for design and functionality, but the site it’s built on almost received a failing grade before construction began. “It was one of the most complex type of building sites you could have,” says Richard Atchison, whose firm, FORM studios Architecture, completed the new building for the elementary school after utilizing an innovative solution from Tella Firma to build a solid foundation on unsolid ground.

When FORM studios began planning for the new school near White Rock Lake in Dallas, it found the building site less than ideal for a standard foundation on piers. The site was located in a former flood plain, near a park and golf course, and featured the deep clay soil that is typical of neighborhoods in and around East Dallas. To make matters worse, the low lying elevation required 8 feet of land fill to elevate the building pad above flood plain levels before foundation work could begin.

The construction team was worried about potential soil movement that might cause a traditional foundation to become unstable and fail over time. Soil remediation was one option, which would require a 10-12 foot excavation before layering in new soil and non-expansive fill to prevent further expansion, but this method would add $3-5 per square foot and add more than a month to the construction schedule. Water or chemical injection was not an option for this site because of the high water table and environmental concerns. 

The potential vertical rise (PVR) of the soil suggested that a suspended foundation and pier solution were required. In addition, the high water table meant the drillers would probably hit water as they installed the piers. Seeking a more affordable solution that wouldn’t require the additional expense of remediation, the team first considered bell piers to avoid the water table, and also considered a slab-on-void box foundation, which would cost between $25-30 per square foot.

Then the team learned about Tella Firma Foundations from TEXCON concrete contractors, which had experience installing more than 100 foundations utilizing the Tella Firma process in residential construction. Tella Firma uses a field-tested, patented process to elevate a slab-on-grade foundation using piers, to create a protective void between the ground and the foundation itself. Tella Firma’s solution for the Spanish House school would include an 8-inch raised foundation that isolates the slab from active soils and guards it from unexpected movement.

The Tella Firma suspended solution works well when high PVR and settlement are present on a site, which was the case for the Spanish House school. The elevator in the building still required a slab-on-void box foundation on four piers to support the additional weight, with an 8-inch void to match the Tella Firma foundation, which was lifted around the elevator pit. The foundation also was designed to support and counterbalance a scissor-lift platform used during construction and the installation of plumbing and other components.

The project was completed on time and on budget during a 7-month construction schedule, ready to open for the new school year in August 2016. Atchison said he was pleasantly surprised with the outcome of the building’s foundation, and noted that FORM studios would have been unable to complete the project on budget otherwise. In total, the Tella Firma solution saved the builder close to $100,000, and the school was able to consider additional design features based on this savings.

FORM studios is now working with Tella Firma on The Kingdom Life Church project in Frisco,  Texas, and Atchison says the excellent report card from the Spanish House Immersion School means his firm will definitely work with Tella Firma on other projects.