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I know at least a few ways to pour a concrete pad for long term outdoor use. And I can build a retaining wall, poured or from cinder blocks (or from timber, but that's less relevant here).

I am less knowledgeable about foundation construction for a structure. However, what I do know suggests that the equivalent parts would be built rather differently. I've seen partially-built houses left for years and they don't tend to fare well.

Is there a construction method I can use that would allow me to leave the wall and pad out in the elements for years, and it still be suitable for building a structure on top of later? My end goal is a two-story building with the bottom floor below grade on one side and at grade on the opposite side, but I'd like to get there in stages years apart without starting over in the middle.

I'm in Massachusetts, USA, where we have cold winters and moderate summers, so I need answers that can handle freezing, but I don't need something specific to local codes. I anticipate I'll have to do that research on my own anyway once I have some ideas.

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    A foundation wall will require footings below local frost level, check with local building department. Poured will probably keep better. The slab I might leave till building is planed, rain/snow can sink into dirt/gravel, instead of building up/flooding.
    – crip659
    Commented Nov 5, 2023 at 22:36
  • Ask your building department how long you can have an open permit. You could pour footings and a slab based on the needed foundation for a 2 story structure, then find when you want to build the home the codes have changed and all that work is worthless.
    – RMDman
    Commented Nov 5, 2023 at 23:10

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I don't see changes to IRC R403.3 in the amendments of Massachusetts, so R403.3 would be your shallow foundation detail. Because of that 64 degree mean temperature constraint, I don't think that a building official would like the idea of the slab sitting outside in the cold for a few winters.

There's a foundation document referenced from IRC R403.1.4.1. That document, ASCE 32, contains "Chapter 5 Simplified FPSF Design Method for Heated Buildings with Slab-On-Ground." Again the heated part seems like a deal breaker in your case, but there's a possibility that something in that document could bail you out. I doubt it.

Going below the frost line is probably necessary for your scheduling. You should look through Chapter 4 of the IRC and be mindful of those amendments that I linked.

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