Individuals faced with the prospect of spending many thousands of dollars repairing a sinking or settling foundation have an important decision to make—helical piles or push piers? A homeowner’s decision is made, normally, with the information provided by the companies selling the work to the homeowner. This process, depending on the skill and motivations of the presenter, can lead to misinformed or incorrect outcomes.
For starters, when selecting a contractor to complete the work, it is important to find one like our company, Basement Repair Specialists, that stocks and installs both helical piles and push piers. The reason for this is simple: it is critical that your contractor is not trying to sell you a solution just because it is the only one they can perform.
While there are situations where a push pier can be adequate or even preferred due to particular conditions in a residential application, generally speaking the best way to support a sinking or settled foundation is helical piles. So why do we say that?
Our preference for helical piles is based on the inherent accuracy of the system and the ability to better control the outcome in terms of capacity at each pile. Additionally, helical piles installed with digital torque monitoring devices can provide engineers and homeowners with a written log verifying that the product was installed correctly.
A brief definition of terms: a helical pile is one that is turned into the soil like a screw until it reaches the required capacity or reaches soil strata or rocks that refuse it, while a push pier is one that is hydraulically pressed into the soil and similarly reaches capacity or is terminated due to refusal.
Push piers are typically cheaper to install, since they don’t necessarily require excavation equipment and can be installed with minimal mechanical equipment. It is for this reason that they are often preferred by contractors, and tend to be pushed harder by the sales staff of these contractors. Helical piles, on the other hand, require drive heads to rotate the pile, and heavier machinery such as a skid steer or excavator to apply downward force on the pile as it is installed. The process of installing helical piles requires installers with a higher skill level. While they may be more costly to install, helical piles have the potential to be very budget friendly.
Potential cost savings are available with helical piles for two reasons, spacing and precision. The spacing between pile locations for helical piles can generally be greater than that for push piers, and a lead helical design can be created that will allow for a shorter overall pile length, all other things being equal. A shorter pile length has the added benefit of reducing the likelihood of “buckling” from side loads.
At Basement Repair Specialists our process is to first evaluate with laser levels and other methods the degree of sinking or settling of a client’s foundation, as well as the location of the cracks in the foundation that point to a “hinge.” A repair is then designed, which should involve an analysis of (a) the types and holding power of soils around the home by use of soil tests or a test pile, (b) water levels in the soil and whether galvanization is warranted, (c) the numbers of and placement of the piles, and (d) the live and dead loads on the home and required capacity per pile based on these loads. Many residential repairs can be completed by a manufacturer authorized dealer in consultation with its engineers. More sophisticated repairs, or questionable soil conditions may require the involvement of a structural engineer and/or geotechnical engineer to adapt to site specific conditions. Basement Repair Specialists has extensive manufacturer-sponsored training experience and has attended several educational sessions at PierTech’s offices in Missouri. As a certified installer for PierTech, Basement Repair Specialists has access to engineering advice at the manufacturer’s plant. In addition, Basement Repair Specialists has a network of local and national engineering resources for more complex situations.
If you are considering helical piles or push piers to address your sinking or settling foundation, be sure that the contractor suggesting the repair is (a) certified, (b) clearly explains the repair and the reasoning behind the repair, (c) encourages you to learn more about the repair, and (d) gives you time to weigh your decision without sales pressure. The more you know about your repair, the more comfortable you will feel in moving ahead with a knowledgeable, professional company that will install a repair that will add value and life to your home for many years to come.
*The above information is designed to provide general information about a topic of potential interest to the reader. It is not meant to be advice about a particular condition or situation.