There are different solutions to foundation problems, but not all solutions can be applied to the same problem. The most common foundation repair methods are helical piers, push piers, and concrete piers. Your foundation repair contractors will be the ones deciding which method works best for your property and situation, but it’s still valuable for you, the homeowner, to understand how each process works.
We’ll be taking a look at helical piers, how they are installed, how they are used, what benefits they bring, and how they compare to other foundation repair solutions.
What Are Helical Piers for Foundation Repair?
Sooner or later, in one way or another, homes have foundation problems. What wears down your foundation walls is the soil around them. Due to weather changes, moisture content, and shrink-swell capacity, the soil around your foundation can turn unstable and your house may begin to settle. Significant settling will eventually cause your home to fall in on itself.
However, a damaged foundation is something that can be fixed. One solution is the installation of helical piers. Helical piers (also known as screw piles) are a foundation support system that not only supports the weight of the home, they also lift your home to its original position and prevent future settling.
- How Helical Piers Work
Helical piers are giant, steel shafts with spiral blades welded to the bottom of the shaft. Their purpose is to provide proper support for faulty foundations. Foundation issues can occur because of soil expansion and soil shrinkage, as well as insufficient waterproofing measures. What makes helical piers a reliable, permanent solution is that they are screwed way beneath the actual foundation itself.
The soil on your property can be divided into two parts: The soft soil and the load-bearing soil. Soft soil exists in the upper parts of your property. This soil causes a lot of problems because they are soft, expansive, and easily displaced. It is because of these soft soils that your foundation has problems.
Settling occurs when displaced soil is no longer able to support the weight of your heavy foundation. Helical piers are driven deep within the ground, past the soft soil, and screwed into the load-bearing soil. Load-bearing soil is extremely dense and tough, so it’s able to support the weight of the foundation. Because load-bearing soil is so tough, it does not get displaced, ensuring that the piers themselves never move and your home never settles again.
This load-bearing soil can usually be found around the frost line, which is where the helical piers are most often installed (though they can be installed much deeper than that, depending on the soil conditions and the repair needs). The frost line can be found at various depths across the country. Even in Indiana, the frost line varies significantly.
In Indianapolis specifically, the frost line can be found at 4.5 feet underground. Towards the south of Indiana, in places like Warrick and Clark County, the frost line is found at three feet. Most of the northern counties in Indiana have a frost line found at five feet since frost lines are found deeper in the ground the closer they are to the poles.
- How Helical Piers Are Installed
Installing helical piers is a very easy, convenient job, which is why many home repair specialists love this method of foundation repair. Spacing of the helical piers from each other is strategically calculated ahead of time. The soil is then dug out in the specific areas where the piers will be installed. The helical piers are then mechanically screwed in until the adequate depth is achieved.
If contractors hit bedrock before they can reach proper depths, they will have to drill their way through. This doesn’t happen often, especially in states like Indiana where the frost line is relatively close to the surface.
Foundation brackets are then attached to the helical piers, and these are then attached to the house. Once the job is done, the holes are re-filled with soil and the foundation’s weight is now carried by the piers instead of the unstable soil.
- Helical Piers vs. Concrete Piers
Concrete piers are another, older form of foundation repair. It involves digging a hole where the support material is to be placed, but instead of a steel pier, concrete is poured. This concrete will then bear the load of the foundation.
Concrete piers can be a bit problematic for foundation repairs. The first reason why has to do with its wide design. For the concrete to have the strength to bear the foundation’s load, the pier has to be wide and relatively large. Because of their large surface area, concrete piers are more prone to skin friction.
Skin friction occurs when the soil around a pier causes a downward or “negative” pressure on the pier itself. This negative pressure causes the concrete pier to lose its load-bearing capacity, making it an unreliable foundation support. In the worst-case scenario, concrete that has been mixed or cast incorrectly will crumble from both the negative pressure as well as the weight of the foundation.
This is most likely to occur in extremely compressible clay soils. This compression causes soil consolidation, which is when the air between each soil particle is displaced as the particles come closer and closer together. Because of this, concrete piers should not be installed if your foundation is surrounded by soft soil. Concrete piers that have issues with negative pressure can be reinforced with a cage or stabilizing material, but this costs extra time and money.
Helical piers don’t have this problem because their surface area is a lot smaller than concrete piers. Because of their lean design, they do now consolidate the soil, therefore avoiding negative downward pressure.
Another problem when it comes to concrete piers is how inconvenient they are in comparison to helical piers. The holes needed to pour the concrete require excavation whereas helical piers do not, meaning it’s an incredibly invasive process. It’s also incredibly time-consuming, because not only does the excavation work need to be done, the concrete needs time to cure before any weight is placed on it. Helical piers can bear the weight of a house the moment they are set in place.
The installation process for helical piers is incredibly quiet, so no loud construction noises to worry about. Meanwhile, because of all the heavy machinery involved in the process, concrete pier installation is noisy. Helical piers can also be tested for their load-bearing capacity during the installation and they can be removed after installment too. Concrete piers can neither be tested nor removed, so their ability to perform relies on how well the contractors do their job.
- Helical Piers vs. Push Piers
Push piers are hollow supports made of steel that rely on the weight of the building to create the resistance needed to function. The piers are pushed deep beneath the ground by a hydraulic ram. The piers are pushed in until they encounter resistance and cannot be pushed further. Once the piers are put into place, they are attached to the house with brackets. The weight of the house is what acts as a counterweight that finishes pushing the piers and keeps them at load-bearing depth.
One of the biggest disadvantages push piers have is that they cannot correct bowing walls. Helical piers can be installed vertically or at an angle, which can set bowing walls straight. Because push piers can only be installed vertically, they cannot apply the right amount of pressure at the angle needed to fix foundation walls.
Another downside to push piers is the fact that they cannot be removed. They can also severely damage your foundation even further if too much pressure is exerted. The house relies on the pier to be lifted up, but the pier itself relies on the house’s weight to stay in place. If the pressure applied to the house is greater than its counter, it will harm the soil as well as the foundation.
It’s also because of this reliance on weight and counterweight that push piers cannot be used in every circumstance. Push piers need to be pushed into the ground by an incredible amount of weight. Because of this, push piers would be a bad fit for small houses that don’t weigh a lot. Push piers are often used for large commercial buildings instead of homes for this reason.
Can I Install Piers on My Own?
In the age of technology, where information is at your fingertips, DIYing a home repair project sounds very tempting for the average homeowner. Part of the reason DIY projects are so alluring is because of the belief that they will save you money. However, this is a common misconception among the DIY crowd.
To understand why DIY foundation fixes will cost you money in the long run, let’s first understand what kind of repair jobs can be attempted on your own. Both helical piers and push piers cannot be installed by a homeowner. Both require heavy machinery that cannot be easily acquired or used. The materials for both these solutions are not readily available to the public and any attempts to mimic these repair methods could backfire in the form of further foundation damage.
People that encourage DIY repairs often recommend concrete piers. However, just because the cement is easily available doesn’t mean it’s an easy or even straightforward job. Proper concrete pier installation requires knowledge of the kind of soil that’s being worked with, the weight of the house, the strength of the concrete mixture, the size of the pier, and adequate placement and spacing. If you mess up even one of these factors, you risk further damage to your foundation as well as the soil around you.
Inadequate installment of any of these solutions results in more problems, which require more time and money to fix. Having foundation issues once is a headache, but having issues twice because you didn’t adequately install a pier (of any kind) is just plain aggravating.
To avoid structural problems and save yourself repair money, contact a foundation repair specialist who has the knowledge and experience to install a pier successfully and future-proof your foundation.
Why do contractors keep using soft, clay soils as foundations if they have a significant shrink-swell capacity and consolidate enough to put extreme pressure on foundations? After all, we were previously talking about load-bearing soil and how great it is at supporting weight. Why not use that kind of soil for foundations?
Well, there’s a reason for everything and the civil engineers are experts in their field. Let’s take a look at why clay soils are more advantageous than load-bearing soils.
- The Problem with Load-Bearing Soils
Sedimentary rocks, bedrock, and other rocks and soils are extremely tough load-bearing materials. If you build a house on these types of rocks, it is highly unlikely that the house will ever settle. However, there’s a reason you never see an actual house built on these kinds of materials and it has to do with the attributes these materials possess and what it takes to build a functioning house. As much as we would love to say that there is a perfect foundation material, it’s simply not true.
Load-bearing soils are way too dense to be used as actual soil. Soils used as foundations must be capable of both draining water and allowing air. If the soil is too dense to allow water to pass through, there would be pools of water all around your home whenever it rains. The soil should also never be dense enough that it creates pressure against the foundation should it ever shift.
- Why Soft Soils Are Used
Soft soils such as clay soils have a lighter load-bearing capacity. They also tend to be expansive. Without proper lawn care and waterproofing, expansive soils become extremely damaging. However, the reason they are still widely used and preferred by home experts is because of how convenient they are.
Expansive soils consolidate and compact with extreme ease. All soils have to be consolidated when being placed down as a foundation. These soils are so easy to manipulate that they save time when the foundation work is being done. Expansive soils also allow a lot more water and air in than tougher soils, though not as much as soils with bigger particles such as sand and gravel. While this is great for setting down a foundation, issues could arise in the future if the expansive soil leads to poor drainage.
The worse the settling is, the more needs to be done and the more money needs to be spent. Apart from the money, settling isn’t something that only affects your foundation. It affects the upper parts of the house as well and once the problems become severe, they begin to affect your daily life.
As a homeowner, it’s important to understand what foundation issues look like. Having this knowledge will save you time, money, and stress.
- Water Damage
Some of the easiest problem signs to spot occur within the home. This is because you spend most of your time within the confines of your home, so the problems are more apparent. If you have foundation issues, you’ll probably also have leaking issues as well. The leaking and flooding will increase the humidity in your home, which leads to mold growth. If you have mold growth in your basement or crawl space, it means the moisture in the foundation is leaking into the home.
Another sign of water damage is efflorescence on the concrete walls in your basement. Efflorescence occurs when the moisture brings out all the salt in the concrete as the moisture evaporates.
- Structural Damage
Structural damage is something that gets worse over time. Hairline cracks turn into giant cracks. Door frames and window frames become warped and you have trouble opening and closing them. Walls, especially basement walls, begin to bow inwards. The concrete outside your home becomes lopsided.
All of these issues are things that can impact your life, make your home look ugly, and cost a lot of money to repair. The moment you detect these signs and suspect foundation issues, contact a foundation repair company before things get worse.
Every kind of pier method for foundation repair has its ups and downs. Even if you prefer one particular method over the others, the kind of pier system used for your foundation repair will not be up to you. The experts doing the job will assess the conditions of your soil and your foundation to determine the best solution for you.
- When to Use Helical Piers
Helical piers are extremely reliable for foundation repairs in comparison to other methods. They are often used in homes where the soil is very soft and easy to consolidate. Their low surface area prevents negative pressure, which is not something that can be said for concrete piers. They are also best used if you have bowing walls that need to be straightened out or if you need to lift your settling house. This is possible because, unlike other pier systems, helical piers can be installed at an angle.
Another reason to go for helical piers has to do with your comfort. For the fastest installation time as well as minimal soil disturbance and noise, helical piers are the way to go.
- When Not to Use Helical Piers
Helical piers should only be used on light structures because they don’t have the load-bearing capacity to carry heavy structures. If you own a big house, push piers are a much better option for your foundation. Another reason why the contractor might not use helical piers on your foundation might be due to the size limits. Helical piers might be too big to be installed in specific parts. You might be wondering why push piers can’t be used in those tighter spots, but using a mix of different types of piers will create uneven pressure across the foundation.
Helical piers are also incredibly reliant on soil. If your property has a lot of sedimentary rock around it, it might be difficult for the workers to install the helical piers. When this is the case, concrete piers or push piers are preferred.
Call Indiana Foundation Service for Foundation Repair
Foundation problems can be extremely taxing on the average homeowner. Not only do you have to worry about your house breaking apart, you now need to familiarize yourself with construction jargon, figure out which solutions are available, figure out costs, and find a reputable foundation repair company. Luckily for you, Indiana Foundation Service has your back.
Indiana Foundation Service is a foundation and basement repair company located in Indianapolis, IN. Since our founding in 1993, we have helped the homeowners of Indy fix their foundation with reliable, convenient, permanent solutions.
With us, repairs are made simple. Call us or use our online contact form to schedule an appointment and get a free inspection with one of our field experts. During the visit, the expert will explain the problem, what needs to be done, provide a timeline, and an estimate of the cost. We can’t wait to hear from you, and we’re sure you can’t wait to have a functioning foundation