What Alternatives Are There to Caissons for Foundation Repair?

Finding the best fix for your foundation repair isn’t easy. Caissons are very common and aren’t what most people would call cheap. Are there other alternatives to caissons that are effective and affordable?

Good news: there are! 

Remember, more expensive doesn’t mean more effective. There are methods such as push pier and helical underpinning that can be just as effective for your foundation repair.

Also, remember there are times you get what you pay for. There are concrete underpinning methods that not only do nothing for your foundation but can often make foundation settlement worse. You don’t need that negativity in your life.

Dalinghuas Construction has inspected over 10,000 homes in Southern California, Arizona, and Nevada, repairing over 2,000 homes that have never been previously repaired or underwent alternative foundation repair methods. We understand the effectiveness of caissons and other foundation repair methods that are both affordable and just as efficient. 

What is a caisson?

A caisson is a cylinder installed at low grade, or deep under the surface (usually) down to bedrock. A caisson is constructed by first making a cage out of rebar that is put down the cylindrical hole and then encased in concrete.

Sometimes shallow caissons are held up by a concrete pad and sacrificial jack. Companies will do a secondary pour to encapsulate the jack. 

These usually do not reach bedrock and are still in the “active zone,” or the area where expansive soils are most affected by moisture, or lack thereof, causing these soils to either expand or contract.

What’s good about caissons

In some instances, such as on a slope, they may not allow push piers, helical piers, or helical tiebacks for your foundation repair. What’s assigned is based on jurisdiction (your location) and the engineer.

By the way, get ready to read this phrase (or variations of it) many times during this article: it’s up to the engineer.

In some cases such as if it were a cantilever structure, which is a structure that extends horizontally over an open space, engineers will likely recommend caissons over push/helical pier systems since they can extend well above grade. 

Push pier systems are designed to go below grade. It wouldn’t make much sense for them to hold up a structure in an open area when push and helical piers are underground. It would be cool if push piers had mystical properties to help structures float. 

Helical piers can be used above grade for stuff like bridges and boardwalks, though some people might find caissons more aesthetically appealing.

Caissons are generally more expensive

The prices vary, but will typically be more expensive than a push and helical pier underpinning for foundation repair. And depending on the location, some companies might have to crane the caisson in the cavity if there is no access around the side of your home. A company using expensive equipment isn’t exactly cheap for you, either. 

Not to mention there is extra time to create the deeper cavity, as well as the labor needed and equipment needed to excavate. Compare this to other foundation repair methods where the holes don’t need to go as deep for installation. 

Generally with whatever price you would pay for your foundation repair with Dalinghaus Construction, expect to pay at least twice as much to install a caisson. So if your repair project through us was $26,000 (this is our average cost), expect to pay around $52,000 to install a caisson.

Also, a cost-effective foundation repair plan doesn’t equal less effective overall.

Alternative foundation repair plans as effective as caissons

When it comes to effectiveness, it all depends. It comes down to the engineer and what they say.

Push Pier and Helical Pier Underpinning

Push pier and helical pier underpinnings are as effective at holding up a home as a caisson. 

push pier is a pier that is hydraulically driven into the ground until it hits bedrock. These piers can hold up to around 60,000 pounds.

Check out this video to understand more about push piers:

Helical piers use helices and are essentially screwed into the ground until reaching competent soil, allowing stabilization due to the torque.

Watch this video to understand more about helical piers:

both types are cost-effective and take less time to install.

The engineers we deal with are good at what they do (you would hope so). They know the difference in cost between galvanized steel piers and caissons, accessibility, and overall time. What is installed still comes down to what the engineer says.

Keep in mind not all engineers are familiar with push and helical pier systems. Foundation repair companies who specialize in push piers and helical piers will go to engineers also familiar with these systems. They can still recommend caissons on certain projects. If a project requires a caisson, it requires a caisson!

Alternative foundation repair plans that are less effective than caissons

Remember, caissons can be effective. What determines if one works well is if it goes into load-bearing strata so a building won’t move. So deep caissons are super effective for a home. Not entirely necessary, but effective nonetheless.

If a foundation repair method doesn’t go deep enough, this doesn’t solve the foundation settlement issue. Here are some other alternatives that are less effective for your home.

Sister Footing

Another footing is attached to your concrete footing that already exists.

Sounds like it could be effective, right? But what if it’s still in the active zone? Well, concrete isn’t exactly light. Go try to lift your sidewalk real quick and then come back to reading this.

With the weight of the concrete, the foundation settlement can accelerate. It would be like doing a deadlift using a 120-pound boulder to then go straight to a 240-pound boulder.

Micropiles

These are essentially mini caissons pushed next to the footing of your home until locked in. They’re meant to be installed under the concrete footing for support. Like sister footings, these typically don’t go deep enough, accelerating the foundation settlement of your home.

Concrete or gravel pads with sacrificial jacks

These were mentioned a little bit earlier. Some companies go under the footing of your home and install concrete or gravel pads with a “sacrificial jack” sitting on top. The jack supports the weight of your home when attached to the footing – at least in theory. The jacks are still in the active zone. So they’re being pushed down along with the rest of your home.

Notice the similar pattern here? These alternative methods don’t go deep enough. Some even accelerate the damage to your home when they act as an unnecessary weight.

Think of these methods like skiing: your home is trying to pizza when dealing with foundation settlement, but these other methods make the skis french fry, going down at a faster rate. You’re not gonna have a good time.

A good article to read is Push and Helical Pier Underpinning Vs Concrete Underpinning for a better understanding of different foundation repair methods.

You now know alternatives to caissons. What matters is you have a foundation repair method that works for you.

You know more about caissons, effective foundation repair methods, and less effective methods. While Dalinghaus Construction specializes in Push piers and Helical piers, it might not be the best fit for you. Or it might depend on what the engineer recommends. I bet that came as a surprise to you.

If you need to hear from different companies about their repair methods, be sure you receive multiple repair bids. That way you can compare and contrast different companies, their methods, their proposals, and see the engineers they defer to. 

If you would like, you can start with Dalinghaus Construction to schedule a free 60-90 minute evaluation of your foundation.

Be sure you’re reading Push Piers vs Helical Piers (Installation to Equipment to Cost) to understand the difference in the methods we use.

Also, read Concrete Piles vs Push Piers (Depth, Active Zones, and Loads) to understand how concrete piles are ineffective.

For any questions, call us at (877)360-9277, or click the button below to schedule your free foundation evaluation today!

WRITTEN BY

Brian Dalinghaus

Brian is one of the Co-Founders of Dalinghaus Construction. He has been in the foundation repair industry since 2005. During his career, he has been associated with helping over 4,000 homes and structures throughout California and Arizona.

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