Are Underpinning & Foundation Repair the Same Thing?

The world of foundation repair can prove complex bordering on confusing. It is easy for you to become overwhelmed by new terms and industry-specific jargon – such as maximum practical recovery or push piers.

This is why we encourage you to ask questions, to dig deeper. A question we receive on a regular basis is are underpinning and foundation repair the same thing.

Foundation repair is a broad umbrella term used to describe all types of foundation repair. Underpinning refers to a specific method of foundation repair – primarily shoring up a foundation with piers (push, helical, concrete, and so on).

Think of piers as underground stilts that have been driven to bedrock or competent, load-bearing soil that keep your home secure and grounded.  

It’s important to understand the difference between foundation repair and underpinning because the more educated you are the better you will understand the process and be able to decide what’s the best option for your situation.

Every foundation repair project is unique. Here at Dalinghaus Construction, we have over 100 years of combined foundation repair experience and have serviced thousands of foundations in Southern California and Arizona. It is our pleasure to elucidate the foundation repair process for our readers.

After reading this blog post, you will know that foundation repair is a broad sweeping term that encompasses many different kinds of foundation repair and learn the specifics of underpinning. 

This article covers:

  •   Foundation Repair Overview
  •   What is Underpinning?

Foundation Repair Overview

Foundations incur damage over time, whether it’s from expansive soil, seismic events, spalling, or extreme heat/cold. Foundation damage is especially concerning because your foundation acts as the primary source of structural support for your home. When your foundation is at risk, your home is at risk.

Foundation damage depletes property value, deters home renovations, cracks your drywall, stucco, and fireplace. It can cause your floors to slope and your doors and windows to jam. Your home’s metaphorical spine is out of alignment.    

Learn more: Vertical footing cracks

The term foundation repair is a blanket description for any foundation correction, improvement, or recovery. And, no matter what type of foundation you have underneath your home, it can be repaired.

Foundation repair can be conducted on:   

  •   Slab on grade foundations
  •   Post-tensioned slab foundations
  •   Raised foundations (cripple wall & post-&-pad)
  •   Basement foundations

Different kinds of foundations are necessary for various climates, soil types, and utilities. Different types of foundations pose unique benefits, problems, and repairs.  

To learn more about the different types of foundations and how they grew in popularity in America, read our article 5 Types of Residential Foundations Popular in America: A Brief Foundational Overview.

Now that we have a comprehensive list of the various types of foundations, let’s dive into a few specific repairs that are covered by our umbrella term foundation repair.

  •   Slab crack repair
  •   Cracked footing repair
  •   Post & pad replacement
  •   Polyurethane deep injection
  •   Mudjacking
  •   Stemwall repair
  •   Underpinning (push piers, helical piers, concrete piers, etc.)  

All the repairs listed above help provide an idea of just how broad a scope the term foundation repair encompasses. Since we have covered foundation repair in broad strokes, let’s dive into underpinning specifically. 

Check out our case study: Repairing Seal Beach Slab Foundation

What is Underpinning?

In short, underpinning is strengthening and reinforcing an existing foundation of a structure, typically by extending the depth and breadth of the foundation.

Generally, push piers or helical piers are driven down to load-bearing competent soil and act as underground stilts, keeping the foundation secure against foundation settlement. Think of it like sewing – needles help pin fabric into place. Helical piers and push piers are similar to giant, permanent needles, so to speak.   

Common forms of underpinning include:

  •   Push Pier Underpinning
  •   Helical Pier Underpinning
  •   Concrete Pier Underpinning (concrete piers are an outdated option as they spall due to water damage and are remarkably heavy, causing them to settle quickly)

For an in-depth look at the underpinning process, read our articles The 5 Steps to Helical Pier Installation and The 5 Steps to Push Pier Foundation Repair. These articles provide a step-by-step walkthrough of the underpinning process so you know what to anticipate during the repair. 

A structure might require underpinning if –

  •   The original foundation isn’t strong/stable enough to support the existing structure
  •   The initial use of the structure has changed, requiring foundational reinforcement
  •   The soil is not competent to withstand the weight of the structure
  •   Another story is being added to the structure, requiring deeper foundational footings to help support greater load-bearing capacity
  •   It is cheaper to repair/reinforce than buy new
  •   Seismic activity, drought, flood, or other acts of God have compromised the structure’s structural security

Underpinning is a unique form of foundation repair because it has the ability to assist your home in recovering lost ground. The home can be lifted to maximum practical recovery, returning floors to level, doorframes to square, and closing unsightly cracks. 

Underpinning can return property value, impede further foundation settlement, and allow for remodeling. To learn more about the history and alternatives to underpinning, read our article What is Underpinning (Definition, History, & Types).

Is Underpinning Right for You?

 If your home is suffering from foundation settlement, underpinning is the best bet for repairing your foundation woes. The next question is: should you underpin with helical piers or push piers?

This is best determined by your foundation repair specialist. Soil type, the weight of the home, and accessibility are all factors. All repair projects are unique and the repair plans are specifically tailored to meet each individual project’s needs.

In this article, you learned that foundation repair is a broad term that encompasses many different types of repair, from slab crack repair to post-&-pad replacement. You also learned that underpinning is a unique form of foundation repair, which can return a home to level.   

Read more: Raised vs. Slab-On-Grade Foundations

We’ve been in the foundation repair industry for a while, and we know new lingo can be daunting. We hope we were able to clear up the overlapping terminology. 

If you haven’t had a foundation inspection yet, click our link below for a FREE inspection in our operating areas of SoCal and Arizona – 

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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