Grade Beams vs Steel Piers in Foundation Repair (What’s Best for You)

The foundation repair business is a complicated venture fit with its own unique vernacular and industry-specific procedures. The engineering side, especially, can get complicated quickly: calculous is not a common language. Because foundation repairs are so industry-specific it can be difficult to know the differences (the pros and cons) between repair options. For example, which is better: grade beams or steel pier systems for foundation repair?

Dalinghaus Construction Inc. has been in the foundation repair game for decades, servicing thousands of foundations in the SoCal and Arizona area. We are here to answer all your foundation repair-related questions, whether you ultimately choose to do business with us or not.

We believe educated consumers make the best decisions.   

In this article, you will learn the pros and cons between grade beam foundation repair and steel pier system foundation repair and will be able to decide what option is best for you and yours.

Grade Beams vs Push and Helical Pier Systems  

Grade Beam Foundation Repair  

Grade beams are an old-school staple of foundation repair, targeting foundation settlement. They are sturdy beams of rebar-reinforced concrete often utilized to straddle caissons, dispersing the home’s load, or used to redirect the load from a bearing wall. In short, grade beams reinforce and redisperse a load to provide structural equilibrium.

This option tends to be an engineering favorite (the good old “go-to”) due to its prevalence in the late 20th century. Grade beams are fantastic at leveling the weight distribution playing field, so to speak, but do nothing in the way of mitigating foundation settlement. In addition, in our world of ever-changing technology, the cons heavily outweigh the pros.   

 Grade Beams Cause Property Disruption    

Grade beam installation is akin to extreme surgery – it’s expensive, invasive, and demands a long recovery. The perimeter of your property is essentially excavated, resulting in a five-to-six-foot trench encircling your home. In addition, the interior of your home does not go unscathed.

The middle of the slab is saw cut and a large chunk of the foundation is removed, exposing the caissons below. This involves juggling furniture, tearing up flooring (carpet, linoleum, or wood floors), and a crew of typically 4-5 production members digging a hole in the middle of your living room. Smaller drill rigs may be utilized depending on the space in the home.    

During the repair, the family is often encouraged to move out – sometimes for weeks. This can cause a logistical nightmare of its own. Where will you stay? Why are hotels so expensive? And so on.

Grade Beams Can Further Sink Your Foundation

Grade beams are heavy, a solid slab of concrete weighing in at 150 pounds per cubic foot. While the grade beam may effectively transfer the load between caissons or help alleviate undue stress on a loadbearing wall, they undoubtedly add significant weight. The soil beneath the home, already, has been determined to be incompetent, non-load-bearing soil (usually a porous clay, loam, or other expansive soil). Adding more weight will further sink the ship.

This is because caissons rarely reach enough depth to hit bedrock. So, grade beams add additional weight to an already failing “support system.”   

Grade Beams Can Be Expensive      

Grade beams are no small expenditure when combined in conjunction with cessions. For example, caissons can come in at $10k each, before considering labor costs (all that digging and concrete R&R) and the grade beam.   

Why Do Engineers Suggest Grade Beams?

We’ve dissected grade beam installation with the intention to combat foundation settlement and determined grade beams are antiquated, incredibly invasive, increase settlement, and are expensive. So, why do some engineers and foundation repair companies still suggest grade beam foundation repair?

It’s a “tried-and-true methodology” and been around the block a time or two or three. It follows under the adage you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. The simple fact of the matter is: there are better alternatives (such as steel pier systems) in the vein of value engineering.

Value engineering is a systematic approach to coupling required function and lowest possible cost. Value engineering promotes utilizing the cheapest materials and methodologies without compromising the end result of the project/repair.   

Grade beam utilization to combat foundation settlement is not cost-effective engineering or value-based.

 Steel Pier Systems are Better Than Grade Beams

Push pier and helical pier steel pier systems are newer foundation repair technologies that pose few serious cons. Push piers and helical piers are galvanized steel pipes that are hydraulically driven to competent, load-bearing soil or bedrock. In simple terms, they act as underground stilts which support the load above the weaker soil.  

Steel Pier Systems are Less Invasive than Grade Beams

Push piers and helical piers only require 3×3 foot excavations for their installation, as opposed to the trenches required for caissons. The steel pier foundation repair process only takes one to two weeks, and the homeowner does not have to temporarily move out.

To learn more specifics about the push pier and helical pier installation process, read our articles The Five Steps to Push Pier Foundation Repair and The 5 Steps to Helical Pier Installation.   

 Steel Pier Systems are More Effective than Grade Beams

Steel pier systems reach competent, load-bearing soil or bedrock (a feat caissons often fail to accomplish). Push pier and helical pier systems are incredibly effective, with maximum load capacities upward of 60,000 pounds. They will have no issues supporting the weight of your home and pose no threat of sinking it further. In addition, they allow for maximum practical recovery and releveling opportunities.

Would You Like a Second Opinion? We Inspect!

In this article, you learned that grade beams are not in step with the value engineering ethos – they’re invasive, counterproductive, and expensive.  You also learned that steel pier systems are a far superior alternative. Steel pier systems are quickly installed, require minimum property disruption, and are actually effective at combatting foundation settlement.  

Perhaps you read this article because an engineer or foundation repair company suggested grade beams over steel pier systems or vice versa. We hope we provided a clear, definitive juxtaposition that will put your mind at ease regarding your future repair decision.

Dalinghaus Construction Inc. has over 100 years of combined foundation repair experience. Like the Farmers Insurance motto: we know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two. To book a free inspection from one of our seasoned foundation repair specialists, click the link below.

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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