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What Is A Foundation Pier?

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Wondering what a foundation pier is? If so, don’t hit that back button because you’ve landed on the right page. In this article, we’ll go over the definition of a foundation pier, how foundation piers work, signs your home might need foundation piers and more.

What Is A Foundation Pier

A foundation pier is a structural support system used to stabilize and strengthen the foundation of a building or structure experiencing a phenomenon known as differential settlement or when a foundation is settling into the ground unevenly.

Some soil types are prone to erosion, which can cause voids to form under the foundation. This can lead to differential foundation settlement, which can cause cracks and other issues.

Differential settlement puts a lot of stress on a foundation and can cause severe structural damage if not corrected. Differential settlement is caused by various things, including, but not limited to, expansive soil, erosion-prone soil, soil that wasn’t adequately prepared before construction began, and seismic events.

Signs of differential settlement include doors and windows that don’t open and close properly, wall cracks, stair-step cracks in brick or masonry, and uneven floors.

Foundation piers are designed to transfer the structure’s weight from unstable soil to a more stable layer of soil or rock. Foundation piers are commonly made from materials such as steel or concrete. Common types include push piers, helical piers, and drilled concrete piers. We’ll talk more about each of these below.

Helical piers are similar to push piers in that they’re designed to stabilize and strengthen a foundation.

Types Of Foundation Piers

When it comes to foundation repair, choosing the right type of foundation pier is essential to ensure the structural stability and longevity of a building or home. Several different types of foundation piers are available, each designed to solve different kinds of foundation problems. This article will discuss four types of foundation piers – push piers, helical piers, slab piers, and drilled concrete piers.

After a thorough inspection, your foundation repair contractor will know which type of foundation piers are right for your foundation.

Push piers

Push piers, or resistance piers, are among the most commonly used foundation piers. These piers are designed to support and stabilize a settling foundation. A hydraulic jack pushes them through the soil and deep down into the bedrock or stable soil layer. This process typically raises the foundation back to its original level(or as close as possible) and provides long-term stability. Push piers are ideally suited for supporting buildings with heavier loads or where the soil conditions are unsuitable for other piers.

Helical Piers

Helical piers, also known as screw piles, are another popular type of foundation pier. These piers are ideal for supporting lightweight structures or navigating through difficult soil conditions. Helical piers consist of a steel shaft with helical plates screwed into the soil until they reach the bedrock or a stable soil layer. This process creates a solid support system that can withstand varying soil conditions and prevent foundation settlement.

Slab Piers

Slab piers are more specialized than push or helical piers. They are typically used for residential and commercial buildings with concrete slab foundations. They can lift and level the slab or prevent future settling. These piers consist of steel tubes driven into the soil beneath the slab to support and stabilize it.

Drilled Concrete Piers

what is a foundation pier

Drilled concrete piers, also known as auger cast piles, concrete piers, or micro piles, are a type of foundation pier that involves drilling a hole into the soil and filling it with concrete to form a solid support column. The hole is typically reinforced with steel to provide additional strength. This process is particularly effective in soil conditions where other types of piers may be unsuitable and where movement or settling of the foundation is a concern.

Choosing the correct type of foundation pier requires careful evaluation of the building, the soil conditions, and the severity of the foundation problem. Push piers, helical piers, slab piers, and drilled concrete piers are all effective solutions, each with unique advantages. By consulting with a qualified foundation repair contractor, homeowners can choose the best foundation pier for their needs and ensure a safe, stable, and long-lasting foundation.

How Do Foundation Piers Work?

Installing foundation piers involves several steps:

Site Investigation and Preparation

The first step in foundation pier installation is assessing the soil and foundation conditions at the site. This involves conducting a thorough inspection, gathering data, and creating a plan that outlines the specific needs and requirements of the project. Site preparation involves excavating the area surrounding the foundation to make way for the installation of the piers.

Pier Selection and Placement

Once the site has been thoroughly inspected and prepared, the next step is determining the type and size of piers required. Foundation piers come in various materials and configurations, including steel and concrete. The most appropriate type is selected based on the soil conditions, the building size, and the specific application. The piers are then placed at specified locations around the foundation.

Pier Installation

A foundation pier is a structural support system used to stabilize a foundation experiencing a phenomenon known as differential settlement

The actual installation of the piers involves drilling or driving the pier into the ground until it reaches competent soil. The installation depth varies depending on the project and soil conditions. The piers are typically driven (push piers) or screwed into the ground (helical piers) using hydraulics or other tools. The aim is to reach a load-bearing stratum that can withstand the weight of the foundation without settling or shifting.

Push pier installation

Push piers are installed by driving steel tubes deep into the ground until they reach a stable layer of soil or rock. The structure’s weight is transferred to the piers, and the building is lifted back to its original position, or as close as possible.

Helical pier installation

Helical piers are installed by screwing steel piers deep into the ground. They are handy in areas with unstable soil conditions, such as near bodies of water or around newly constructed buildings.

Drilled concrete pier installation

Concrete piers are installed by drilling holes into the ground and filling them with concrete. They are popular for older homes with foundation issues caused by settling or shifting soil.

Reinforcing and Stabilizing

A foundation pier is a structural support system used to stabilize a foundation experiencing a phenomenon known as differential settlement

Once the foundation piers are installed and reach the desired depth, they are reinforced and stabilized. This involves connecting the piers to the foundation with strong metal brackets and other reinforcement systems to ensure the piers remain in place. The piers are then used to raise the foundation to its original level, thus correcting any settlement or structural damage.

Clean-up and Restoration

The final step in foundation pier installation is the clean-up and restoration of the site. Any excess materials or debris from the installation process are removed, and the soil is backfilled and compacted around the piers. The site is then restored to its original state per the pre-construction plans.

Foundation piers are sometimes necessary when a foundation is compromised and needs support. The piers transfer the foundation’s load to soil that can adequately support it. Installing foundation piers can be complicated and requires careful planning, but properly installed foundation piers can extend the life of a building.

Signs Your Home Might Need Foundation Piers

Here are some signs that a home might need foundation piers to correct differential settlement:

  • Cracks in the walls, floors, and ceilings – These cracks often appear around door frames, windows, and corners. Cracks wider than ⅛ of an inch usually indicate a foundation problem and a foundation repair specialist should be contacted immediately.
  • Uneven floors – If you notice that your floors are sloping or uneven, it could be due to a foundation issue. Check if the floors feel like they are sagging in certain areas. Ensure that any slope or sagging is not due to the flooring material.
  • Sticking doors and windows – If you have doors and windows that are difficult to open or close, this could also be due to a foundation issue.
  • Gaps around doors and windows – Small gaps around windows and doors might indicate the house is experiencing differential settlement.
  • Stair step cracks in brick or masonry – This is a sure sign of a serious foundation problem.

Since most foundation issues are caused by excess moisture in the ground around the foundation

If you notice any of the above signs, consider contacting a licensed foundation repair professional to determine if your home needs foundation piers to correct differential settlement. If you spot a problem, don’t wait. Foundation problems always worsen; if you wait, you’ll pay more for the repair.

Tips On How To Prevent Foundation Problems

The good news is that many foundation problems can be prevented with a little effort and a few proactive measures. These include the following:

Regrade your yard, if necessary

One of the most critical steps in preventing foundation problems is ensuring the yard around your home is properly graded. The ground should slope away from your foundation so water doesn’t pool around it. A slope of at least 6 inches over the first 10 feet from your foundation is recommended. This can be achieved by adding soil to the low areas or removing soil from the high areas.

Use downspout extensions

Downspouts are the pipes that channel water from your roof to the ground. If they are not long enough, the water can collect around your foundation and cause damage over time. By adding extensions to your downspouts, you can direct the water away from your foundation and prevent it from seeping into the soil around it.

Clean your gutters regularly

Clogged gutters can cause water to overflow and spill onto the ground around your foundation. This can lead to foundation problems over time. Clean your gutters at least twice a year, preferably in the spring and fall.

Keep flowers and shrubs away from the foundation

Avoid planting water-hungry vegetation next to your foundation as well. You don’t want a reason to add water to the ground around the foundation. This is what you’re trying to avoid.

Keep trees away from the foundation

Trees and other plants with deep root systems can draw moisture from the soil and cause it to dry out. This can lead to soil shrinkage and settlement, which can cause your foundation to shift and crack. If you must plant near your foundation, choose plants requiring less water and with shallow root systems.

Consider installing a drain tile system

A drain tile system is an underground pipe system installed around the perimeter of your foundation at the footing level. It collects water that seeps into the soil and directs it away from your foundation. This can be a more expensive option, but it can be a worthwhile investment if you live in an area with a high water table or frequent heavy rainfall.

Preventing foundation problems requires effort, but it can save you a lot of headaches and expenses in the long run.

If you suspect your home may be experiencing foundation issues, contact us today to schedule a foundation evaluation. We serve Southern California, Arizona, and Nevada.


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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