Deep earth solutions for contractors
Adapting to advances in technology can sometimes be a drag. Learning new software, purchasing new tools, updating procedures due to regulation; sometimes it’s a hassle. For contractors though, there are some products and advancements simply too good to ignore, and one of those today is helical screw pile systems.
Although screw pile systems have been around since the 1800’s, installation methods have become much easier. Advancements now allow for helical screw piles to be used for a variety of applications, both large and small.
To be brief, helical piles are steel shafts with helix shaped bearing plates. They are generally used for deep earth foundation applications, providing structural support as either piers or as tension anchors. There are numerous types of plates, shapes, sizes and designs available, each made for specific applications depending on the integrity of the soil and the weight or tension the helical pile is meant to support.
Uses for helical screw pile systems
One popular use for helical piles is as piers under porches, decks or small additions. Traditionally, holes are dug by hand or with excavators and concrete is mixed and poured into a tube. Afterwards there is still a cleanup involved, not to mention the curing and drying process of the concrete. This all equals a lot of man hours, perhaps a couple days, especially if there are 10+ piers to install. Now imagine finishing all this by lunch and construction above beginning immediately. With no waiting for concrete to dry or inspectors to ensure your holes are a minimum of 4’ deep, helical piles are an incredible time saver. Not to mention less labor intensive. Your back muscles will thank you, or at least your crews will.
In addition to saving contractors time, the steel shaft pier will also be a blessing for the property owner. Take a look at some concrete piers and you will notice some have heaved, many have settled and others are simply crumbling away. These are now problems of the past, as helical piles are installed at depths based on soil conditions. When installed correctly, there is little chance the shafts will ever settle or heave. This means one less repair to consider in the future. Another plus; helical piles can be installed year-round whether there is frost or soggy, wet soil. Again, crews will be grateful.
Contractors also use helical screw pile systems for docks and walkways in marinas, on lake shores, or for bridges in parks and golf courses. Green thumbs will love it too, as little or no earth is displaced and there is minimal impact on the environment.
As mentioned, there are several applications for helical screw pile systems, the pier/post being just one of them. More heavy duty push piers (not always with a helical plate affixed to them) can be used for stabilizing, or even raising, settled buildings. Push piers save property owners from having to completely replace failing foundations due to settling. Likewise, for new construction, helical piers can be installed under slabs or footings to ensure homes or buildings will never settle. This can be especially important in places known for having problematic soils, such as in areas over old landfills or near high water tables.
It’s worth noting special equipment is needed to install helical screw pile systems. Bobcat’s or Kubota’s of various sizes can be used, fixed with unique driver heads available for purchase from the manufacturer of the steel shafts. For contractors to get outfitted for installing piers with a machine, trailer and fixture, starting costs will range from $35,000 – $50,000. When choosing a machine, keep in mind how much force may be needed to drive in the screw piles, and also maneuverability on job sites. Depending on how many piers a contractor installs, they can expect to gain the monetary benefits of their investment within a year or two. As mentioned though, the benefits of saving time will be felt immediately.
For the push pier systems, a maneuverable hydraulic pump set up is used for applications. No real heavy machinery is required, and sometimes installations will take place from within the basement rather than from the exterior. Though not required, engineers will sometimes be involved with these systems, which will effect overall costs for property owners. However, when it comes to saving an investment such as a home or property, it is almost always worth the costs.
So for contractors who may be weary of trying new things in the field, just know that while you’re mixing your 16th bag of concrete, another contractor using helical piles has already begun installing their floor joists. Sometimes, change is good.
Kathleen Houlihan is a leader in workforce innovation and she is the Founder of an agency that reimagines talent acquisition and optimizes the system for candidates and employers. Her company, Dream2Career, provides human-centric ROI solutions that filter-in candidates who exceed expectations in the workplace.