If you need foundation repair or foundation bolstering, helical pier systems may be the right option for your needs. Helical pier systems can fix a variety of foundation problems, including settling foundation walls, cracks, weak foundations, and other issues you might run into. These are all signs of foundation problems, and they’re all signs that helical pier systems may be able to help you.
However, even if you know a little bit about helical pier systems, you may not know what they are or how they work. Whether you think helical pier systems could work for you, you have helical piers in your home, or you just want to know more about helical piers as a whole, here’s the rundown on helical pier systems.
What Are Helical Pier Systems?
A helical pier system, which is also called a helical foundation repair system, helical pier, or helical pile, is a type of deep foundation repair. It’s most commonly used to repair a foundation that’s currently broken for one reason or another, whether because it initially had a poor build, because it sunk into the ground over time, or because something happened to make it weak.
One of the unique things about helical pier systems is the fact that they look sort of like a corkscrew. As opposed to some other types of pier systems, which typically look like a long pole, helical pier systems screw into the ground like a corkscrew. This makes them extremely stable.
Of course, it’s a very complicated process determining what type of pier structure will work best to stabilize a foundation. Slab piers or push piers may actually be necessary to build the foundation back to its initial state. No matter how you’re going to underpin your foundation, you need to talk to a JES foundation repair expert to get an expert opinion.
The History of Helical Pier Systems
Helical pier systems trace back to the 1830s when Irish engineer Alexander Mitchell invented the screw-pile lighthouse. Although this may seem unrelated, it actually forms the foundation for the modern-day helical pier system because the screw-pile design was revolutionary for its time.
The very first screw-pile lighthouse existed in Brandywine Shoal, Delaware Bay. The screw-pile lighthouse replaced a lighthouse that used straight piers as stabilizers. Unfortunately, this straight pier lighthouse ended up sustaining damage from heavy ice floes, destroying it. The screw-pile lighthouse fixed many of the problems with the straight pier lighthouse.
Helical piles caught on very quickly post-Civil War. In fact, after the Civil War, the Lighthouse Board made a sweeping decision that replaced the existing lighthouse vessels with screw-pile lighthouses, causing over 100 screw-pile lighthouses to replace the existing straight pier lighthouses.
Although this may seem like something that’s been completely lost over time, it’s still something you can see. Many screw-pile lighthouses still exist. The last screw-pile lighthouse in North Carolina is the Roanoke River Light, with an initial build date of 1877. The oldest screw-pile lighthouse still active in the United States is the Carysfort Reef Light, which sits four miles outside of Key Largo, FL. Additionally, homes still use helical piers all across the country. Just because they’re not in use in lighthouses doesn’t mean they’re not in use anymore. A helical pier system might be the perfect option for your home because it provides a significant amount of stability by screwing into the ground underneath your home.
How Do Helical Pier Systems Work?
The helical pier system may seem complicated, especially if you’ve never investigated foundation support structures before. In fact, the process is relatively simple, even if the methods can be very complicated and require an expert. Here’s the full process, from start to finish.
Step 1: Make Sure the Helical Piers Are the Right Choice
The first step is to make sure that helical piers are the right choice for the problem you’re facing. Helical pier systems work very well to bolster foundations, but they’re not a one-size-fits-all fix for any problem you might be experiencing with your foundation repair. Instead, it’s important to take a look at the problems you’re experiencing with your foundation and the concerns you have about the foundation and match them up to a pier system.
Helical pier systems typically stabilize settled or cracked basement foundations. However, other types of pier systems can work very well for these types of foundation issues as well. It depends on the type of foundation you have, the issues you’re dealing with, and whether the JES foundation repair team believes this system will work well for you.
Step 2: Use Only High-Quality Helical Piers
The next step is to make sure only high-quality helical piers are on the list. It’s easy to try and skimp on tools and products when you want to do the job with as little money as possible, but this is not the place to skimp. Because these helical pier systems are going to be supporting so much weight for so much time, you want to choose only the highest quality for your helical pier system.
JES helical piers are designed in accordance with ICC-ES AC358 criteria, and JES tests them extensively in accordance with the International Code Council. When you use this system through JES, you can know they’re safe, effective, and built to last, because the space of the blades ensures the pier stays strong and installs super-easily.
Step 3: Excavate and Expose the Foundation Footing
Once helical piers have been determined to be the right solution for your home, a JES crew will begin the installation process. The crew will first use equipment to excavate the ground around where the piers will be installed. The also will dig down, usually a few feet, expose the footing of your foundation. This will prove useful in the upcoming steps.
Step 4: Drive the Screw Piles into the Soil
This is the moment of truth. Once everything’s in place, the helical piers have to actually go into the soil all the way down to the soil that’s strong enough and dense enough to hold the home. Typically, they’re installed between 10-30 feet below ground level, although some experts may need to go lower if certain requirements seem like they’re lagging.
This process is typically pretty simple and painless, especially when it goes through a JES foundation repair expert. All you really have to do is wait for the expert to be done driving the screw piles into the soil. If you’re interested in knowing more about the mechanics of actually driving the screw piles into the soil, you can ask the JES expert you get in contact with.
Step 5: Attach the Foundation Brackets to the Footing
The helical pier system needs some way to transfer the weight from the building to the pier itself. That’s why this step is attaching these piers to foundation brackets, which transfers the weight onto the pier. Foundation brackets are crucial to making sure the helical pier system works properly because if the foundation brackets aren’t there, the weight won’t redistribute, and nothing will change.
The intervals a JES expert will use to space the helical piers will vary depending on the size of the building and the extent of the damage. This is a more individualized choice, and it won’t necessarily be the same for every person. It’s just one of the reasons consulting a JES expert is so important for helical pier system installation.
Step 6: Follow-Up If Necessary
Once the helical pier system is fully installed, the JES expert will do the wrap-up. Typically, that includes cleanup and giving you information about what the JES team did at your home. An important part of this wrap-up includes the fact that you might need to follow up with the JES team after a certain period of time to make sure everything’s still working as properly as possible at the end of the day.
The JES team will give you information about not only what to look for to make sure the helical pier system is working, but also what to look for to see whether the helical pier system might not be working. If you see any of the symptoms that indicate the pier system might have an error, don’t be afraid to call the JES team as soon as possible. This team wants to make sure you have the best possible experience.
The Benefits of Helical Foundation Systems
Why would you choose a helical foundation solution over a different style of foundation system? There are a number of benefits that a helical foundation system can provide over other types of pier systems. These are just a few of those benefits.
Minimal Digging and Cleanup Required
As previously mentioned, the crew is going to have to do some excavating and digging around your home in order to access the foundation footing and areas of install for the helical piers. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be left with a gigantic mess to have to deal with or clean up.
This is great not only for you but also for the team that’s helping you install your helical foundation system. Many of these other systems are very difficult to install physically. It tends to be much less difficult to install the helical pier system because of its ease of use. Plus, even though it does have extensive ease of use, the helical pier system also stays sturdy thanks to its method of implementation, which works almost like a screw into the ground.
The aftermath will not be a burden to you. Any dirt removed from around your home will be replaced by the JES crew and tamped down, and they can even apply seed and straw to the area.
No Vibration During Installation
The last major benefit of a helical foundation system over other systems is that there’s no vibration during the installation process. Rather than hammering in anything, which some other pier systems might do, a helical foundation system just screws itself into the dirt. The lack of hammering throughout the process means no one ever has to use large power tools to jackhammer the piers as far down into the ground as possible, which means you won’t feel the significant vibrations that go along with that.
Piles typically create vibration during installation, which is something you want to avoid if possible. The way in which experts drive piles into the ground causes a lot of vibration, not just in the immediate area but also in the area immediately around you. This can cause damage to surrounding structures and create additional liabilities. You never want to hear the word “liability” attached to something that’s ostensibly a solution, whether you’re a homeowner or a construction crew member.
Foundation Repair with Helical Foundation Solutions
Of course, helical pier systems aren’t something you can DIY. These systems require heavy equipment to position and install, and they require significant amounts of knowledge to screw into the ground. However, if you have the right JES foundation repair expert by your side, you’ll be able to understand more about helical foundation systems.
Anyone who’s looking into all types of foundation problems should contact a JES expert for a free inspection. This JES expert will come to your home, examine the problems, take a look at anything else that might be going on, and let you know whether these helical pier systems would be a good option for your specific needs.
Footnotes: * The ICC does not have standards for every foundation system currently available. FSI tests in accordance with ICC standards when available. If testing standards are not available, FSI conducts extensive internal tests with their team of Professional Engineers to ensure strength, accuracy, load-bearing, and safety meet or exceed other comparable ICC and industry standards.