What are Steel Piers?
Steel piers are a means of supporting the weight of a structure – particularly one that may be being built on an unstable surface like very dry soil or sand. Because steel piers can extend up to 75 feet below the surface, they can usually reach a more solid base such as bedrock. The two most common uses for steel piers are to provide support for a brand new building or to rescue a foundation that is sinking.
In the former case, you most commonly see steel piers around beach communities, where the soil is simply too sandy. You’ll be able to notice that the houses are raised off the ground, even by just one foot. In the latter case, you may not be able to see any evidence of the steel piers, but the piers are inserted and attached to the sinking foundation to raise it back to its correct position.
This guide will discuss everything you need to know about steel piers so that if you ever need them, you’ll have the key information at hand. You’ll know how they work, how they are installed, and some of the pros and cons so you can make an educated decision about what’s best for you, your budget, and the foundation of your home.
HOW ARE THE PIERS INSTALLED?
In the most basic sense, the piers are installed by being hammered into the ground. However, there are different types of piers that are installed in slightly different ways. Which one is being used depends on the structure of the soil as well as precisely what is being supported as well as the angle at which they need to be installed.
In the majority of cases, steel piers are made up of cylindrical steel pipes. These piers are galvanized or epoxy-coated for additional strength and corrosion resistance. A powerful hydraulic ram drives them deep into the ground to the required depth.
In some cases, it may be preferable to use helical piers. These are effectively giant screws, which are inserted into the ground by a hydraulic torque motor. This turns the piers and screws them deep into the ground.
Either way, the required depth of the piers is tested in advance. Once the piers have reached this level, each one is tested with a force that is higher than what is required. This ensures that the piers won’t fail under the pressure of the foundation. After this, the piers are connected to the foundation (or whatever else they are designed to support) using metal head assembly. The piers are fixed totally in place using either welding or bolting. Once they are secured in place, they are now taking the load, and any temporary structure can be removed.
COMMON USE: FOUNDATION REPAIR
One of the most common uses of steel piers is in foundation repair. If a house has been built on dry soil or sand, the underlying surface is often not very compacted. The structure of the home pushes down on the soil, compacting it. This leads to the house (and usually the foundation) sinking into the sand. If left unchecked, this can cause major problems to the structure of the foundation and the house.
The first signs
of this are usually something fairly innocuous-seeming, like windows or doors sticking in their frame. You may begin to notice cracks on the walls. Eventually, the entire structure of the house will be jeopardized.
However, if you catch it soon enough, steel piers can save the day. After the piers are installed to the requisite depth, a hydraulic manifold lifting system is used to lift the foundation so that its weight is now supported by the steel piers. This not only raises up the foundation and places it back where it needs to be but also creates a strong solid base to bear the weight of the home.
The size of the foundation slab will determine the number of piers needed. The depth of the bedrock or solid soil underneath the home will affect how deep the piers need to go. However, the principle is the same whether it’s one pier going 10 feet down as it is for ten pillars going 50 feet down..
BENEFITS OF STEEL PIERS
There is a reason why steel piers are extremely common choices for contractors. These include the following:
They are far, far cheaper than removing and replacing the foundation.
Replacing the foundation will involve a large number of people and will run into the thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars. By contrast, steel piers are much cheaper (see the analysis of cost in the section below). Steel piers can be up to ten times cheaper than replacing the foundation.
It is a relatively unobtrusive process.
The entire project can be undertaken without affecting the usage of the building. This makes it a particularly attractive option when it comes to large commercial buildings.
It’s a portable process.
Unlike other forms of foundation repair, steel piering is relatively portable, and the equipment can fit in even the tightest of crawl spaces.
It’s a long-term solution.
Because it helps to raise up the foundation of a home as well as providing a stable base for the foundation, it not only solves the immediate problem (foundation sinking) it also solves the long-term problem (the poorly compacted surface underneath giving way).
It doesn’t require any heavy equipment.
You’ll not need any major pieces of machinery or tools to be brought onto your property, meaning you don’t necessarily have to worry about access.
Related to the above, it doesn’t require a major clean-up effort after the job is finished.
As soon as it’s done and the contractors move out, your home will look as good as new.
LIMITATIONS OF STEEL PIERS
Despite the fairly numerous and broad benefits of using steel piers, you shouldn’t assume that they are the perfect option for you and your home. There are some limitations:
Wide range in pricing
The cost of steel pilings can vary a great deal depending on precisely what type you are using. For a full breakdown of the costs, see the section below. Steel is also more expensive than concrete, leading some homeowners to choose concrete piers (despite these not being as strong, particularly when it comes to sand).
Need to be sure it's deep enough
If a steel pier is not properly installed, such as by not being pushed down as far as it can go, it will fail to support the weight of the house. This obviously doesn’t solve the problem that the steel pier was intended for.
Steel piers aren’t necessarily best suited for moist soils.
In the areas around the coast and areas susceptible to flooding (which constitutes a lot of the homes in the United States), there may be better options available, and steel piers may not solve the problem in the first place.
Expertise is needed.
The level of expertise required by contractors to successfully install steel piers is very high. This may lead to you paying a premium or having to wait a long time for a contractor to be available.
HOW MUCH DO STEEL PIERS COST?
The cost of steel piers depends on precisely what form of piling system you are using.
Overall you can expect to pay somewhere between $8,000 and $12,000 if you have a moderately damaged foundation. If the damage is more expensive, you’ll pay somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000, although there are a number of factors that influence the final cost. It should also be noted that most home insurance companies don’t cover foundational damage. One of the key determinants of cost is the underpinning system in use.
The table below shows you what you’ll pay depending on what you use:
Type of Pier or Piling
Cost per Piling
$950 - $1,600
$1,400 - $2,100
$700 - $950
$800 - $1,350
Cable Lock ST+
$1,100 - $1,250
To help turn this into a final price, the range dependent on the number of pilings you’ll need are as follows:
Number of Pilings
$3,500 - $10,500
$7,000 - $21,000
$10,500 - $31,500
$14,000 - $42,000
This shows that there is a large range in terms of pricing depending on what type of piling you need. Speaking to your contractor will help you make the final call.
if you do need steel piers, then you may not have too much choice in the matter. Unlike concrete lifting, which usually requires a slightly more stable base underneath, steel piers are the only option when it comes to dry or eroded soil and are almost certainly your only choice if you are building a home on sand. Luckily, steel piers are some of the most enduring, non-invasive, and relatively easy-to-install foundations you can possibly use.