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With warmer weather on the horizon, residential construction and renovation projects will increase, and many projects will need structural support. I’ve been using helical piles for years, and they are a great alternative to concrete footings for many projects. If the project meets the proper specifications and certified engineering approval, helical piles can save money and time, which benefits both the contractor and the home owner.
Helical screw piles are similar to sonotubes (cardboard tubes in which concrete is poured to create solid cylindrical pillars); however, they have several advantages over sonotubes. Helical piles are cheaper than concrete foundations keeping your overall project costs down. Plus, helical piles do not require excavation. They are weather resistant, easy to install, and have effective load-bearing capabilities.
Helical piles are screwed into the ground, using specialized equipment, until a specific torque and depth meet the supported structure’s bearing load specifications.
Some helical piles can be connected using bolts only, while other manufacturers ensure their helical pile shafts are fully welded, which provides added strength, rigidity, and enhanced buckling resistance. Helical pile shafts come in various sizes to fit the needs of a supported structure and to accommodate specific soil conditions.
I’ve used helical screw piles several times throughout my TV series and even used them in my home.
I’ve used helical screw piles for decking, as it is a great alternative to sonotube or concrete footings. The specialized hydraulic machines eliminate the need for excavation. Also, screw piles will ensure minimally affect your lawn and surrounding landscape, leaving only a small footprint behind.
Helical screw piles are also a great solution to repair and restore an existing deck, especially when the property is on a steep incline. Pile caps are then installed to secure the pile to the framework system after placing them.
When I was renovating my house, I wanted to open up the main floor living space and kitchen, but I also realized the floor was uneven. Working with an engineer, we incorporated helical piles to make this happen. It was convenient as the specialized equipment is ideal for small areas and can easily maneuver through a standard door frame.
We opened two areas on the floor and drilled piles into the ground for added support — it was fast and easy with the equipment. We put in three steel posts right from the beam down to the helical piles, which were screwed into the earth 14 feet (4 meters), down and welded, taking the weight completely off the second floor, and the roof, allowing me to level my first floor and create the open concept.
Helical piles can also be used for slabs on grade, like when we did a 10 x 10 (3 x 3 meter) porch — instead of excavating the ground to add footings, we used helical piles with rebar and a concrete pad. The hydraulic equipment is precise and can produce the proper torque to drive through most medium-sized rocks.
When encountering larger rocks, the equipment can either move the rock out of the way or the equipment can steer around the rock during installation. Large rocks can be pinned to shallow bedrock or left on the rock if it is below the frost line. However, some terrains are too rocky to use helical piles, and an alternative foundation should be considered.
The design, dimensions, weight and surrounding soil conditions are all necessary to consider when pricing a job. You or your contractor must also locate and confirm all underground services before any helical pile installation occurs.
Some helical screw pile manufacturers add a sleeve for added protection against ground movement. During freeze/thaw cycles or in the presence of clay, the sleeve slides along the shaft of the pile, following any possible ground movements, ensuring the stability of the structure all year long, which I think is a great addition.
When using helical screw piles, homeowners should ensure a licensed engineer has authorized all blueprints, and as with all aspects of construction, do your homework. Only work with certified installers and manufacturers to ensure the equipment and all materials used meet all national and international standards. Also, check with your local building office if a pile or torque reading test is required. If all these boxes are checked, using helical screw piles can be a great addition to your next home renovation project.
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