For properties in and around Chattanooga,Tennessee, foundation movement and damage is a very real and worrying prospect. The repair solutions on the market these days are much better than they have ever been. Replacement is no longer a necessity (or even a relatively viable option) when you consider the pier systems that are now available. Just as foundation issues can be varied, each unique pier system has a range of benefits, strengths, and limitations that make them best for certain situations.
Knowing the difference between each pier system is not something that is necessary for a homeowner to understand. This is where foundation repair specialists come in. Nonetheless, we at AFS Foundation & Waterproofing Specialists believe that knowledge is power. Knowing what pier systems are likely to be effective when you spot damage in your home can enable you to help whichever expert you call to act quickly.
What Are Foundation Piers? How Do They Work?
Foundation piers are one of the most common and versatile foundation lifting, stabilization, and repair methods on the market right now. They come in several forms and can be deployed under almost any building, in any kind of soil. While they all have different strengths and weaknesses, foundation pier systems all operate in the same way: they transfer the weight of a property to soil or strata capable of bearing it.
Likewise, all pier systems can be used to lift sunken or damaged foundations back into their intended place when the conditions are right. This is a slightly riskier process, however, and is only undertaken where the sinking has been sufficient to cause issues, like door and window frame deformation or seriously uneven flooring.
Pier systems achieve this by penetrating the soil underneath a home until they reach soil or strata that is dense enough to withstand the weight of the property. Once the piers are firmly in place, they are then attached to brackets that are bolted to the foundation, thereby transferring the weight of the property. No matter how the pier systems are being deployed, the installation process will require excavation, exposure, and, sometimes, the removal of sections of foundation, as well as a lot of heavy equipment.
Of course, lifting a sunken or damaged foundation is another matter entirely. That process depends on the pier system that is in use.
Push piers, sometimes called resistance piers, are some of the simplest pier systems by looks alone. Made up of a series of compression locking, hollow steel poles, this system relies on the weight of the property to really set the piers in place once they have been driven into the ground.
The process of pushing them in is undertaken with hydraulic equipment. This must be done precisely to ensure that the galvanized and coated steel poles are straight before they are affixed to the property. Once compressive force has been applied to push pier systems, they cannot be adjusted or moved. Getting it right the first time is important.
Push piers are versatile, offering the best chance of lift and stabilization, especially when the soil condition is hard to accurately assess. The installation process is also relatively quick, causing minimal disturbance. Finally, push piers offer the greatest reach in terms of depth, making it possible to reach very dense, virgin soil far below the frost line if needed.
The biggest downside when it comes to push piers is the weight requirement: lightweight properties simply cannot provide enough force to set push pier systems the way that they need to be. Secondly, there is the issue of fragmentation. If your property’s footings are broken, then push piers will be inappropriate for it. Finally, push piers can only be installed vertically due to the compression-fit nature of the design. If your property’s damage requires any angle at all in installation, then another system will be needed.
Helical pier systems are the opposite of push pier systems in many ways. For one, helical piers do not rely on the weight of a property to push them into the ground, but instead use the soil to pull themselves into place. This is achieved by the unique ‘screw’ design of the pier shafts that allow the piers to bite into the soil and spread the weight of a property. Like push piers, they are coated to prevent rusting and corrosion and must be installed with the help of hydraulic equipment. Unlike push piers, however, it is possible to adjust these pier systems after installation if needed.
Helical pier systems are fantastic for lightweight or irregular properties, as well as properties that sit on problematic or sandy soils. In fact, they were first used on lighthouses in the 1800s! The installation process for helical piers is also less disruptive and time consuming than the installation process for push pier systems. Helical piers can also be installed into homes with cracked foundation footings. Furthermore, helical pier systems can be installed from outside of the home in many cases and can even be installed at an angle if needed.
Helical pier systems are incredibly reliant on the soil around a home, and, in some senses, they are only as good as the soil that they are biting into. As such, certain soils make helical pier installation unviable, if not impossible. Likewise, helical pier systems also require more space for installation than traditional push pier systems. This is a limitation rather than a problem, per se, but it can make helical pier installation impossible in certain spaces and properties. As such, it is best to consult with an expert before making a choice.
Slab pier systems are smaller versions of the previously discussed foundation pier systems. They are aimed at lifting, stabilizing, and repairing individual damaged or sunken concrete foundation slabs. Slab piers can be found in both helical and push pier forms and they offer a unique way to repair localized damage to concrete slab foundations.
The main benefit of slab piers, whether they be helical or push piers, is the fact that they offer a scale appropriate repair solution for damaged slab foundations. Concrete slab foundations are common right now, but they are prone to damage for several reasons. Being able to deal with sunken or damaged slabs individually is hugely beneficial. Secondly, slab piers are more cost effective than their larger counterparts and take less time to install.
The largest drawback to slab pier systems is their extremely limited capabilities. These foundation pier systems are intended to be compatible with concrete slab foundations alone. As such, they are only of use if you have a home with concrete slab foundations.
The Installation Process
While the installation process of each kind of foundation pier will differ slightly, there are four main stages that you can expect to see. It is important to note that these steps are very general. Likewise, they can be altered if the damage in your home is complex or if there are co-occurring issues that need to be addressed.
Examination and Assessment
Examining the area and assessing the scale and nature of the damage to a property’s foundation should always be the first step when it comes to repairs. Here at AFS we have certified, experienced team members who undertake inspections and map out the best solutions before we even set foot on the property. This ensures a seamless process if you choose to give us the green light.
The assessment stage also involves looking for connected and co-occurring issues. This can mean looking for signs of dampness, wood rot, wall movement, and even pest infestation. As much as this stage helps our team to prepare for the repairs ahead, it will also give you a good idea of what is going on in your home, so you can act appropriately in the face of secondary or tertiary issues.
Preparing the space for pier systems to be installed can mean a lot of things. From lifting flooring and clearing debris to the actual process of excavating and exposing the intended installation sites, preparation looks different for each home. Sections of flooring will need to be lifted, and sections of foundation will be exposed or removed to allow for pier installation.
At this stage, the foundation level brackets may also be placed and fitted to ensure that the insertion of the foundation piers is quick and smooth once it has begun. Do not be afraid to ask questions about this process, if you have concerns.
The installation of foundation piers looks vastly different depending on what kind of piers are being used for the property in question. Generally speaking, however, the piers will be placed and positioned before being driven or screwed into the ground with hydraulic equipment. During this process, the contractors will be looking for a certain level of pressure, resistance, or torque.
This is how they know that the piers have been secured well enough to bear the weight of the property or slab that is going to be reliant on them for support. Once the piers are in place, they will be attached to the brackets and secured.
Once foundation pier systems have been fully installed, professionals should take the time to clean up after themselves. This means replacing lifted flooring, of course, and covering any exterior excavation points, but also cleaning up dust and debris from the installation process will be done.
Once your home has been restored to its former state, minus the damage, you should not be able to see obvious signs of repair and excavation. At this point, professionals will also walk through your home to look for signs of unaddressed co-occurring damage and act accordingly.
This is a straightforward process once installation has started. Once you have the right tools and skills, pier systems can be installed quickly. Of course, we recommend that you call a professional to make sure that the process is undertaken to the highest possible standard.
There are several issues that can cause your property to appear uneven, tilted, or give the appearance of leaning. Determining the underlying cause can be tough, however, without professional help. Foundation damage is the most common and probable cause of this kind of issue, which tends to be caused by problem soils or defects in the foundation itself.
There are many kinds of soil that are unfit to bear the structure of a property, which is unfortunate because properties rely on the earth below their foundations to stay strong and stable. The most frequent problem soils are expansive soils and loose soils. Expansive soils are those that react to the presence or absence of water very strongly and can grow or shrink dramatically in size and volume. These soils also change texture depending on their water content and can lead to a property subsiding or experiencing settlement.
Loose soils, by contrast, are those that are not at all cohesive (like sandy soils). While they are far less reactive than expansive, clay-based soils, they can be just as unstable in the right conditions. Heavy rainfall, flooding, and high winds can all displace loose soils and lead to voids forming underneath the structures that they support. This can cause lateral movement or settlement. This can also lead to a home looking uneven and experiencing damage because of this unevenness.
Defects in a property’s foundation are, thankfully, very uncommon these days, as the construction industry has become very sophisticated and advanced. Nonetheless, there is a possibility that an error was made in the design or construction of a property’s foundation. When this happens, it is almost certain that the structure will experience some form of damage or sinking. Defective or flawed design can mean many things, but most often it refers to the size or depth of a property’s foundation. If the foundation is too shallow, then it may be unable to support the property’s structure.
The other possibility, of course, is that the materials used were somehow defective. Poorly mixed or improperly laid concrete, for example, can be weak and brittle. This will make it prone to fragmentation. Once a foundation has fragmented, sinking, settlement, and subsidence become infinitely more likely in the affected property. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do to save a foundation that was made with defective or flawed materials.
Foundation replacement has never been taken lightly, of course, but there was a time when it was the only viable option for many people. This is, thankfully, no longer the case. While there are some cases in which replacement is necessary, we always view it as a last resort.
Lifting and Repair
Lifting and repairing a damaged foundation is easier than ever thanks to things like polyurethane foam and foundation pier systems. These tools and products make it possible to lift, stabilize, and restore foundations that would have been considered beyond saving even 50 years ago! Of course, they are specialist tools that require professional input, but the benefits of repairing rather than replacing your property’s foundation are many.
First and foremost, there is the matter of cost. While no one would even call foundation repair a small expense, replacing a foundation is still more expensive and, sadly, far less effective. You see, repair methods address the cause of the damage in a way that simply replacing a foundation cannot. This means that pier systems and other repair products offer an all-around solution.
Replacement as a Last Resort
The biggest problem with replacing a damaged foundation is the fact that it simply ignores the underlying issues. This means that, as well as being expensive and inconvenient, replacement is ineffective unless you also invest in a repair solution that deals with the original cause of the damage. As such, a replaced foundation is almost certain to experience the same issues as the original one.
This is why replacement is a last resort. Here at AFS Foundation & Waterproofing Specialists, we will only ever suggest replacement if your foundation is entirely defective or too damaged to be salvaged and repaired. Even then, we will do our best to only replace the sections of a foundation that are beyond help. This will take a long time and cause much disruption, however, because the new foundation concrete must be allowed to properly set before we will be able to install piers or other repair solutions.
So, as you can see, foundation pier systems are far preferable when it comes to dealing with a damaged foundation in any property. However, one of their biggest drawbacks is that you cannot expect to undertake this installation process alone. It is simply too dangerous.
Accident and Injury
While there is a real risk that you could cause considerable damage to your home by trying to undertake foundation repair alone, there is a far more serious possibility that you could injure yourself or anyone helping you. DIY accidents are a leading cause of personal injury in the U.S., and foundation repair is already a dangerous undertaking.
Of course, there is the chance that you could cause a wall to collapse by disturbing a seriously unstable part of your home, but, in truth, this is the most serious possibility and the least likely. The most common incidents occur with the heavy excavation equipment and hydraulic equipment that is used to expose the foundation and install the piers themselves. These are specialized tools that require training for safe and proper use.
There is also the matter of cost. DIY enthusiasts will have to rent all the heavy equipment needed to undertake this kind of work, while professionals will have the tools they need already (as well as the experience and skills to use them well). This means that professional repairs not only are safer; they also can be more cost effective in the long-term.
Finally, professional foundation lifting and repair comes with a guarantee of quality that no DIY process can give you. The chances of something going wrong are much lower, but you can rest easy knowing that if something does go wrong, you have a calm, steady hand at the helm to heal your home and bring your property back to full health.
Call AFS For Expert Foundation Repair
As you can see, there are several pier systems that might be of use to you when you are trying to deal with foundation damage around your home. Of course, there is little that you can do as a homeowner to identify and install the correct foundation pier system. This is an incredibly specialist and arduous task.
Instead, you should make contacting AFS Foundation & Waterproofing Specialists to arrange a free inspection appointment your first priority. This is the first step in our repair process, but these appointments come with no obligation to book repairs through us. Nonetheless, our team will provide you with a written estimate for the cost of repairs. This will help you to make an informed choice about what is best for your home. We are happy to serve Birmingham, AL, Huntsville, AL, Mobile, AL, Nashville, TN, Chattanooga, TN, and Knoxville, TN.