Helical pile installation isn’t a DIY project. The process is complex and requires a certified professional to be completed correctly.
When do you need helical piles for foundation repair?
Helical piles are used in foundation repair when there is structural damage or settlement. Damages such as bowing walls, sticking windows, and wall cracks that are larger than a hairline are indicative of structural damage and settlement. If you find hairline cracks or other cosmetic issues, these could be suggestive of a larger structural issue, but generally won’t require helical piles.
Keep in mind that there are other options for structural repair outside of helical piles. For example, your foundation repair contractor may recommend resistance piers instead. Recommendations depend somewhat on your region, but in general, there are plenty of ways to repair a foundation. However, helical piles have several advantages that make them the preferred choice for structural repair.
For starters, helical piles are less noisy and generate less vibration during installation. The equipment is small, which makes it less obtrusive and easier to install in tighter spaces. Helical piles are also fast to install and do not require pile driving equipment, which makes the installation process easier.
How can I get a foundation repair estimate?
In order to determine the best course of action for your foundation repair, we recommend hiring an engineer who is a design professional. While a contractor will give you a free estimate, a paid design engineer who works for an engineering firm can give you an unbiased evaluation that includes the exact foundation repair design you need. In some areas of the country, the repair plan must include a permit from a design professional, so hiring a design engineer is unavoidable.
Many homeowners obtain estimates directly from contractors. However, this often results in drastically different estimates. One contractor may say you need to underpin the whole structure with 30 piles, while another might suggest 10 piles. Unless you’re a design engineer, you won’t know which is correct.
Once you choose a design engineer, the engineer will craft the Plan of Repair. This shows the locations of the piles and the spacing depths, which determine where the piles go. The engineer will determine how many piles are needed by evaluating the overall structure, such as weight, stories, and building materials, as well as the type of foundation it’s built on (e.g. crawl space, basement, strip footings, pier and beam foundations). Other important factors include:
- Foundation condition
- Foundation age
- Wall type and sheeting grade
- Concrete reinforcement
Once you have the Plan of Repair, it’s time to contact a contractor. My Foundation Solutions has certified CHANCE contractors who are often also engineers and perform work with the CHANCE 30-year warranty. If you have your Plan of Repair, contact My Foundation Solutions to find the closest certified contractor.
What is the helical pile installation process like?
To understand how the helical pile installation process works, take the following example.
Say you’re a typical homeowner with full basement. Your foundation damage requires underpinning 2 sides of the house – the side and the back.
First, the contractor will go in with small mini excavator and excavate adjacent to the foundation to expose the footing. With a basement, the contractor will typically have to dig down eight feet or more to expose the basement wall and footer below. Most residential homes are built on a continuous strip footing (two feet wide) or a pier and beam foundation (typically used for homes). The installer will mark the pier location for each pier on the wall, based on the Plan of Repair. Then, the installer will dig out each pile location and chip the concrete on the footing to make it flush with the bracket.
Once the footings are prepped, the piles get installed. Most contractors will use the same mini excavator for this process. They simply take the bucket off and mount their hydraulic torque motor on it. Then, they will install the helical pile up to the prepared footing. The helical pile is installed up to the minimum torque and minimum depth. The installer will go all the way around until the helical piles are all installed, and then will put the foundation repair brackets on. Finally, they’ll do backfill repair and will replace the excavated land to finish the process.
What should homeowners watch for as their foundation is being repaired?
During the installation process, you should make sure the installer is following the Plan of Repair. You can ask the installer specifics on the minimum depth and minimum torque. If the installer doesn’t know the minimum depth and torque, this is a red flag that the piles are not being installed correctly.
You can also ask to see the installer’s installation logs. All installers should be filling out their installation logs as they go. If the installer makes excuses for the log, this is another red flag.
Also see if the foundation repair comes with a warranty. CHANCE products hold a 30-year transferrable warranty, because we believe our products are the best. If there isn’t a warranty, the installer might not be using the best equipment.
Keep in mind good contractors set benchmarks. These are survey points established around the structure. The contractor should do this as part of the repair work or part of the Plan of Repair (if you hire a design professional they might set survey points). A benchmark is a mark or screw on the wall at various points of the house that are used to then take a survey level. Afterward, the contractor will shoot the points on both the exteriors and interiors. This is done so the amount the structure was lifted can be recorded in the installation logs.
Helical pile installation is an incredibly complex process. It is absolutely crucial that a foundation repair specialist is the only person doing this type of work. As a homeowner, it’s your job to be educated, to consult a design engineer and to understand the correct installation process to ensure your helical pile foundation is installed correctly.