Kent Foundation Repair News

Helical Piers vs. Push Piers: Pros, Cons, and Preferences

Each month you grumble as the front door becomes harder to pull open. Maybe you’ve noticed the crack in the garage wall is getting bigger. And don’t forget, you told your spouse you’d finally fix your sinking foundation this year. It’s important to understand your repair options before deciding what’s best for your home and budget.

Kent Foundation Repair uses two different types of hardware for leveling home foundations: push piers and helical piers. Helical piers’ advanced design are the preferred choice for most home foundations, but they are not always the best option for every job.

The Pros and Cons of Push Piers

Many buildings in New York City were built with a push pier foundation system.

Push piers have been a mainstay in the construction and foundation industry for over a hundred years. This design has many names: Push piles, resistance piers, hydraulic push piers, and jacked piles to name a few. No matter the name, this pier’s history speaks for itself.

Push pier systems were first used in the Northeast, beginning in the 1800s. Builders in New York began pushing hollow pipes into the ground to reach load-bearing stratum. This method became popular in the Northeast because the hollow tubes could be pushed below frost lines, making foundations more secure. This system was widely used for commercial and home construction by the mid 1900s.


Function & Advantages of Push Piers

Diagram of a push pier installed under a home.

A push pier is basically a series of hollow pipes fit together and pushed into the ground, hence the name push pier. Piers are pushed in using a hydraulic ram until it reaches load-bearing stratum. They are then anchored to the structure with pier brackets. The weight of the structure becomes the resistance mass needed to push against the piers. This resistance keeps them in place and creates stability, lift, and leveling for the foundation. These hollow pipes can be reinforced by adding non-shrink grout and rebar, thus increasing the overall lateral stability. Push piers are finalized when the required capacity is reached and/or the foundation begins to move.  

Push piers are a viable option for some foundation repair jobs. Most notably, these piers can be installed in tight spaces. The required equipment is all handheld, and piers are fit together as needed to reach load-bearing stratum. Therefore, the required space can be as small as 3’x3’, with a 6’ overhead clearance.

Push piers are also advantageous when repairing a heavy building’s foundation. The heavier structure works well with this system because the piers are “pushed” into the ground using the building’s weight. Two-story homes, brick structures, and commercial buildings provide the needed resistance mass.

Limitations of Push Piers

There are limitations that put push piers at a disadvantage when compared to helicals. The biggest downside is with its weight requirement. Push piers are not ideal for lighter loads. If the mass is lighter, like a 1-story home or garage, it will not provide enough resistance to push the pier to capacity. Some foundation companies opt to use this system for commercial buildings instead of homes because of their weight.

Permanence is another limitation of push piers.

These pier types are compression-fit. This means each pier uses the weight of the building to press and fit the pipes together. They cannot be removed or relocated once installed. If you were to build an addition to your home, these piers would not be movable to adapt with the addition. Instead, you would have to add more piers to support the added weight.

Other limitations for push piers includes:

  • Inability to use broken footings. Push piers are not a repair option if the foundation footings are cracked or broken.
  • Piers can only be installed vertically. Bowing walls may require piers be installed at an angle. Push piers can only be installed vertically due to their compression-fit design.

Helical Piers Pros and Cons

Helical piers were first used to on lighthouse foundations.

Now for option two: Helical piers. Imagine a giant screw being drilled into the ground. Rename the giant screw a helical pier, and you’ll understand how this system works.

Helical piers have been around for almost as long as push piers. In fact, these piers were used in the mid 1800s on lighthouses. The screw-like design was ideal for installing in sandy soil conditions. Helical piers have since become a mainstay for foundations, roads, rail lines, and more.

READ MORE: History of Foundations

Function of Helical Piers

Diagram of what a helical pier looks like.

Helical piers are steel pipes fitted with helices, or screw-like plates at the end. The helices pull the pier into place instead of pushing it into place. It is not reliant on a heavy structure to reach capacity. Instead, they are installed with a handheld hydraulic motor to turn the pier into high density stratum. Next, steel brackets are fitted and the weight of your home is transferred to the pier. Helical piers hold your home in place just like screws hold a shelf up.

Installing helical piers is a faster, more efficient process than push piers. There will be minimal excavation, noise pollution, and can be installed inside or outside the home.

Limitations of Helical Piers

There are some limitations to using this piering system.

The main disadvantage is the system’s dependency on existing soil. Imagine hanging a shelf on your wall. The first step is finding a stud to drill into so the shelf is properly supported. Otherwise, you use anchors to support the screws. Dense soil is similar to the stud or anchor. Helical piers use the soil to pull and place the pier. Foundation experts can keep adding shafts to the pier until proper depth is accomplished. Bedrock is not essential, but reaching a stable, high density stratum is. The added shafts can add to the overall cost of repair.

Another limitation is space. Helical piers have traditionally needed more work space to install than push piers. This requirement gap is closing, but there’s still a difference. Some homes may need push piers because the work space is too small or low for helicals to be properly installed. Kent Home foundation experts will assess the soil, work space and height, and repair needs before determining which pier is best for the job.


Helical Piers, the Preferred Choice

So why would foundation experts opt to use helicals over push piers?

Versatility is the main reason experts prefer helical piers.

Helicals can be used for light loads, heavy loads, and repairs that require angled piering (also known as a tieback). If your garage is sinking, these piers can lift and secure just that section of a home without relying on its resistance mass. Helicals can also be installed at an angle to straighten and reinforce a wall that’s starting to bow. Overall, there are not many residential repairs that this system cannot tackle.

LEARN MORE: Methods of Foundation Repair

Another advantage of helical piers is mobility. These piers can be removed at any time, or be taken out and moved to a new location. For example, let’s say you decide to add a sunroom to your home. But helical piers are already installed at an angle to support your basement. Foundation experts could relocate the existing piers to support both your basement and new sunroom! This mobility makes helicals a cost effective choice.

Foundation experts prefer helicals for other reasons too, including:

  • Flexibility. The number of helices can vary based on the job. Added helices strengthen the pier and allow it to break through cumbersome soil composition.
  • Broken footings are okay. Helical piers can still use cracked or broken foundation footings unlike their push pier counterparts.
  • This system is faster and easier to install, thus reducing the cost of installation.

Which Piering System is Right for You?

Congratulations, you now know more about your foundation repair options! Whether its push piers or helicals, you and your foundation professionals can decide on the best system for your home and budget.


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