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Concrete Vs. Helical Piers

The two questions we get asked most. What is a screw pile? and Why screw piles?


At the surface the answers are simple. A screw pile or helical pier is a steel pile or foundation support that it twisted into the ground like a giant screw. Why you ask? In its essence you probably already know the answer. Why do you use screws instead of nails? Have you ever ripped apart a deck or done demo where someone used screws to build the structure? If you have you would know there are pretty much only two ways to remove the screw. You can turn it out or you can snap it off. Screw Piles are almost impossible to rip out of the ground. We tried to remove one of our smallest deck piles with a 230 Excavator and ended up having to cut the shaft off and burry the twisted remains.

Why would this be important? Here in the north the two most powerful forces we have to overcome are frost heave and snow/wind load. If the 25,000lbs plus of the excavator could not heave the pile then snow, wind or frost would have a similarly difficult time affecting the pile.

So screwpile are crazy strong. So what? Concrete is also extremely strong! Why should I pay for screw piles when i can dig a hole and dump in a couple bags of post haste?

The answer is there is nothing stopping you. Well except for local building codes, your contractor reputation, your wife who knows how much of a mess you are about to create in her garden. We could probably come up with some more excuses but we aren't in the business of trying to convince you to buy a premium product. We are in the business of providing permanent, fast, clean and crazy strong supports for whatever you are building.

So truly why not concrete? Think about the last time you were on a basketball or tennis court. Or the last time you looked at a chain link fence thats been around a while. Chances are you saw a ring of heaved ground or court around each post. If you don't know what i'm talking about go for a walk in a community that's been around for a couple years and you will see. A screwpile derives its strength 10 feet or more below the ground. We drive the blade or helix well below the maximum frost penetration line so that the ice cannot move the blade. The concrete pile you just made with your post haste most likely is within or above the frost line. This means that every winter as the water crystallized under and around the pile it will lift it up along with the ground. Freezing water has a force greater that 100,000psi on a 12" pile thats over 11 million pounds. Then when the ground warms and dries up it will settle back down leaving the pile behind a little bit more every time. Thats for a post when we are talking about building foundations that force can easily crack and break apart reinforced concrete or buckle steel.

Concrete also has its own list of weaknesses. Its slow, Its messy and it doesn't cure very well in cold conditions. It can easily be compromised with too much or too little water, the wrong mix of ingredients or contamination with surrounding soils or groundwater. The ideal shape of a concrete pile is will a bell or large footing on the end to distribute the weight over a larger area. This requires specialized equipment or excavating the surrounding area to depth. This is very expensive and devastating to the surrounding landscape. If excavated the surrounding soil is now loose and substantially weaker than prior to disturbance. The rough surface around the perimeter of the pile provides a friction point where frost can grip the pile and lift it even if the bottom is at depth. Concrete is also susceptible to cracking due to a variety of reasons. Once concrete is cracked it is virtually unrepairable. Then if your concrete pile is a little too high or low or in slightly the wrong spot there is very little you can do to properly remedy. Then other than the mess created during construction if and when it needs to be removed the process is extremely difficult slow and expensive and causes significant further damage and risk to the surrounding environment and workers.

Now how do we remedy this? Screw piles have every advantage of concrete with none of the disadvantages. They can be installed in a very short period of time with little to no damage to surrounding landscaping. They can be installed rain or shine day or night winter summer or fall. They can be installed in clay, sand, water, gravel, bog, frost you name it. They can be removed and recycled or reused. They can be lifted lowered or moved over. They are not susceptible to cracking, frost heaving, deterioration or contamination. When they are installed our computer records depth and resistance in the form of torque. This data is then used to certify the installed capacity. This allows us to provide a lifetime warranty on all of our piles with very few limitations. With screw piles we can install the foundation for your house one day then deliver your finished home or start framing the next day. There is no curing, drying or waiting. We can provide custom brackets, extensions and stabilizers to meet any load scenario. We provide service with 24 hour lead time in most cases.

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