Push Piers vs Helical Piers

Push Piers vs Helical Piers

push piers vs helical piers

Push pier and helical piers are both foundation underpinning systems

Underpinning techniques involve driving piers into the ground and then letting those piers support your home so that it is not only balanced on the shifting soil (or whatever problem you have happening).

Helical piers are a specific type of underpinning pier which is mostly used in situations where there is a lighter load like a porch or steps. It’s usually easier to see how deep the piers are being twisted into the ground. Helical piers are not just driven deep into the soil to stabilize, they are twisted. Their spiral shape allows them to really lock into the soil and give your porch or steps a solid place to be level and back in shape

Push piers are also a type of underpinning pier. This type of pier is driven into the solid and compacted soil deep below your home. This gives your home stable soil which will not shift with changing weather or climate. Once the piers are in the ground, they are attached by plates to the home. The weight of the home is transferred to the plates, and the home is now supported by the push piers. Push piers are used in many foundation repair applications, and they are fairly common–which is why it’s likely you’ve heard of them. So, the main difference between the two piers is their shape and what they are used for.

a home with a severely damaged foundation can be repaired by raising it back to its original level and stabilizing it there.  It’s not a small job but it’s also not an uncommon one.

The basics of this type of foundation repair are the same regardless of method – place supporting structures in the soil below the foundation, employ a means of raising the house to level and attach the foundation to the supports.

Push Piers are like nails and Helical Piers are like screws

Both helical and push piers are intended to be permanent foundation repair solutions. They are supporting structures made of steel, used to restore your home’s stability and prevent further damage.  Piers can be installed inside or outside a building, and can usually be installed within a few days, depending on the quantity required.

There are a number of factors that go into deciding which repair option is right for your home. You should work with a reputable contractor who can thoroughly assess the issues and correctly diagnose the solutions.  

If your home’s structural issue is not correctly diagnosed, the piers may not be installed in the correct location or using the right method; this wastes your money while leaving you with an unsound foundation.

PIER SPECIFICATIONS, ACCORDING TO MANUFACTURERS

Push Piers vs Helical Piers Helical Pier Push Pier
Type Of Construction. For homeowners, helical piers are normally better.Suitable for small constructions such as residential objects
Suitable for larger commercial constructions.
Warranty: Helical piers normally have a lifetime guarantee, whereas push piers usually ten years or moreService providers usually grant a lifetime warranty.Normally contractors provide a ten-year warranty at least
Costs: Helical piers are slightly more expensive because they require more manforce.Requires more workforce, so they are slightly more expensiveCan be setup by one person in many cases. They are slightly cheaper.
External Sleeve Wall0.262 inches (for a 3.5 inch diameter sample)0.231 inches (for a 3.5 inch diameter sample)
Construction equipment required. They require similar equipment. Hydraulic rams are present but they do not influence the final cost difference between push piers vs helical piersHydraulic power pack connected to an hydraulic cylinder.Hydraulic rams also used here. They do not influence the cost difference.
Yield Strength Minimum: the tensile stress required to produce a total elongation or deformation of 0.5% considered in a sample of 3.5 inch diameter79 ksi53 ksi
Safety And Tolerance RangeSafer and with higher tolerance rangeVery safe too but have lower tolerance range.
Vertical And Horizontal InstallationAngled installation or vertical installation as required.Only vertical installation is possible.
Tensile Strength Minimum: The maximum amount of pressure that the material can withstand per square inch. Helical piers have more density and therefore a thicker steel 76 ksi (in a 3.5-inch diameter sample)57 ksi (in a 3.5-inch diameter sample)
Lifting capacity. Both methods have sufficient capability to lift the house and allow the repair of the foundation easily.Maximum lifting capacity is 74,000 poundsMaximum lifting capacity is 68,000 pounds
Resistance as pounds per inch it can carry measured in kips (wherein one kip equals a thousand lbs)123 kips max32.7-44.6 kips range
Compliance with ICC-ES AC358 regarding this push piers vs helical piers comparison?CompliantCompliant
Broken Footing. Push piers methodology cannot be used when there are broken footings in the foundation.YesNo

Kips is a US-only unit of measurement to indicate engineering loads in this push piers vs helical piers comparison. In the rest of the world, with the International System Of Units it is measured with uniformity in kilograms per square meter. Note that the kips and kg/m2 estimations that we have considered here vary frequently according to the density of the soil and its composition.

Please note that for manufacturer specification comparison, I took a pier of 3.5 inch diameter as standard. It is just for comparison purposes in the push piers vs helical piers study.

Not every building requires a 3.5 inch pier. In fact, most residential homes do not. However, this is the only pier size that both helical and push pier manufacturers routinely produce that are exactly the same diameter

Differences Push Piers vs Helical Piers

Type Of Construction And Weight Requirements

Push piers are appropriate for large or heavy buildings, such as a commercial building with a reinforced poured concrete footing and a poured concrete foundation wall.  This is because they use the weight of the structure as leverage to get the pier to load-bearing depth. 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.

Helical piers are a better choice for structures that aren’t as heavy.  This includes: most residential homes with 2 stories or less, homes without poured concrete footings and poured concrete walls, older structures, or as a preventative measure in new construction projects. They rely on the torque of being twisted into more stable soil instead of the weight of the building.

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.

Another major difference between them is with a helical pier it is fastened to the foundation bracket at the end however with a push pier the foundation bracket gets secured first and the pier is pushed through the bracket. At the end, the weight of the building is then evenly distributed.

Safety And Tolerance Range

helical piers usually have a higher safety factor.  The safety factor is the margin of error; what weight beyond the expected house weight the pier can hold.  This is what the allowable system capacity measurement demonstrates.  It takes far more weight to “max out” a helical pier than it does a push pier.   

For example, if a chair is built to hold a 200 lb adult, it should have an added safety factor of at least another 20 lbs. After all, if you sit down and your toddler wants on your lap, that shouldn’t be enough to crush your recliner!  While homeowners don’t necessarily increase their home’s weight by 10%, smaller variations are entirely possible.  You shouldn’t have to worry about damaging your home’s stability by upgrading your kitchen counters or adding a pool table. 

The allowable system capacity is much higher for helical piers because of the installation method. Helical piers are installed separately from the foundation; the torque motor that drives them does so without using your home’s weight.  So it can be installed very tightly, to hold a larger area (and greater weight) without any risk to your home. 

Push piers need the foundation weight to drive the piers.  Once that foundation begins to lift, the installation is done.  If it continues, the foundation may be damaged; which means where those piers stop is their maximum.

Installation Methodology

The primary difference between Push Piers and Helical Piers is their installation method.

Push Piers are quite literally pushed deep into the earth by the hydraulic press. 

These Push Piers are an average of about 2.5 feet long and are fitted with a collar to help reduce skin friction. 

Push Piers utilize the inherent weight of your home to help drive the pipe down to bedrock or competent load-bearing strata. Some homes are too light to use this method, which is where helical piers can come into play. 

Stress Management

Push piers put more stress on a building than helical piers do. Push piers are attached to the building as they are installed; they use the weight of the building to push the pier into the earth. Push pier manufacturers specify that each pier needs to be closely monitored during installation.  If one rises more than ¼” vertically ahead of the adjacent piers, it can cause structural damage. 

Push piers are best used with large industrial settings built from poured concrete (not a concrete block foundation).  Your average residential building is not heavy enough to effectively work with push piers without risking stress to structure.  This is especially true if you have a concrete block foundation; individual blocks can crack under the strain.

Push piers are very similar to helical piers in that piers are put into the ground to shift the weight of a building. There are many differences as well though. One of the major differences is how push piers are placed into the ground. They are installed exactly how it sounds, by using a hydraulic motor to “push” it into the ground until it has hit stable soil.

Broken Footings

It is not possible to use broken footings and push piers.

Push piers are not a repair option if the foundation footings are cracked or broken.

Utilization Of Galvanized Steel

There were differences in the past, but currently both type of piers utilize galvanized steel. Piers are already provided galvanized from the manufacturer.

The Push Piers and Helical Piers arrive galvanized from the manufacturer.

It is imperative that our piers are galvanized because it provides an extra layer of protection against the elements for corrosion protection.  

We’ve all seen steel or metal left out in the rain begin to rust. Rust would eat away at our Push Piers and Helical Piers due to the moisture inherently in the soil.

This extra layer of armor, corrosion protection adds additional life expectancy to pier systems to ensure that they will support your home for a very long time. 

Strength

Helical piers have more density than push piers. As they are manufactured with a thicker steel (more dense), they can resist more load force and more pounds per square inch (more kilograms per square meter) than a push pier of the same size.

Helical piers can carry a heavier weight and do not rely on the building’s weight to hold them in place. Helical piers are twisted into the soil around a home until they meet solid, undisturbed earth that provides the necessary torque (force of resistance) to hold the pier steady.  Once the pier is installed and held fast, only then is it attached to the home’s footer.

Warranty

Service providers normally guarantee that their helical pier installation will last as long as the structure stands.  Push pier manufacturers recommend that their installation should be warrantied for a minimum of 10 years.

Cost Of Push Piers vs Helical Piers

The average general contracting cost per Push Pier ranges from $2,100 to $2,500.  

The average general contracting cost per Helical Pier ranges from $2,100 to $3,000.

Typically, the difference equals out to about $200-300 per pier on your standard 3” Helical and Push Pier material.

The primary difference in cost boils down to additional cost of labor to install Helical Piers. Push Piers, for example, can be installed with just one person – solo – but helical piers require 2-3 bodies depending on pier location.    

Construction Equipment Required

Push Piers and Helical Piers require different installation methods due to their structural discrepancies. 

While nails and screws serve relatively the same purpose – you don’t install them via the same methodology.

Push Piers utilize a hydraulic power pack connected to a hydraulic cylinder (or what we in the industry call a RAM). 

The RAM is connected to a drive stand that is attached to the foundation repair bracket that will be cinched in nicely to your home’s newly manicured footing.

Helical Piers also utilize a hydraulic power pack (or occasionally you will see the hydraulic power pack substituted with a skid steer or mini excavator). 

It’s interesting to note – almost all construction equipment has some form of hydraulic pump and/or fittings. Truth is – hydraulics make the world turn round.

This hydraulic power pack powers the hydraulic drive head, which is the piece of equipment that actually does the screwing of the helical pier.  

The hydraulic power pack will then run a hydraulic drive head, which will be the piece of equipment that actually does the screwing of the helical pier.  

Lifting Capacity

Both Push Piers and Helical Piers are more than capable of lifting your home.

Push Pier max capacity is 68 thousand pounds.   

Helical Pier max capacity is 74 thousand pounds.

Remedial bracket max capacity is 40 thousand pounds.

Both Push Piers and Helical Piers utilize the same lifting equipment (such as a hydraulic power pack, lift heads, Ziplevel altimeters, and so on) to ensure that your home will be lifted back to the desired elevation or maximum practical recovery

Once all of the piers are installed, it requires the same amount of manpower to lift either pier system. 

This includes one guy managing the hydraulic power pack and one guy monitoring the lift from inside the home with a Ziplevel altimeter to measure floor elevation during the lifting process.

Vertical and Angled Installation

Helicals can 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.

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.

Request a Quote

If so, you should find an experienced foundation company, and make an appointment.  This is sensible advice for anyone looking for home repairs.  But when you are considering piers, it is of critical importance.  You need someone who can properly and thoroughly evaluate your home. If your home’s structural issue is not correctly diagnosed, the piers may not be installed in the correct location.  This will cost you time and money, without resolving your foundation concerns. 

Push Piers

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.  

A hydraulic push pier is a column of steel tubing that, as the name implies, is pushed into the soil below the damaged foundation by a hydraulic ram until it reaches a load-bearing stratum.  This process uses the home as a sort of counterweight to ensure penetration to full depth.

Installing the push pier starts with excavating a spot alongside the foundation, notching the footing and attaching a steel bracket to the foundation.  The hydraulic ram is attached to the bracket and is used to drive sections of steel into the soil until the column is completed.  When all piers have been driven to the appropriate depth, a hydraulic pump attached to each one is used to raise the house back to level.  The columns are then secured to the brackets and the excavations are backfilled.

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.

Push piers are heavy tubes that are hydraulically driven through a foundation bracket and into the earth until they reach refusal underneath a home’s foundation. (Refusal means they cannot be pushed any farther, compared to ground resistance.)  They use the building as a counterweight to push or penetrate the pier into the ground. 

Once all of the piers are installed, a hydraulic jack pump is attached to each of them.  Then they raise the house, aiming to reach as close to the original position as possible.  Once that is accomplished, the pier columns are secured to brackets. The drawback to this method is that the pushing of the pier against your foundation can put a significant amount of stress- or even cause damage- to your foundation.

In order to lift the weight of a house, push piers are somewhat similar to helical piers in that piers are put into the ground. But there are still several differences. How push piers are pushed into the field is one of the main differences. By using a hydraulic motor to drive” it into the ground once it has reached solid soil, they are mounted just as it sounds. Another important distinction between them is that it is fastened to the base bracket at the end with a helical pier, but first the foundation bracket is fixed with a push pier and the pier is forced through the bracket. The weight of the building is then distributed uniformly at the end.

A push pier is just like a nail, long and straight, made of steel and hydraulic pressure pushed deep into the ground. The pier thereafter rests on the most solid bedrock level available to provide your falling base with stable support. These piers are easy to mount, very little disturb the surrounding soil, and are perfect when the conditions of the soil are unknown on your land. Push piers, however, require a large sitting weight on top of them. This ensures that lighter loads are not ideal for sitting on top of them, such as a deck, for example.

Although the nail is for push piers, the screw is for helical piers. They are constructed in a screw-type way so that they can mechanically be pushed down into the earth. These are usually used because they can be mounted at a particular depth when the local soil condition is established. As they use a screw-type motion, they will provide your base with highly precise changes that seal up any cracking. Unfortunately, they require more space to be built and need to be supported by proper soil conditions.

Helical Piers

Helical Piers are a steel tube with a fitted helical plate attached to it. That plate looks very much like a post hole digger. A hydraulic motor turns the pipe to screw it into the ground. This process causes the plates to pull the pier into the ground rather than push the pier into it. Helical piers are driven into the ground until the proper depth is reached. Each depth will vary from project to project because it is based on the load capacity that needs to be achieved. Helical piers can hold up to a ten-story building. The piers are also strategically placed around the building to share the weight of the building. Once the piers have seen screwed into the ground to the proper depth, the foundation bracket is then secured to the building. This method stabilizes the foundation that have weakened or needed support because of the soil condition.

Helical piers are shafts with helical plates that make them look like giant screws.  This shape allows them to be screwed into the ground instead of pushed. They’re hydraulically rotated into the ground without applying any force to your foundation, and a pressure gauge system determines when the required depth is met.  

HELICAL PIERS

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.

A helical pier most closely resembles a very large screw.  It consists of a long steel shaft with a number of spiral plates called helices welded to it.  The helical pier is driven into the soil by a large rotating bit until a torque test determines that it is solidly engaged enough to provide the necessary support.

The Helical Pier is attached steel tube with helical plate. That plate looks similar to a digger for a post hole. To screw it into the ground, the pipe is turned by a hydraulic motor. Instead of driving the pier into it this method lets the plates drag the pier into the ground. Helical piers are pushed into the ground before they reach the correct depth. As it is dependent on the load capacity that needs to be achieved, each depth can differ from project to project. Up to a ten-story building will carry Helical piers. To share the weight of the building, the piers are also strategically located around the building. The base bracket is then fixed to the building until the piers have been screwed into the ground to the correct depth. This method stabilizes the foundations that because of the soil situation, have deteriorated or required support.

Both have disadvantages, although the worst for hydraulic push piers is that they should not be used to support or stabilize light construction such as small additions because these structures lack the necessary weight to enable the piers to be driven.

For major foundation damage caused by settling, sinking or dropping, however, hydraulic push piers are the recommended solution for the stability and integrity they provide.  A competent foundation repair contractor will use pertinent engineering data to recommend the proper number and placement of piers and installation can be accomplished quickly to achieve permanent stability with a minimum of disruption and no lasting external signs of the work.

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.

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.

The number of helices can vary based on the job. Added helices strengthen the pier and allow it to break through cumbersome soil composition.

Once the pier is in place, a steel bracket is installed, connecting the pier to your foundation securely.  Helical piers can be installed straight into the ground or at an angle, depending on the nature of the foundation damage and where the support is needed.

Helical Piers are divided into two camps: round and square.

Round Helical Piers are excellent for vertical or compression loading and are screwed directly into the earth. In layman’s terms – they support structures and/or loads that move up and down.  

Square Helical Piers work best for lateral or horizontal loading. In layman’s terms – they are perfect for any structure and/or loads that move side to side.

Both types of Helical Pier have helices or flights welded to the bottom of the steel. These act as giant threads so that helical piers can be screwed directly into the earth via a hydraulic drive head. 

The flights/helical provide additional support as they screw tightly into the earth and lodge securely in competent load-bearing soil. 

This method does not require the weight of your home to penetrate to deeper, competent soils.

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.

For example, they are supported by the same active soil that may have been part of the cause of the damage in the first place.  Also, they are more likely to buckle under too-heavy loads or weight shifts than are push piers.  They do work very well for lighter structures and can be installed quickly and used immediately.

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.

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