Helical Piers and Push Piers: A Side by Side Comparison

by | Sep 10, 2020 | Foundation

In an earlier blog, I wrote about the similarities and differences between helical and push piers.  This was written for homeowners who had settling foundations and were unfamiliar with the repair methods.  

In this particular blog, I am speaking to those homeowners who want to dive deeper into the technical details of helical and push piers.  For this, I have pulled pier specifications from manufacturers and compared them, in an apples-to-apples style.  

Acculevel is a foundation repair company started in 1996 by Andy Beery.  We have repaired tens of thousands of homes in the Midwest, and our vast experience has shown us that helical piers are the best and safest repair method for a settling foundation.   This is particularly true in regards to residential homes; we believe push piers are best suited to larger industrial buildings with poured concrete foundations and walls.

We’ll begin with the detailed comparison of specifications I promised you, then we’ll review what these measurements mean in clear and direct terms.  Our goal is to help each homeowner determine what the best repair method is for their home.

 

Pier Specifications, According to Manufacturers

Measurement & DescriptionHelical Pier
3.5 inch
Push Pier
3.5 inch
External Sleeve Wall (how thick is the steel used)0.254 inches0.226 inches
Yield Strength Minimum: stress load that it can hold without permanent deformation80 ksi50 ksi
Tensile Strength Minimum: stress load that it can carry per square inch75 ksi55 ksi
Allowable System Capacity: pounds per inch it can carry (1 kip = 1,000 lbs)120 kips max32.5-44.0 kips*
Conforms with ICC-ES AC358? (Does the pier meet the ICC codes for safe design & construction?)YesYes

*Kips measurement varies by soil composition & density

FYI: 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. I believe this was necessary to guarantee an honest and objective comparison.

 

Are Push Piers Stronger Than Helical Piers?

No.  As the specifications indicate, a 3.5” helical pier is made of thicker steel, can withstand more force, and hold more weight than a 3.5” push pier.  

drawing of helical piersThis is an illustration of a helical pier.

 

Do Push Piers Work?

Yes, but they 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. 

This is why Acculevel believes push piers are best used with large industrial settings built from poured concrete (not block).  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.

In this video, Nolan Beery (Director of Sales) explains how a helical pier is installed, on a concrete wall we built expressly for educational purposes:

 

Do Helical Piers Work Better Than Push Piers? 

Yes, they 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.  

 

Will Helical Piers Last Longer Than Push Piers?

Yes.  Acculevel guarantees 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.

 

Are Helical Piers Safer Than Push Piers?

Yes, 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.

 

Do You Need Piers for Your Settling Foundation? 

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. 

Will this be your first time hiring a contractor?  Or maybe it’s been a while, and you’re not sure you’ll remember all the details?  We have a guide to questions you should ask a contractor.  The article in this link provides all of Acculevel’s answers, and provides a free downloadable copy of the questions that you can use with a contractor of your choice. 

Before you sign a contract for any service, please verify the company is reputable, insured, and accredited by the Better Business Bureau.   If you live in Indiana or the surrounding states, contact Acculevel.  We provide free written estimates that are valid for 12 months.  An experienced project manager will evaluate your home and recommend the best course of action for you, to keep your home strong and healthy for years to come.

 

 

Over her twenty year career, Kelly has worked in a wide variety of fields: secondary education, nursing, biology, elder care, the postal service, multicultural development, and academia. She has developed a skill for translating industry-specific jargon into everyday language. Her goal is to share the knowledge and experience of the Acculevel team with homeowners, in a way that is both engaging and informative.

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