Uses Of Helical Piers: Repair Chimneys, Decks, and Porches

by | May 28, 2020 | Foundation

It sounds like one of those brain-teasers from elementary school, like what do the words pool, picnic, and card have in common?  (They’re types of table.)  

But porches, chimneys, and decks do share some traits.  All three are features that can add value and versatility to your home. Unfortunately, they can all develop the same settling issues.  

Settling is an industry-specific word for sinking; when a portion of your foundation sinks at a different rate than the rest, it creates stress on the foundation. In the case of home features like chimneys, settling leads to gaps between the feature and the house.  If they’re not repaired, these gaps can cause air drafts, water leaks, and pest infestations.

Acculevel has been repairing foundations since 1996, and we’ve installed tens of thousands of helical piers to stabilize homes and structures.  As you’d expect, these piers have been used for homes and commercial building projects.  What you may not know is that they’ve also been used to restore chimneys, decks, and porches.  

We want to clearly explain how piers work, and how they can help maintain your home’s health and stability.  Over the years, our customers have been pleasantly surprised to learn that a pier or two can help them preserve (rather than rebuild) the accessory structures around their home.

 

How Do Helical Piers Work? A Brief Overview

A helical pier is a steel shaft with screw-like plates on the end. 

drawing of helical piers

This pier is screwed through the ground outside of your home until it hits stable, undisturbed soil.  This point will be below the frost line and the fluctuating water table; this keeps the pier stabilized and immobile.  The pier is then affixed to the structure it needs to stabilize, support, or (in some cases) lift.

We have an article that more thoroughly reviews this process and its costs if you have additional questions about the installation process. The article emphasizes the use of piers to repair a home’s foundation and correct issues like settling.  But as I mentioned earlier: that is not the only use for helical piers.  

 

Helical Piers Can Fix a Leaning Chimney

It may not immediately look like your chimney is leaning to you.  This usually happens gradually, so what you’ll notice first is a draft around the fireplace, or a few cracks in the drywall in the wall around it.  Over time, the gaps will become visible when you are outside.  The gap may be at the top or the bottom, depending if it is leaning inward or outward, and it may also tilt to one side.   

Generally speaking, when a concrete company is building a house, they only install the foundation of the chimney.  They pour the thick concrete slab in the fireplace section, which serves as the base.  A masonry contractor is the one who builds the chimney, usually out of brick or stone.  

At the time of the build, these two structures are attached to one another.  But they can separate over time, as they settle into the ground at different rates and to different depths.  (A chimney contains a large amount of weight in a small footprint.)  

This separation is what leads to the chimney settling.  That separation allows a gap to form, letting in drafts, insects, birds, bats, and water.  Left unattended, the chimney and fireplace will decay further, posing both a structural risk and a fire hazard.  

This picture was taken by an Acculevel project manager, during a routine estimate.stone chimney leaning away from houseThis shows a chimney leaning away from the house, with separation greatest at the top.

Because the base of the chimney is solid concrete, piers can be installed to lift or stabilize your chimney.  This connection between the chimney and your house can then be repaired, restoring your fireplace to its original blazing glory.

 

Piers Can Stabilize a Deck

If your deck is starting to slope or become uneven, there’s a chance you can install piers to repair it.  Deck posts are usually installed on a concrete footing, which provides a base that can be affixed to piers.  

The picture below is an excellent example of this situation.  When the deck first began to wobble, the homeowner attached 2x4s to the support posts in an effort to brace them. 

This picture was taken by an Acculevel project manager during a routine estimate.support posts leaning

These wooden braces were not enough to stabilize the structure.  The deck continued to lean, pulling against the house and creating cracks in the foundation.  But Installing a helical pier at each post corrected the issue, relieved the stress in the foundation, and extended the life of the deck.

 

Piers Can Help if Your Porch Is Separating from Your Home

A porch is often installed in a method similar to a chimney.  It’s part of your home and was built at the same time as your house, but it’s poured or built onto a separate base.  Again much like a chimney, over time the porch can separate from the house, as they settle at different rates.  

This picture was taken by an Acculevel project manager during a routine estimate.gap between porch and houseThis shows a porch, pulling away from the house.  The brick on the right is the house, the brick with a stone cap is the porch.

Please keep in mind that using piers is the best solution for repairing a porch of substantial size.  The porch pictured above is several feet high and consists of 4 stair risers.  If your porch is a single layer of poured concrete, slabjacking may be the solution you need.  

In either case, it’s important to repair a porch and return it to level quickly.  Left unrepaired, water can begin to pool around the foundation, or drain towards your home instead of away from it.  Water around a foundation creates hydrostatic pressure, which can cause major foundation damage.

 

A Word of Caution About Piers

When installed correctly, helical piers can restore health and stability to your home.  But you need to be certain that you are working with a knowledgeable and experienced contractor 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 wastes your time and money while leaving you with an unresolved issue.  

 

Do You Need Helical Piers?

Before you sign a contract for any service, you should always verify the company is reputable, insured, and accredited by the Better Business Bureau.   

If you live in Indiana or the surrounding states, contact Acculevel.  Established in 1996, we specialize in foundation repairs.  One of our friendly call center staff will schedule a free appointment with you.  An experienced project manager will evaluate the areas of concern and recommend the best course of action for you, to keep your home strong and healthy for years to come.

If this is your first time hiring a contractor, or you are unsure about how to approach the task, we have a blog that provides a list of questions you should ask a contractor

Click here for a free estimate

 

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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