Are you looking for information about pier and beam foundation repair? Don’t hit that back button because you’re in the right place! We’re going to talk about what a pier and beam foundation is, common problems, repair methods, and more.
What is a pier and beam foundation?
A pier and beam foundation elevates a house 18-24 inches off the ground and creates a crawl space underneath. Originally, wooden piers were used. However, newer pier and beam foundations are built using concrete piers. Pier and beam foundations were popular up until the 1960s. Today slab foundations are more popular because they’re stronger and cost less to build.
Homeowners have traditionally liked pier and beam foundations because,
They’re easy to repair.
They’re easy to insulate.
They provide easy access to plumbing and electrical wiring.
They’re even fairly easy to pick up and move to a new location.
Common problems with pier and beam foundations
Problems commonly seen in pier and beam foundations include,
Sagging – Pier and beam foundations can become unlevel and unstable over time.
Moisture condensation – Pier and beam foundations are built on a wood substructure, and wood can rot. If this happens, the floor might start to sag and become unlevel. Rotten wood, of course, will need to be replaced. Moisture condensation also creates bad air full of mold and other harmful allergens.
Pests – Wood can also be gnawed by various pests, including rodents and termites. They love the cool, dark spaces provided by pier and beam foundations.
Not enough piers – Sometimes, a pier and beam foundation doesn’t have enough piers to hold it up. More piers are better because they distribute the weight of the home.
Piers are too small – Sometimes, the piers aren’t large enough to provide adequate support.
Crawl space too small – The crawl space under a pier and beam foundation should be at least 18 inches high, preferably more. Crawl spaces that are too small make it difficult to access the home’s electrical wiring and plumbing. They’re also harder to keep dry.
Pier and beam foundations, like all foundations, are also susceptible to differential settlement. Differential settlement happens when the foundation settles into the ground unevenly and is caused by various things including,
Expansive soil – Expansive soils expand when they absorb moisture and shrink by that same amount when they dry out. This creates movement in the soil and, over time, can lead to differential settlement.
Poor drainage – Excess water in the soil around your home’s foundation that cannot drain off can cause a build-up of hydrostatic pressure which will push against the foundation and destabilize it.
Soil not adequately compacted before construction – Before construction begins, the soil under the foundation needs to be sufficiently compacted. If the ground isn’t properly compacted, it will compact after the house is placed on top of it, leading to differential settlement.
Not enough moisture in the soil – Soil that dries out and shrinks will cause the foundation to move. This can lead to cracks and other foundation problems. You don’t have to live in a drought-prone area to experience this. Tree roots drinking up all the moisture in the soil can also cause trouble.
Pier and beam foundation repair methods
Steel push piers
Steel push piers are the most common method of strengthening and stabilizing pier and beam foundations experiencing foundation settlement. They’re driven into the ground until they reach load-bearing soil, and then synchronized hydraulic jacks lift the house back up. Installation is quick, minimally invasive, and you’ll see the results immediately.
While helical piers are usually used for new construction projects, they’re sometimes used to stabilize existing structures, especially lightweight ones. Like push piers, installation is quick and minimally invasive. Helical piers are turned into the soil until they reach the load-bearing strata. Synchronized hydraulic jacks then lift the building back up.
Crawl space support jacks
Sometimes a home built on top of a pier and beam foundation can have symptoms of foundation settlement even though the foundation itself is perfectly fine. This can happen when the support posts in the crawl space have settled, or the screw jacks have deteriorated. Signs of this include furniture that shakes as you walk by and a floor that feels spongy when you walk on it.
How much does pier and beam foundation repair cost?
In our service area in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri, pier and beam foundation repair costs somewhere between $2k and $10k depending on size and number of post beam jacks needed to make the correction.
What about DIY pier and beam foundation repair?
While the idea of saving money is always enticing, this is one repair you should leave to the pros.
Signs you might need pier and beam foundation repair
Because foundation problems will be more expensive to fix the longer you wait, homeowners should know how to spot foundations issues early. Here are some things you can look for:
Windows and doors that are hard to open and close – If only one door or window is giving you difficulty, it’s probably not a foundation issue. However, if it’s multiple windows and/or doors, you should get it checked out.
Uneven floors – They don’t need to be extremely uneven. Even a floor that’s slightly sloped would be a sign of foundation damage.
Ceilings and/or floors that are no longer attached to the wall – Even slight separations could indicate foundation trouble.
Cracked floors – Cracks limited to one or two tiles were probably caused when something fell on them.
Cracked walls – Horizontal cracks are especially problematic.
Bowed walls – Sometimes bowed walls are also cracked.
Torn wallpaper – This could indicate a cracked wall behind the wallpaper.
Wall rotation – This happens when the soil outside your foundation gets saturated with water that can’t drain off. The outside edge of the foundation wall begins to sink into the soil while the inside edge – which is on dry soil – pulls up. This causes the wall to rotate.
Diagonal cracks that run from the corners of windows and doors up toward the ceiling
Moldings that have separated from the ceiling and/or wall
Stair step cracks in brickwork
Leaning chimneys and porches
How to prevent foundation problems with your pier and beam foundation
Believe it or not, water causes most foundation problems, especially when they’re too much of it in the soil under and around your home’s foundation. Therefore, getting groundwater under control is key to preventing foundations problems:
Clean gutters regularly – Clogged gutters can cause water to spill over the side of your home and down into the soil.
Install downspout extensions, if necessary – Sometimes downspouts are too short and release water too close to the foundation. Extensions are an easy way to channel the water away from the foundation before releasing it.
Regrade your yard, if necessary – The yard should slope away from your home’s foundation. If it doesn’t already do so, regrade it. Both landscapers and foundation repair professionals can help you with this.
Keep water-hungry shrubs away from the foundation – Watering them will only add more water to the soil around your home’s foundation, and you don’t want that.
Install a drain tile system – There are two types of drain tile systems, external and internal. Both will help you control groundwater around a foundation by collecting it and channeling it away from the foundation. Newer homes may already have one or both. However, older homes might not have either one.
While they aren’t as popular today as they were in the past, pier and beam foundations are still being built because they’re easy to insulate, repair, and offer easy access to electrical wiring and plumbing in a way that slab foundations don’t. For example, to access the plumbing in a house on a slab foundation the contractor needs to use a jackhammer to break up the floor. Compared to that, accessing the plumbing in a pier and beam foundation is a cinch.
If you’re having trouble with your pier and beam foundation and you’re in our service area in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri, contact us today for a free inspection and estimate.
Dave is the President at Epp Foundation Repair with over 27 years of experience in the industry. Dave has worked on thousands of foundation, basement, concrete, and crawl space repair projects since 1993. Dave is involved in several civic and church organizations and enjoys coaching youth sports, mainly football, golfing, and elk hunting.