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Is A Home With A Pier Foundation Right For You? Advantages & Disadvantages

Sam Smith Foundation Repair Consultant

Curious about pier foundations? Great! RegionalFoundationRepair is at your service 24/7. In this guide, we cover common questions like:

  • What Are The Different Types of Pier Foundations?
  • What Are The Benefits and Advantages of Pier Foundations?
  • What Are The Common Problems of Pier Foundations?
  • What Are The Correct Conditions for a Pier Foundation?

Want a quick pricing quote on pier foundation repair or installation? Tell us about your project in the form, and we’ll get you connected with one of our foundation repair technicians in your city, or continue reading to learn about pier foundations.

What Is A Pier Foundation?

A pier foundation is a home foundation that uses concrete piers set down into the earth to support your structure. Depending on the type of piers being used, we begin the construction process either by prepping the land for pile driving or by digging out large soil sections where we will later pour concrete caissons.

Once the site is prepped, we will either drive supportive piers down to the bedrock or soil with adequate bearing capacity, or we’ll proceed with pouring the caissons, including reinforcement for the concrete footings.

Many homeowners prefer to have a concrete slab acting as the crawlspace floor, as well as a stem wall around the perimeter of their homes. Slabs improve the aesthetic of your crawlspace and generally make the space more comfortable. Stem walls help protect the area further and give a polished appearance to the outside of your home. We’ll construct the concrete forms and pour the slab and stem wall before moving on.

Crawlspaces that aren’t fully enclosed often create recurring moisture issues for homeowners. Increased humidity beneath your house can result in rotting construction material, decreased energy efficiency, uncomfortable temperatures in your living area, and pest infestation. At Regional Foundation Repair, we always take great care to ensure that your crawlspace is either fully open or completely sealed to prevent these foundation problems from popping up in the future.

Once the piers and additional concrete forms are set, we’ll begin placing the wooden beams and girders on top of the piers. We typically use steel shims to ensure that all beams are perfectly level and remain that way over the years.

Construction Pros

There are several distinct benefits to pier foundation construction over the other types of foundations.

The first benefit is the minimal site preparation that needs to be completed. Basement foundations and below-grade crawlspaces require massive excavation of the earth, which is very expensive and time-consuming. Pier foundations are often cheaper than house foundations set below grade, and we can construct them much more quickly, ultimately minimizing your project time.

Most pier foundations use piers rather than caissons for support. Piers are preconstructed, which means we can drive them into the ground in any weather conditions without worrying about how rain or snowmelt will affect the process. Poured concrete can’t come in contact with water as it dries, so many of our basements, crawlspaces, and slab-on-grade foundations are delayed by weather conditions.

Construction Cons

Pier and beam foundations aren’t perfect, and several of the issues you may experience over time stem from the difficulty of construction. As you can imagine, setting your entire structure on top of relatively small supports can quickly go wrong.

Piers need to be spaced and positioned perfectly to avoid problems with uneven support. Our foundation technicians are highly trained to place piers appropriately, but many construction companies fall short in their research and preparation. Even small mistakes can compound with time and lead to severe damage.

Reinforced concrete pier foundation on the construction site

What Are The Correct Conditions for Pier Foundations?

Pier foundations are ideal for properties near water or those that are prone to flooding. Areas where storm surge, tidal flooding, or river flooding are potential issues can expose your house to dangerous amounts of water if your foundation is built below ground or directly on the soil. Foundation piers raise your home above the ground level on stilts, allowing floodwater to pass freely and safely beneath your structure.

Pier foundations are also suitable for areas with expansive clay soil, which typically puts excessive pressure on other foundation types and can cause severe structural damage. Piers reach down to the bedrock deep beneath your home and transfer the structure’s weight to the supportive strata. As a result, the effects of clay soil conditions on your foundation are limited.

Traditional pier foundations are not suitable for areas where the bedrock is very deep beneath the earth’s surface. Pile foundations are a better option in that case, as piles can be driven to depths far greater than piers can sit.

What Are The Types of Pier Foundations?

There are two primary types of pier foundations, with some variations possible for each. We’ll explain the differences and options below.

Concrete Pier Foundation

When we install a concrete pier foundation, we use precast concrete piers as supports. Minimal excavation is required to make large enough holes for the piers, usually via drilling. The masonry piers are placed in the holes and set on the bedrock before we backfill and compact the soil around the piers.

Drilled Caisson Pier Foundation

A caisson is essentially a pier that is constructed in the ground. Rather than using precast concrete piers, we excavate, insert a mold, and then pour the pile directly into the ground in caisson construction. The result is largely the same as concrete pier foundations, and the difference lies in the ease of adaptation to the land.

Pier Foundation Variations

Regardless of whether we use piers or caissons as supports during construction, you’ll need to decide if you want the floor of your crawlspace to be concrete or compacted dirt. Many homeowners choose a concrete floor for aesthetic reasons and cleanliness, and a slab makes the area more inviting if you use it for storage or need utility repairs.

You’ll also need to decide if you want a stem wall, which is a concrete wall constructed around the perimeter of your home, to act as a barrier between your crawlspace and the outside world. These offer a more finished appearance and can aid in keeping the space dry. However, stem walls are not recommended for areas where flooding frequently occurs.

What Are The Benefits and Advantages of Pier Foundations?

Pier foundations have many benefits that homeowners enjoy over other foundation styles. We’ll discuss the most significant of them below.

Resists Flooding

One of the most compelling reasons to opt for a pier foundation is that it’s ideal for areas where flooding occurs. When floodwater interacts with a slab or below-grade foundation, it can cause massive damage and promotes severe water intrusion problems. A pier foundation keeps your house elevated and safe from water.

Resists Soil Movement

Expansive soil with a high clay content expands and contracts quite a bit as changes in moisture occur. In areas with clay-rich soil, the ground swells during rainfall or flooding and places intense hydrostatic pressure on your concrete. The stress can become strong enough to crack the foundation, creating structural damage.

A pier foundation displaces your structure’s weight to the bedrock or to a depth where soil expansion is minimal. There is no slab exposed to upward movement and no underground foundation walls exposed to inward movement. The shrinking and swelling effects of expansive soil are heavily mitigated with a pier foundation.

Check out the video below for a more in-depth explanation of how pier foundations resist soil expansion:

Easy Utility Repairs & Home Inspections

Concrete slab foundations generally require utility lines running through the concrete slab, which makes repairs and inspections challenging and, therefore, more expensive. A substantial crawlspace exists beneath your home with a pier foundation that inspectors, plumbers, electricians, or HVAC specialists can get easy access without going underground. It also makes identifying damages to plumbing lines much easier for you as the homeowner.

Minimal Excavation Required

Basements and crawlspaces require extensive excavation, often adding thousands of dollars to your construction cost. The holes we dig for concrete piers or caissons are comparatively insignificant, so they’re cheaper and less time-consuming. We can finish your pier foundation installation faster and more affordably than a full basement or crawlspace.

Offers the Ability to Insulate

One of the most considerable lifestyle improvements afforded to you by a pier foundation is the ability to insulate between the ground and your first floor. Insulation improves the R-value of your foundation, thereby improving heat retention in your home and energy efficiency. An insulated foundation also means more comfortable indoor air temperatures than you would expect with a foundation built slab-on-grade.

What Are The Common Problems of Pier Foundations?

Pier foundations aren’t perfect in every scenario, and there are some drawbacks that may deter you from choosing this construction style. We’ll discuss the common foundation issues that are common with this design below.

Moisture Problems

The biggest complaint homeowners have with pier foundations is the tendency for moisture to accumulate beneath their houses. This is a particular issue in pier foundations without a slab floor and stem walls, as moisture naturally accumulates in the area if it remains open to the outside air and the ground.

Moisture build-up under your house can have several adverse effects, including wood rot, decreased indoor air quality, uncomfortable temperatures in your living area, and above-average utility bills.

Exposure to Insects & Rodents

A pier foundation leaves you with a crawlspace below your home, typically between one and three feet high. While this under-home area is convenient for home inspections and accessing utilities, it also presents issues with pest infestations.

Unless you opt for a stem wall and concrete slab beneath your home and have us include the necessary waterproofing methods, the area will be prone to moisture accumulation, which attracts insects and rodents. Many homeowners with pier foundations have ongoing problems with these pests living under their homes and occasionally moving up to their living space.

Rodents can be dangerous beneath your house because their feces can pollute your air quality inside. All insects can be a nuisance, but wood-destroying insects like termites and carpenter ants are harmful because they damage your structure over time.

Exposure to Mold & Mildew

The tendency for humidity to build up under your home also promotes mold growth. Mold is detrimental for two primary reasons, the first of which is potentially dangerous to you and your family. Airborne mold spores can move from your crawlspace up into your living area via a process called the stack effect, exposing you to indoor allergy symptoms and compromised air quality.

Additionally, some species of mold feeds on organic material. Some of the most dangerous strains – which are typically yellow in appearance – deteriorate the beams, girders, and floor joists below your home over time. If the damage persists for long periods, you could be left with severe structural damage that is very costly to repair.

More Expensive Than Some Other Styles

We can typically construct pier foundations for less than a crawlspace or full basement, but they’re almost always more costly than monolithic slab foundations. Slabs may not be ideal for areas where expansive soil is a severe issue or where your structure will be prone to flooding, but if neither of those issues exists, pier and beam foundations will generally be unnecessarily expensive.

Flooring Issues

Pier foundations provide support for your structure only in specific areas. While beams and girders generally do a good job of maintaining level flooring and structural stability, you’re likely to experience some creaking and sagging in your floors over time as your home settles. Thankfully, these issues don’t usually suggest structural damage, but they can be irritating to some property owners.

Wrapping Up

Pier foundations are a popular and trusted foundation style that has been used and trusted for a long time. They have some significant advantages over other foundations, including protection from flooding, the ability to insulate beneath your house, and minimal excavation being required during construction. However, they’re not perfect in all situations, as they can leave your home prone to moisture problems, mold growth, and pest infestation.

At Regional Foundation Repair, we specialize in pier and beam foundation repair and construction. Whether you’re looking for a new foundation, need damage to your pier foundation fixed, or want your moisture problems permanently solved, fill out our contact form, and we’ll connect you with our most qualified foundation specialist.

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Sam Smith Foundation Repair Consultant
SHORT BIO: Hey, I'm Sam Smith. I'm one of our service techs here at Regional Foundation Repair. I'm here to help you learn more about your home's foundation. I've been doing this for a while, so I have a few insider tips and tricks to share!

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