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Which is Better: ECP Steel Piers™ or ECP Torque Anchors™? Part 4

ECP DJ ClaytonD.J. Clayton, PE is part of the Engineering & Training Team at ECP.  He will be sharing engineering topics on our blog so check back frequently for updates from Don.

By D.J. Clayton, PE

In this final part of the series we conclude our exploration of “Which is better? – Steel Resistance Piers or Helical Screw Piles

The “Which is Better?” question can only be answered by a knowledgeable person that has obtained the necessary data from a thorough structural inspection.  Then it is possible to make a determination of “Which is better for you?” Foundation repair and restoration is not simple or cheap. The “one trick pony” foundation repair companies will attempt to sell and install whatever product that they have on hand regardless of whether it is the best repair product or best repair method for your unique situation.  There are occasions where a company proposes and installs a product with insufficient strength to support the structure. Could it be that the salesperson proposed this inferior product that could not lift or support the house because the salesperson had no idea of the weight of the house?

Did you know? The workers installing underpinning need to know the structural weight!

Why must the installer know the structural weight?  If you recall from Part 1, the worker that is installing a helical screw pile is able to calculate the load capacity of the pile based upon the shaft torsion (shaft twisting) that is being applied during installation. If the installer does not know the weight of the structure, he has no idea of how much shaft torsion to apply to insure that the helical screw pile has achieved sufficient capacity (plus a Factor of Safety) to achieve lift and support of the foundation.  

Some companies only think “one-size-fits-all”.  Their strategy is to install the product to an arbitrarily shaft torsion value on every project.  They are blindly installing the product… and hope for the best! In many installations, this works out and the structure is lifted.  What you do not know is that you could be buying a more expensive, more robust product than necessary for your situation. You may be buying more pier placements than necessary.  The installer may be installing the product deeper than needed. This means more of the product is in the ground and more labor is used, all which adds unnecessary cost. Worst case scenario is when the underpinning is found to have insufficient load capacity when it comes time to raise the foundation.  

On one occasion the engineer asked the technician on a project, “To what shaft torsion are you installing?”  The response from the worker was, “I go until the motor stalls and the shaft can no longer turn, then I am done.”  

You must be wary of salespeople who are not knowledgeable, because their job is to sell whatever they have in stock, and it is their mission to pressure you into making a quick decision whether they offer a good design or not. You will never know “Which product is best?”  You could be paying for significantly more product than is required to lift and restore your house. If a salesperson convinces you that you need more underpinning than is really necessary, the salesperson gets a bigger commission. Keep in mind that the salesperson does not have your best interest in mind.  

Without you doing research to find a reputable and established foundation repair company or hiring a professional engineer to design and specify a foundation repair plan, you could be paying to install an overly expensive product, more underpinning than necessary and/or installing product much deeper into the soil than is required.  Your goal is to get long term foundation support with the security of a Factor of Safety at the lowest possible cost. There are many instances where the homeowner is convinced by the salesperson’s scare tactics to install additional underpinning at locations where underpinning is not actually needed.

The worst case scenario occurs when the salesperson sells a product, and after the installation is complete there is a problem because the piers have insufficient strength to raise and support the weight of the structure.  Money was paid to repair the foundation! When the installation work was complete; there comes the big surprise. The structure remains settled.

What happens next is heartbreaking.  The salesperson offers an apology along with a fabricated sad story. The salesperson will do a “song and dance” explanation.  The customer is told that for some “unknown reason” the structure can not be restored, but the real reason will never be admitted to the customer.  The bottom line is the foundation company is telling the customer, “Boo-Hoo, but thanks for the money!” To help make this bad situation palatable, the foundation company will usually offer to “do the customer a favor”.  They will say that even though they cannot raise and level the floors; they tell the customer that they have “stabilized” the house.

Now, get this; money was paid for a “cheap” foundation restoration.  The proposal was to raise and support the house. Suddenly the customer is aware that the underpinning does not have sufficient strength to raise and level the structure!  The whole project was a total waste of money: There can be no floor leveling, there will be no long term foundation support and there is certainly no “Factor of Safety” against future movements.  Bottom line for the unfortunate homeowner is that the house is no better now than when the contract was signed and the customer paid for the work.

You house is your biggest investment and there is no question about it, good foundation repair is expensive.  Your house is a long term investment. You should consider the foundation repair as a long term investment. Foundation work is something that you never want to “do over”.  You cannot afford to pay for underpinning that lacks sufficient capacity to level the floors, and you cannot afford to pay for poor workmanship that continually needs “adjustments”.  Bottom line is that you need an established, knowledgeable company; or an engineer, that can offer a proper design and who will honestly answer your questions. It is most important for you to consider the VALUE of the purchase when deciding on a foundation repair company that you hire.  

Why do reputable foundation repair companies charge more?

Here are some reasons why quality foundation repair companies not the “Cheapest”:

  • They install a high quality foundation support product to the published factory specifications,
  • They offer more than one method of repair.  They evaluate the data from the job site and decide, “Which is better? – Steel Resistance Piers or Helical Screw Piles” for the specific situation.
  • They take time to monitor the shaft torsion of the helical screw pile during installation, or they field load test every steel resistance pier product that is installed.  This insures that the required support capacity is verified before any product is put into service,
  • They take the time to design and offer the most economical product for the specific situation.  They build in a “Factor of safety” (Which usually means that the underpinning that they offer to you will lift and support up to two times the structural weight.),
  • They retain quality employees because they pay competitive wages and benefits to their workers.  These workers provide you with highest quality workmanship,
  • These companies provide on-the-job supervision of the work to insure all work meets specifications and quality workmanship,
  • They provide safety equipment and insist that workers use personal safety protection on the job,
  • They pay for factory training and certification of workers.  This insures that sales, office workers, supervisors and field workers know how to properly select, design, correctly install and properly test the load capacity of the products that they sell,
  • They have the necessary insurance in place to protect the company, the employees and you.

Why might the “Lowest Prices in Town” be a Bad Choice?

Please think about this for a minute. A quality foundation company cannot compete with the “Lowest price in town” and still offer the items listed above.  It is simply not possible. Nearly all of the reputable companies will not make you a “discount offer” for being “Senior” or “Military” or “Teacher”, etc. These ploys are only used to pressure you into agreeing immediately to their proposal.  The reputable companies do not ask for an immediate decision, and they do not offer these so-called “special discounts” to entice you sign immediately. Typically the reputable company will give you at least 30 days to check them out and to consider other offers before you make your decision. These “discount” and “limited time” offers are ploys to get you to sign a contract on the spot before you have any time to investigate and compare.  If the sales person says, “This price is good only today”, please tell them, “No thanks”, and show them the door.

Does All of This Give You Stress?

You should be stressed about the deciding what is the “Best” for your situation before you decide to spend lots of hard earned money to lift, repair and stabilize your house.  Once again it is suggested that you consider consulting a registered professional engineer. After evaluating your situation the engineer will answer honestly, “Which is better? – Steel Resistance Piers or Helical Screw Piles”; or possibly offer another repair option.

The engineer will not try to “scare” you by saying things like, “Your house is collapsing.” or “Additional movements in the next few weeks can be dangerous.”  These are simply the salesperson’s attempt to get an immediate signature on a contract.

The engineer will not “up sell” you to a product that is stronger than necessary or suggests underpinning in areas of the house where foundation work is not necessary.  Experience has shown that in many cases the aggressive salesperson’s proposal recommends more work than is necessary. In other instances the salesperson will propose to install more expensive products or recommend unnecessary extra work.  Keep in mind that most salespersons are working for a commission. If follows that higher sales = higher commission for the salesperson.

If you want to find quality independent technical advice on you own, then it is necessary to do research to find an established reputable foundation company through referrals.  This is the only way to get the “Best” quality repair for the least amount of money.  No, it will not be the Cheapest!  

In many cases the savings when hiring a professional engineer offsets some of the unnecessary costs proposed by foundation company salespersons.  Sometimes the engineer’s design and specifications create a lower cost repair than proposed by the salesperson. It sometimes occurs that the savings obtained when using an engineer’s design and paying for a quality installation, will have a total cost that is lower than was originally proposed by the salesperson.  You might be interested in this actual repair project in North Texas;

How an engineer saved the homeowner a pile of money and the engineer preserved the structural integrity of the house.

This story illustrates the value of seeking professional council.  An owner called and requested a second opinion from a registered professional engineer.  He called mainly because he could not obtain a loan from the bank for the proposed foundation repair without presenting a professional engineering report to the bank.  Without the engineering analysis and recommendations, the bank would not consider giving a home improvement loan.

The engineering inspection revealed severe distress throughout the interior. Strangely, there was very little distress or misalignment visible on the exterior. A review of the salesperson’s proposal called for piers to be installed around the ENTIRE perimeter of the house.  

Perhaps the salesperson had no idea of what to propose for this situation.  When in doubt, they simply put underpinning everywhere and hoped for the best.  The salesperson probably had no clue about the cause of the perception that the exterior had mysteriously “settled”.  It appeared that the salesperson’s solution to the problem was to lift the entire outside of the house to an elevation that matched the higher elevation of the interior concrete slab.  Of course, keep in mind, installing 38 or so piers would generate a really nice commission for the salesperson. Not only was the repair proposal extremely expensive, it was a horribly bad repair plan.  

The engineering inspection determined that the perimeter was not settled.  The final analysis revealed that the interior was abnormally high. Exterior underpinning was not a solution to this problem. If the salesperson’s repair plan were implemented, the result would be permanent structural damage to the entire house.  It is quite likely that if the foundation company attempted to raise the entire perimeter, it would compromise the structural integrity of the house resulting in loss of resale value.   

The engineer’s recommendation to the homeowner was to perform thorough tests of the plumbing systems.  Not surprisingly, a water leak was detected under the slab. Subsequently the leak was located and repaired.  The repair required breaking through the concrete slab near the bathroom on the inside of the house to access, and replace, the leaking pipe.

The excavation had to be left open for an extended period of time to permit the underlying soil to dehydrate and stabilize. The lengthy process was not an enjoyable experience for the homeowner since he was living with a portion of the interior slab removed. Once the soil under the slab stabilized, the concrete was replaced on the inside of the house and the interior distress was repaired and painted.  

As a result of professional engineering involvement, the homeowner paid only a small fraction of the money that was to install 38 pier as proposed by the foundation company. A bank loan was unnecessary.  

Author’s Comments:

Over a period of more than 44 years as a practicing Registered Professional Engineer I have seen many heartbreaking failed projects where the foundation underpinning had insufficient capacity, or where the workmanship was so bad the foundation beam was damaged, broken or fractured.  There have been many incidents where companies over-lifted a perimeter beam that was not settled. This created structural damage in the process. The idea to attempt to raise the perimeter to match an area where the soil heaved underneath the slab is a serious mistake. In other instances underpinning was installed at wrong locations, and so on.  

Sometimes I gave expert testimony in court and the homeowner won a judgment, but could not collect from a bankrupt foundation company.  My heart goes out to these people who were duped by slick salespeople with only one thing in mind… the commission.

In most cases when I was called out on a dispute, or for litigation testimony, or to give a second opinion; the repair that was needed to correct the damage done by the “cheap” foundation repair was more costly than if the work had been done correctly in the first place.  

It is my hope that you take the information presented here and use it to make the solid decisions before committing your money.  Please investigate before you open your checkbook or take out a loan. Take time to evaluate proposals and check references. Do not fall for so-called “discounts” or “limited time” offers or “Lifetime Warranties”.  It is my hope, and desire, that this information will help you to…“Get it right the first time!”

“Which is better? – Steel Resistance Piers or Helical Screw Piles”

To find out the answer for YOUR specific settlement problem, please do your research and find a knowledgeable company; or seek a registered professional engineer for answers.  This way you will make the best, most economical investment in the future long term stability of your home.

Earth Contact Products, LLC:  

ECP is a manufacture of ECP Steel Piers and ECP Torque Anchor™ brand of helical screw piles. These products are manufactured in the USA from certified quality steel.  ECP has independent certified installers that are trained in underpinning repair, anchor installation, waterproofing and external drainage systems.  

It is very important to choose a qualified and certified installer.  Better yet, consider investing in the knowledge and opinions of a licensed engineer.  If you have a foundation settlement problem, cheap and fast is definitely NOT the way to go.  Eventually you will have to do it right, so why not do it right the first time?

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