How Long Does a Helical Pile Foundation Last? A 7 Generations Principle

October 8, 2021

Seven Generations thinking is an Iroquois principle which says that decisions made today, should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future.

This principle has resonated with Indigenous Peoples across Canada for generations. But, did you know that helical pile foundations adhere to this principle?

Keep reading to see how helical pile foundations fit in to the Seven Generations principle.

First, Some History

In 1997 an important case, Delgamuukw, went through the Supreme Court of Canada. It resulted in a ruling called "Duty to Accommodate". This was a historic ruling that gave First Nations Peoples a title right to consult with, and accommodate, any industry that takes place on reserve lands or traditional territories.

Then, in 2016, the Supreme Court ruled on the Daniels Case - which would ultimately recognize similar rights of Metis and Non-Status peoples.
What did this mean for Indigenous communities? It meant that Indigenous Peoples were positioned to negotiate with any party who had economic interests that would impact traditional territories. This gave Indigenous communities the opportunity to exercise long-standing traditions as responsible land stewards.

Since these rulings, Indigenous Communities have taken control to work to achieve economic opportunity, while also minimizing or eliminating environmental impacts. Simply put, Indigenous Peoples are able to protect the land as their ancestors once did.

What it Means for Indigenous Peoples

Now that Indigenous Peoples have the court-appointed right to negotiate, what does that actually mean?

A VersaPile Helical Pile Being Installed For The Tataskweyak Cree Nation Early Childhood Education Project

(Image: A VersaPile helical pile foundation being installed for an Early Childhood Education Center for the Tataskweyak Cree Nation)

First, it's a clear declaration of the long-held role of Indigenous Peoples as land stewards. There's still a long way to go for Indigenous rights, but this right to negotiate means Indigenous communities can ensure their economic development doesn't come at the expense of their land. Whether a development is temporary or long-term we should always consider the immediate, and future, effects it will have on our environment.

But, what environmental factors should be considered when approaching construction in a Seven Generations way? Here's some of the things to consider:
• Minimize impact to wildlife by limiting noise pollution and vibrations
• Avoid materials which could leech hazardous chemicals into soil or water
• Find solutions that can be installed with little impact or disturbance to the land
• Use materials and techniques that can be removed with minimal impact or disturbance in the future, for affordable site remediation
• Choose products and materials that can be recycled or re-used
• Select the technology, solutions, and products that can be built to last for generations - avoiding expensive and intrusive repairs
• Involve the local community in economic opportunity, building capacity, fostering employment, and increasing independence

Independent economic development is an important, and urgent, goal for Indigenous communities. And now, with the right to accommodate, Indigenous Peoples can ensure that economic opportunity never comes at the expense of the health of their people and their land.

How Do Helical Piles Fit In?

At this point, you're likely wondering what any of this has to do with how long a helical pile building foundation can last.

Helical screw piles were probably not invented with the Seven Generations principle in mind. But, they're certainly a building material that fits in the Seven Generations principle.

Helical screw piles are a unique building foundation that offers exceptional support to structures in challenging locations and climates - such as remote communities. They're particularly resistant to frost-heave, corrosion, and soil movement - three primary causes of foundation failure. Helical piles can also be installed faster, easier, and with less equipment than other options.

On top of all that, helical piles are one of the most environmentally-friendly foundation solutions on the market. There's no excavation required, no single-use concrete, and virtually no site disturbance. From single-family homes to health centers, helical pile foundations can be found supporting Indigenous communities across Canada.

Here's just a few ways that helical piles fit the vision of Seven Generations:
• They're lighter and cheaper to ship than concrete foundation material, making them a more cost-effective solution
• They can be safely stored outdoors in inclement weather without spoiling (a common challenge with concrete)
• They can be installed with equipment that's smaller and more efficient than the equipment used for concrete or driven piles
• They are turned into the ground with hydraulic power, not pounded with a massive hammer - no excessive noise, vibration, or soil displacement
• They can be easily removed from the ground and re-used or recycled
• They're constructed from cold-rolled steel that has an average useable life of 200 years, even in severely corrosive soils (peat, soft silt, clays, wet shales)

(Image: Helical piles sitting outside, waiting to be installed. Unlike bags of concrete, helical piles can sit outside through tough weather without issue)

Unlike traditional foundations used in Indigenous Communities, helical screw piles have been designed with the environment, and the next generations, in mind. Because they don't degrade or corrode, screw piles are truly a foundation built for generations.

In fact, let's see how many generations a helical pile could last for.

Building a Foundation for Generations

Let's assume a new generation is born every 25 years, and a helical pile has an average life of 200 years (a conservative estimate). So, you install a helical pile foundation and put a sturdy home on top. With some simple math, we can see that helical pile foundation could still be supporting that home 8 generations into the future.

(Image: An Indigenous contractor installing a helical pile foundation using an affordable skidsteer in his community)

Yes, that helical pile foundation you install today will be supporting your descendants 8 generations from now. And it's doing this while creating a minimal impact to the environment.

A Seven Generations' Foundation for Your Projects

In my opinion, it's a near-impossible challenge to find another foundation that offers the same stability, versatility, speed, and environmental-friendliness as helical piles.

If responsible land stewardship and longevity are key considerations for your projects, we'd be happy to help you find out if a helical pile foundation from VersaPile is right for you. Click here for a free 30-minute consultation with one our friendly foundation experts, and find out if helical piles could be your Seven Generations foundation.

Oh, and don't forget to ask us about our First Foundations Collaboration when you get in touch. It's where we aim to build capacity and confidence for Indigenous partners interested in installing engineered helical pile foundations for houses or other infrastructure projects.


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