The Disadvantage of Helical Screw Piles

August 20, 2021

Typically we write about the benefits of helical screw piles. One such benefit we talk about often is how we monitor the torque during installation. By monitoring torque, we can ensure the helical pile is able to support the right amount of weight. That's a huge advantage when compared to the traditional poured-in-place concrete pile, in which the weight capacities are more of an educated guess.

But, as it goes with everything in life, for every major advantage there is always a flip-side.

A Disadvantage to Helical Screw Piles

With a traditional concrete poured in place pile, if the hole doesn't cave-in, concrete is usually pumped into the hole and that's considered reasonable.

When it comes to our helical piles, we know the truth about the soil. We can figure out the weight capacity of the helical pile, because we can understand a lot about the soil's capacity in by looking at the torque numbers during installation. This means that if the soil isn't high-quality, we'll know that the helical pile won't be able to support the necessary weight. Of course, since we know the truth about the soil we can't simply terminate the install, that would be negligent.

So, we generally pick from 1 of 3 options based on economics, timelines and efficiency:

  1. Add extensions to the piles in order to install them deeper
  2. Install additional piles so that the load can be shared
  3. Remove the pile and replace it with a larger pile

Unsurprisingly, all of those options add to the cost of the project.

Which brings us to one disadvantage of helical piles. An honest piling contractor can't provide customers with "all-in pricing". Although helical piles are more affordable in most circumstances (while being easier and faster to install), a piling contractor can't just hand out a pricing sheet. That's why, if you get a helical pile pricing sheet from a quality installer, there will be footnotes to cover additional expenses related to sub-par (and difficult to predict) soil conditions.

VersaPile, Inc. - Helical Pile Contractors always work on for our customers to combine our knowledge of a general area with the selection of screw piles we bring to the site. If you have a geotechnical report, that can help us better predict the soil conditions. However, there's a reason our soil in this province is nicknamed "Manitoba Gumbo". It's proven to be anything but reliable or consistent, and even armed with a geotech report surprises can still arise.

VersaPile, Inc., recognizing we should do everything reasonable to help manage customers' expectations on a budget actually developed an app that logs all of our installations. We can search any of the installations we have completed since August of 2019 using a map view - this allows us to zero in on the completed installation logs nearest a prospective customer's project site. We can then take the information from nearby installations and better predict the soil conditions.

The good news is that most projects go off without a hitch, and the required weight capacity will be met and usually exceeded. We have found that ~85% of our customer's project invoices reflect the exact amounts which were estimated.

Yes, the odd project will end up with an invoice that exceeds the estimate. In a way, customers can still appreciate however that there less than desirable soil was identified prior to construction since it's always cheaper to do it right the first time versus undertaking the exponentially higher costs of pre-existing foundation repairs.


View More News