What is a Pier and Beam Home?
Pier and beam homes were first constructed in Houston in the early 1900s. They were popular because they were well-suited to the city’s soil conditions, which are prone to flooding and shifting. Pier and beam homes are still in use in Houston today, and they offer a number of advantages over other types of foundations.
The main advantage of pier and beam homes is that they are less likely to flood. This is because the home is elevated off the ground on concrete piers. The piers are connected by horizontal beams, which support the weight of the home. This type of foundation is often used in areas with high water tables or where the soil is unstable.
Modern Pier and Beam foundations are elevated wooden home foundation that rest on concrete piers. The home is lifted off of the ground about 18-24″. The area below the home is called the crawl space. On some newer homes you may find that there is a concrete perimeter around the entire home with an access hole to reach the crawl space. The crawl space allows for easy access to the homes plumbing and electrical when needed.
Pier and Beam Foundation Issues
Expansive Clay Soil:
Expansive clay soils can create issues for any type of foundation, as they have the ability to expand when wet and contract when dry. These forces can be stronger than anticipated and cause the foundation to shift with each passing season and year.
When it comes to pier and beam foundations, any upward pressure or downward sinking of the soil can affect the structural integrity of the foundation. The constant movement that occurs from season to season can result in various forms of damage to the home’s interior, such as wall cracks, door misalignments, and other indications of foundation settlement.
Moisture Under the House:
Poor drainage and insufficient ventilation can make a pier and beam home vulnerable to moisture. This excessive moisture can cause damage to all the wooden components of the home, from the sill to the subfloor. The wood can rot, mold, or break down due to prolonged exposure to water.
A single compromised piece of wood in the pier and beam foundation can cause problems that can compound and affect the entire structure due to the interconnected nature of the foundation.
Although pier and beam homes have ventilation holes that promote airflow, they may not be able to eliminate standing water caused by poor drainage. Thus, an open crawl space can present drainage challenges that could lead to moisture build-up over time. If left unaddressed, this can cause the crawl space to deteriorate.
Poor Construction or Materials:
Pier and beam homes built before the 1950s may have different building codes and materials that can become old and weakened over time, causing unique problems.
One such problem is a spongy, bouncy, or wavy roller coaster floor caused by floor joists that are too far apart or have worn out from prolonged use. Additionally, piers can break down or become inadequate, leading to uneven settling or cracking.
These issues often manifest over time and can cause damage to the pier and beam foundation. However, they are fixable, and we will discuss the repairs in the next section.
Common Pier and Beam Foundation Repair Methods
A benefit of pier and beam foundations is their relatively lower cost of repair compared to conventional slab-on-grade foundations. In cases where the failing parts are easily accessible, repair contractors can rectify the problems with minimal expenses.
However, accessing problem areas can pose a challenge, and repairing pier and beam foundations can become increasingly difficult, complex, and costly.
In the following section, we will discuss repair solutions arranged in order of ease and affordability, progressing to more challenging and expensive options.
Reshimming involves making small but frequent adjustments to the snugness of all pier and beam foundation parts. It is a form of preventative maintenance for crawl space homes, and is recommended every 3-5 years to ensure that the home has all the support materials in the proper place to support the structure.
Shims are small pieces of wood that are wedged and pounded in between the piers and wooden sill beams to fill gaps between the sill and settled support piers. Reshimming can fix minor issues caused by small movements or looseness of the foundation parts.
However, if the problem areas are difficult to access, reshimming can become complex and costly. It is a cheaper repair option than slab-on-grade foundations when the problem is easily accessible.
A reshimming project typically takes one day or less and costs between $1,200 to $1,800. It is a small price to pay for keeping larger issues at bay and maintaining the stability of the pier and beam foundation.
Pier Stack Rebuilding or Reinforcing:
On occasion, the interior piers of a pier and beam foundation can be damaged due to degradation, insufficient quantity, or other issues. Fortunately, a repair contractor can address this problem by adding more piers to evenly distribute weight and stabilize any bowing floors, as well as repairing or replacing any damaged piers.
Depending on the size of the home and the ease of access to the crawl space, this type of repair could take at least two days and cost an average of $3,000 to $6,000 to restore the pier and beam foundation to its proper functionality.
Shaker sills and floor joists in pier and beam homes can deteriorate over time due to rotting, breaking, warping, or general wear and tear. Sometimes, the foundation may have been insufficiently supported during construction, which could necessitate the addition of sills or joists. Depending on the extent of the damage and accessibility of the area, repairing or replacing the damaged wood could range from a minor repair to a major rebuilding project.
Replacing any damaged wood underneath the home requires extra care since all the pieces are interconnected. Adjacent areas of the crawl space must be temporarily supported during removal of the damaged sections to prevent any structural damage.
An extensive wood replacement project could take a week or more to complete and could cost anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 or more, depending on the amount of wood that needs replacing and its location. The cost of this type of repair project can vary significantly depending on the extent of the damage and the amount of work involved.
Pier and beam homes often experience settlement issues in their interior support areas due to being underbuilt and under-supported. However, settlement and weight distribution problems can also affect the perimeter support beam. To bring the perimeter beam back to its original elevation, foundation repair contractors may use concrete pilings for additional support in settled areas.
The choice of foundation repair method depends on the weight of the home and the number of supports needed for long-lasting stability. The repair method and the number of supports required will affect the project’s cost and duration.
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