Are Helical Piles Environmentally Friendly?

Are Helical Piles Environmentally Friendly?

The construction industry has a large footprint and heavy footfall when it comes to environmental impact. But more than ever, reducing that impact is a necessary consideration for industrial and commercial construction for social, ecological, and economic reasons. This reckoning comes with an exploration of alternatives to traditional methods; in the foundations space, this means helical piles.

Helical piles offer some distinct environmental benefits over conventional foundations, including recyclable materials with a lower emissions profile, reduced soil displacement, and increased durability—all of which are also distinct financial benefits, and reflected in the relatively low cost of helical pile foundations. There are also some exciting applications for helical pile foundations in renewable energy infrastructure.

Helical Piles Are Made from Recyclable Materials

Helical piles are generally made of steel. The current process for manufacturing steel does emit a significant amount of carbon; however, steel is nearly infinitely recyclable—steel that is no longer in use is melted down to create new steel products. When a building or structure using a helical pile foundation is decommissioned, the helical piles can be recycled. In some instances, where the helical piles are still in serviceable condition, they can even be reused, significantly lowering the environmental impact per use as well as the cost of the project.

It is also the case that steel is an alloy of iron and carbon, two naturally-occurring substances. While untreated steel will suffer from corrosion, helical piles are treated for corrosion resistance. Variants of steel such as stainless steel are wholly corrosion resistant and are neutral and inert in the environment.

This is not the case for concrete foundations. Concrete manufacture is responsible for over 8% of annual global carbon emissions, and carbon emission is an inherent byproduct of the chemical reactions that form cement. And its environmental effect doesn’t stop with manufacturing: It is carbon-intensive to transport, and concrete leaches chemicals into surrounding soil and water when it is poured and when it comes into contact with water and acidic substances.

Helical Piles Reduce Soil Displacement

Helical pile foundations require significantly less soil displacement than conventional foundations. This is because rather than digging out a flat surface onto which to pour a concrete foundation, helical piles are screwed into the soil itself.

Heavy, resource-intensive equipment is used to excavate and level the soil for poured foundations. Then the soil that is displaced during the construction of structures is used as fill or removed from the site, increasing carbon emissions due to the transport of tons of heavy soil.

This soil displacement can have knock-on effects on the landscape, such as risking erosion. Any time soil is displaced, the potential for rain and wind erosion increases. It’s also the case, and particularly so for industrial applications, that there may be unknown contaminants in the sediments being exposed by excavation. Contaminated soil that is exposed can pose risks to human and environmental health.

Increased Durability Improves Sustainability

Deep helical pile foundations are extremely durable. In fact, helical piles can have a lifespan of over 150 years in normal soil conditions. Poured concrete foundations are generally considered to have a life expectancy topping out at about 100 years.

While durability isn’t synonymous with sustainability, the longevity of helical pile foundations does reduce consumption. A stronger, more durable foundation that lasts longer means that it uses less resources over its lifetime since it does not require repair, fortification, or replacement as soon as less durable foundation materials.

Green Tech Applications for Helical Piles

While not an argument for the environmental friendliness of helical piles themselves, it is notable that some key green technologies make use of helical pile foundations. Helical piles are used for (non-roof mounted) solar panel foundations, ensuring that wind and weather don’t affect the stability of the panels.

Helical piles are also used in some wind turbine applications. As with solar panels, wind turbines are top-heavy, requiring deep foundations to ensure their stability. Battery installations, often in conjunction with solar panels, also make use of helical pile foundations, necessary because of their weight.

For applications like solar panels, helical pile foundations have an additional environmental benefit in that they take up less surface area on the ground. This is beneficial because it means less of the surface is impermeable. This is a boon for plant life, which grows in soil, not concrete, but also protects the soil against erosion from runoff. Impermeable surfaces like concrete prevent stormwater from filtering back into the groundwater naturally, which can cause drainage and infrastructure issues and contribute to flooding.

Learn More About Your Helical Piling Options

If you’re looking to invest in a more eco-friendly foundation solution, helical piles are your go-to. With unmatched durability, minimal installation vibration, and recyclable materials, helical piles not only outperform poured foundations, but they’re also more sustainable. Contact our team of helical piles experts at Elite Helical to learn more.

6 Helical Pile Foundation Design Considerations

6 Helical Pile Foundation Design Considerations

Before helical piles are installed, there are a few design considerations you need to make to ensure they’ll effectively support the intended structure. Without taking into account the size and shape of the piles, the type of soil, the pile capacity, and other such factors, your design may risk failure. Keep reading for six aspects of helical pile foundation design to consider when planning your industrial construction project.

1. Load-Bearing Capacity

The load-bearing capacity of the helical piles to be used for your project is the first and most important consideration for helical pile foundation design. You need to know whether the piles will be able to bear the load of the intended structure, which informs other aspects of design, like the shaft size, number of piles, spacing, and depth.

There are three primary methods to determine helical pile capacity:

  • Direct capacity measurement
  • Torque correlation
  • Bearing capacity in the soil

At least two of these methods should be used in conjunction when calculating load capacity for helical pile design to ensure accuracy and safety.

2. Shaft Size and Type

There are three main types of helical piles: round, square, and combination. These different shapes are suited to different conditions. The hardness or weakness (looseness) of the soil can inform the shaft type to be used. Some soils may be too hard to use round piles, and square or combination shafts may be required. Conversely, round shafts are better suited to loose, weak soils due to the compressive loads they’ll experience in that soil condition.

3. Spacing of Helical Piles

The spacing of helical piles depends both on the number of piles you need to safely bear the load of the structure and the size of the helical plate. The helical plate (also referred to as the helical bearing plate or helix) is one pitch (complete revolution around the pile) of the screw thread. The larger the helical plate, the larger the minimum spacing required.

Since the helices do not extend the entire length of the helical pile, maintaining the necessary minimum spacing is necessary not at ground level, but at bearing level, where the helices are in their final installed position. For structures that require additional load bearing capacity, helical piles can be installed at angles that ensure minimum spacing at bearing level while reducing spacing at ground level.

4. Depth of Helical Pile Installation

Like other deep foundations, helical piles are generally installed at greater than 3 meters below the ground’s surface. The depth should be at least 6 times greater than the diameter of the biggest helix, as measured from the top of the pile to the uppermost helical plate.

Increased depth = increased torque = greater load bearing capacity.

For applications where the soil doesn’t provide enough friction to support the load of the structure at shallower depths, longer, deeper helical piles may be required. Challenging landscapes, such as offshore construction, may require deeper foundations, to support the weight of the installation in water and sand.

5. Soil Type

It’s crucial to consider the soil type when designing a helical pile foundation, as the strength of the load bearing capacity of the piles depends on the torque applied to the piles due to resistance from the soil. When considering soil type for helical pile installation, soil is classified into two general types: fine-grained and granular. Fine-grained soils have a diameter of less than 0.075mm; granular soils have a diameter of greater than or equal to 0.075mm.

Type of soil Classification
Clay Fine-grained
Silt Fine-grained
Gravel Granular
Sand Granular

6. Location and Environment

In addition to the soil present at the construction location, there are other environmental factors to consider that are location specific. Given that helical piles are driven deep into the soil, it’s also critical to know that there are no obstructions where your piles are to be sunk.

This entails more than just calling Miss Dig—you need to ensure that there are no underground utilities, impenetrable rock, caves or caverns, underground water sources, pockets of natural gas or oil, or even just the ruins of old structures or debris. Anything that could impede the screwing in of a helical pile or reduce its torque could compromise the integrity of the foundation.

Helical pile foundations are revolutionizing foundation design with distinct advantages over poured foundations in difficult landscapes and heavy industrial applications. But it’s important to consider the above factors in your helical pile design. If you need help with helical pile design for your construction project, contact a trusted helical pile installer.

Interested in using helical piles to support your next construction project? You’re going to need a solid design before getting started. As your turnkey helical pile contractor, Elite Helical can help with all steps of the process — from design to supply to installation. Contact us online today.

How to Determine Helical Pile Load Capacity

How to Determine Helical Pile Load Capacity

Helical piles are used to create strong, steady foundations with the ability to bear heavy loads in unique or difficult terrains. Because of their critical function in supporting foundations for industrial applications, it’s important to know exactly how much weight helical piles can support.

Since the capacity of a helical pile depends on the material and construction of the pile itself, as well as the landscape and soil into which it is being placed, among other factors, the load capacity must be calculated for the specific type of helical pile and application.

There are three primary methods to determine helical pile capacity:

Torque Correlation

Torque correlation, also known as the torque-to-ultimate holding capacity relationship, is an empirical method for determining helical pile load capacity. This method holds that as a helical pile is installed via screwing into soil that is increasingly hard and dense, the torque—the resistance to installation—will increase. The higher this torque, the higher the axial capacity (the ability to bear load along the vertical axis of the pile).

In layman’s terms, the denser the soil, the greater the load capacity of the helical pile.

To determine the torque correlation, multiply the torque correlation factor (Kt) by the average installation torque (T) to get the ultimate uplift capacity (Qult). As a formula, this would be:

Qult = Kt x T

The torque correlation factor is based on the size and type of helical pile and is inversely related to shaft size.

Bearing Capacity in Soil

To determine helical pile capacity using the bearing capacity in soil method, theoretical calculations are made based on soil strength data. This data can be derived during a Standard Penetration Test (SPT), wherein the soil is drilled for soil sample collection and the resistance to drilling is measured.

The data collected during soil sampling and penetration testing includes the soil profile, groundwater, unit weight, and soil classification. Soil is classified as either:

  • Fine-grained, such as silt or clay
  • Granular soil, such as gravel or sand

Different soil grain sizes can result in different amounts of friction against the piles as they are installed, and therefore different levels of torque. As discussed previously, torque during installation affects the load capacity of the pile.

Using this soil strength data and information about the proposed helical piles and pile configuration, engineers can calculate the helical pile capacity in the proposed installation condition.

Direct Capacity Measurement

The direct capacity measurement method of determining helical pile capacity consists of performing a load test on an installed pile, to comply with the ASTM Standard Test Methods for Deep Foundations Under Static Axial Compressive Load. As this method actually tests the capacity of a helical pile under operating conditions, it is the most accurate method for determining load capacity.

In a direct capacity load test, compression load is applied to the installed helical pile in increments for defined intervals, until the maximum test load is reached, or the pile fails and can’t bear any more load. At each increase in load, the movement/settlement of the pile is measured, and this information is used to determine the capacity of the helical pile.

Due to the importance of accurately gauging the load capacity of helical piles to ensure a strong and durable foundation for the application, it’s recommended that helical pile capacity be calculated using at least two different methods.

While some geoengineers and firms allow for the use of only the torque correlation method to determine helical pile capacity in specific instances, as load testing and collecting soil data can be costly and exceed project budget, this should only be done if the calculations use an increased safety factor to ensure safety in the absence of more complete data.

Helical piles are one of the strongest foundation solutions on the market. If you’d like to use them for your upcoming project, contact the team at Elite Helical. We can help you install helical piles properly, quickly, and safely, so you can enjoy the benefits of helical piling to the maximum degree.

Helical Foundation vs. Concrete Foundation: Which Is Better

Helical Foundation vs. Concrete Foundation: Which Is Better

If you’re planning a large construction project, you need to find a foundational solution that will keep your structure standing strong for years to come. In the past, traditional concrete foundations have been the go-to method. But in recent years, that’s begun to change.

Helical pile foundations are a relatively new player in the foundation game, and they’re giving concrete foundations a run for their money. Let’s take a look at the difference between these two types of foundations and determine which one may be best for your next project.

Helical Foundation vs. Concrete Foundation: Which Is Better?

We may be biased, but the truth is that helical foundations outperform traditional concrete foundations in many ways. We’ll explore a few of the reasons why helical foundations are so great, and why concrete foundations fall short, below.

What Are Helical Pile Foundations, and What Are Their Benefits?

Helical piles are segments that make up a larger foundational system. They have helical bearing plates that are welded to a central shaft, which is then screwed into the ground to provide structural support.

The first section of a helical pile foundation system, known as the lead section, contains the helical plates and can consist of 1-4 helicals. If required, helical extensions can be added to support heavyweight structures. Plain extensions can also be added until the lead section penetrates the bearing strata and the necessary torque is achieved.

Helical pile foundations offer the following advantages for construction projects across the world: 

  • Quick and simple installation, with no soil removal required
  • All-weather, remote-location, and limited-access installation
  • Unmatched durability and longevity
  • Instant load-bearing capacity
  • Removable and reusable properties for low environmental impact

While all of these benefits make helical piles great for construction projects of all shapes and sizes, they’re especially useful in circumstances that require specialized solutions, such as industrial, oil and gas, transmission and distribution, and commercial applications.

One of the only downsides to installing a helical pile foundation is that you need specialized equipment and a specialized team who knows how to operate it correctly. But that phone call is an easy one to make, and if your end goal is to achieve the highest quality solution, it’s well worth it.

The Problems With Concrete Foundations

Concrete foundations can provide a sufficient solution for various structures, but they’re just not quite as versatile, long-lasting, or well-performing as their helical counterparts. Here’s why:

  • Excessive excavating and soil removal is required prior to installation.
  • Installations are labor-intensive, and therefore costly.
  • Concrete can’t be poured in poor weather conditions.
  • Concrete must cure before bearing the weight of any loads.
  • Concrete is prone to cracking and settling, which can threaten your structure’s integrity.
  • Concrete cannot easily be removed or reused, and therefore is not a sustainable option.

Maximize the Benefits of Helical Foundations with Elite Helical

As you approach your next construction project, think about what you could do to streamline processes, save on installation costs, and build the most supported, long-lasting structure possible. While a concrete foundation can do the job, a helical pile foundation can do it better — no matter the scope of your project.

At Elite Helical, it’s our commitment to offer you a faster, safer, stronger foundational solution. With over 50 combined years of industry experience, our team is here to help you enjoy the benefits of helical piling to their maximum degrees. For more information on how we can be a part of your next project, contact us.

How to Install Helical Piles

How to Install Helical Piles

The helical pile installation process is quite different from that of traditional foundational solutions. That said, if you’re considering taking advantage of its benefits for your next project, you may have some questions before getting started. 

Below, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about helical pile installation. We’ll talk about what makes it so unique and advantageous and provide a step-by-step guide to the process. 

The Benefits of Helical Pile Installation

Due to increasing demand for new construction, building engineers and contractors are starting to look for innovative ways to form foundations. They need a solution that’s durable and capable of withstanding the various environmental conditions in which they’re building, but also one that’s quicker, easier, and will help them streamline their operations. That’s why many are turning to helical piles

No matter the scope of a project, helical piling offers great benefits — many of which are related to the installation process, like:

  • All-weather installation – Not sunny and 75? No problem. Helical piles can be installed no matter what Mother Nature throws your way. 
  • Remote and limited-access installation – Some industries and applications require facilities to be constructed in unique locations. Helical piles can answer that challenge. 
  • Quick, clean & safe installation – No soil excavation is required to install helical piles, making the process relatively quick and clean. In fact, a complete helical pile system can be installed in just hours or days. 
  • Low environmental impact – Helical piles can be removed and repurposed just as quickly as they can be installed — leaving minimal to no environmental footprint. 
  • Instant load-bearing capacity – No need to wait for concrete to cure or set! Once installed, helical piles can immediately support structures of all shapes and sizes. 

How to Install Helical Piles — 7 Basic Steps

With all of those benefits, helical piles probably sound like a rewarding solution, right? Now you’re probably wondering how to get started. 

First, your helical pile contractor will design and supply appropriately sized helical piles for your application. They’ll make sure the provided solution will support your application’s needs. 

From there, installation can begin! While you’ll normally trust the same contractor to complete your helical pile installation, you may be curious about what steps they’ll take. Below, we’ll provide you with an overview, but do keep in mind that each project has its unique challenges and specifications that need to be addressed. 

1. Determine How Many Helical Piles You Need and How Deep They Need to Go

Different projects require different numbers of helical piles. This number heavily depends on the size of your project and the load the helical pile system must support

Another factor that goes into this step is depth. Here’s the general rule: the deeper the helical pile is driven, the more support it can provide. Therefore, these amount and depth calculations are critical to ensuring a safe, sound, and durable solution. 

2. Attach the Helical Pile Lead Section to the Drive Head

Helical piles are installed with the help of other equipment and machinery, which usually includes a helical drive head that’s attached to an excavator. From there, the installation specialist will attach the first helical pile lead section to that drive head, preparing it to be driven into the ground. 

3. Drive the Helical Pile into the Ground

This step sounds basic, but requires a lot of precision. The pilot point of the helical pile must be driven into the ground at the proper location, inclination, and orientation in order to achieve the best results. These specifications are determined ahead of time and written in an installation plan. 

4. Rotate the Helical Pile into the Ground

Once the helical pile’s pilot point meets the earth, the pile is smoothly rotated into the ground following a clockwise direction. This process continues at a steady pace, generally at about three inches per revolution. 

5. Add Helical Pile Extension Sections as Necessary 

Helical piling sections are only so long. Therefore, adding extension sections is often necessary. The number of extension sections needed depends on how deep your helical piling system needs to be. 

6. Check Inclination, Orientation & Alignment Periodically

Throughout the process, the inclination, orientation, and alignment of helical piles should be checked regularly. This is to ensure everything is installed precisely according to the installation plan.  

7. Repeat the Process with All Other Needed Helical Piles 

Once one helical pile is installed, it’s on to the next one! Steps 2-6 will be repeated in order to install each new pile properly – eventually resulting in a full helical pile system that’s ready to support the large load of your facility.

If you need helical piles installed as the foundation for your next project, trust the experts at Elite Helical. As your turnkey helical pile contractor, we’re your top source for all steps of the helical piling process — from design aid, to supply, to installation. For more information, contact our team today.