Your Guide to Helical Pile Terminology
November 7, 2022

The helical pile world can be technical and confusing. With decades of experience in the industry, we’re happy to help simplify it a bit.

If helical piles are a new concept for you or you’re looking for more information before you can fully decide if they’re the right solution for you, you’re in the right place. This is a glossary-style blog post full of all the most important helical pile terms you should know.

15 Key Helical Pile Terms You Need to Know

Every day, more and more information is published about helical piles and how they function to make great foundations. But it can be difficult to fully grasp their capabilities if you don’t understand some of the technical terminology.

Here are 15 of those terms related to helical piles, helical pile design, and helical pile installation — broken down into clear definitions by our experts.

1. Helical Pile

A helical pile is a segment that makes up a larger, deeper foundational system. It consists of a central shaft, and at least one helical plate welded onto it. The plate’s axis is positioned parallel to the shaft’s length — making it look similar to a screw.

Helical piles are also commonly referred to as: helical piers, helical anchors, helical foundations, screw piles, and screw anchors.

2. Helical Plate

A helical plate is one component of a helical pile. It’s a helix-shaped blade that’s welded onto the central shaft of a helical pile section. When embedded into soil, the helical plate helps to support compressive and tensile loads, and they’re spaced in a way that minimizes soil disturbance during installation.

Helical plates are also commonly referred to as helical blades and helical bearing plates.

3. Lead Section

A lead section is the first section of a helical pile. It’s the first to make contact with soil and always has at least one helical plate.

Lead sections can vary in length depending on project needs but are usually between 5-10 feet.

4. Helical Extension

A helical extension is a square bar or round shaft section that connects onto the helical lead section. It’s needed to form a continuous length of steel so the pile can reach its intended depth.

Helical extensions are most often smooth sections, but can also have helical plates welded onto them in certain situations — usually when you’re dealing with very soft soil.

5. Pitch

Pitch is the distance between one helical plate and another along the central shaft. It’s critical that the pitch is uniform to ensure minimal soil disturbance during installation and optimal performance post-installation.

6. Torque

Torque is the force applied to a helical pile (usually by a gear motor) that causes the pile to rotate and embed itself into the soil. It’s an important measurement to calculate before the installation process.

7. Tensile Load

Tensile load is the force pulling at a helical pile, often causing the pile to lengthen or pull out. Examples of forces that produce tension loads include wind, soil, water buoyancy, frost, and earthquakes.

Tensile load is also commonly referred to as tension load.

8. Compression

Compression is the force pushing on a helical pile, often causing the pile to shorten or settle deeper into the soil. It’s the opposite of tensile load.

9. Lateral Load

Lateral load is the force that pushes or pulls on a helical pile in a direction that’s perpendicular to the longitudinal axis of the pile.

10. Down Drag

Down drag is a circumstance where soft soils around a helical pile consolidate and pull downward, causing the pile to settle deeper into the ground. Down drag can occur due to the weight of soil, changes in groundwater or other additional loads put on the ground surface.

11. Corrosion

Corrosion is any force of nature that corrodes the helical pile metal and weakens its performance over time. Although it’s an extremely slow process, it is an important factor to consider when looking at your project’s soil conditions and environment.

12. Soil Resistivity Rating

A soil resistivity rating determines the rate at which a helical pile will corrode. It considers things like soil conditions, environmental conditions, the thickness of steel, and any corrosion protection measures that have been taken.

13. Slide

A slide is a device that attaches to the boom of an excavator. It’s used to stabilize and control the forward and backward movements of a torque motor during the helical pile installation process.

14. KIP

Acronym for Kilo-pounds. Helical pile engineers often specify in KIPS while designing helical piles and referring to the loads they can support. 1 KIP = 1,000 pounds.

15. OSHA

Acronym for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA has established many health and safety regulations that apply to helical pile installation — the most prominent being OSHA 1926.6603.

Elite Helical is dedicated to ensuring safe helical pile installation practices, so we maintain strict adherence to OSHA standards.

Do You Have a Helical Pile Project in Mind? Contact Us!

The helical piling industry can get technical. At Elite Helical, we’re here to make it easier on you by providing safe, high-quality solutions, and keeping you informed every step of the way. If you have questions on helical piles, the installation process, or if we’re the right choice for you, contact us today.

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