There are options out there when you’re looking for a piling contractor within Manitoba.  Below are a few key steps to evaluating which piling contractor deserves your hard earned money.

What is the reputation of the piling contractor? 

Before all other considerations would be the reputation of the piling contractor you might be considering for your building project.  Just like when you shop online, you should be looking at Google, Facebook, BBB, Yelp, Houzz and other review sites to see what others are saying.

A quick Name Search on the Court of Queen’s Bench Court Registry website is also a prudent thing to do before you award a project worth several hundreds or thousands of dollars to a piling contractor (or any contractor for that matter).  Click here to complete a search:  https://web43.gov.mb.ca/Registry/NameSearch

Who do you know a reputable contractor in or around Winnipeg?  Asking for their input on a great piling contractor is another strategy for identifying reputable piling contractors.

Which piling option is best?

There really are no silver bullets when it comes to piling technologies in and around Winnipeg, MB.  Therefore you will want to sort through the piling contractors according the types of piling they offer.  For instance, VersaPile, Inc. – Helical Pile Contractors only offer helical pile solutions.  However, helical piles, although they shine bright in various instances, don’t always make the most sense.

A cast-in-place (CIP) concrete friction pile is a reasonable support a new home when you know the soil capacities are good and curveballs, such as high water tables, are not present.  Whereas, CIP piles are less than ideal for supporting lightweight structures like decks or front steps or for under unheated surface-level structures like cottages, due to their large porous shaft which makes them very vulnerable to frost heave.

Helical piles on the other hand, when at least 9′ long, are inherently well designed to resist frost being that the helical blade anchors below moving soils and achieves far greater resistance to the adfreeze along the shaft.  In problematic soils, like sloppy silt, low capacity clays, highly plastic clays, high water tables, organic soil layers such as peat moss or muskeg, etc. traditional poured concrete piles are very laboursome to install or are simply unable to achieve the friction required to support the loads.  When the soil is less than ideal an alternative end-bearing pile is required.  End bearing driven piles for supporting a new home or commercial structure are typically precast concrete, timber piles, H steel piles, or helical piles.  End bearing piles are installed to very dense soil layers, typically in Winnipeg it’s arctic till which can be found 30 to 80 feet deep and in one vane, about 10 feet deep which runs through St. James and parts of Charleswood.  End bearing driven piles are all considered much more reliable than a concrete CIP friction pile but each of pile types in this category has its benefits and challenges.  Again, there are a variety of considerations which might make a precast pile better than timber pile or a helical pile better than a precast, etc.

Two advantages helical piles have over timber and precast concrete piles and that are worth noting are: 1) helical piles can be easily lengthened whereas precast concrete and timber piles are extremely expensive to lengthen, so much so that they often just order a new and longer pile and abandon piles that come up short; and 2) generally speaking, helical piles are almost always easier on the budget on residential project sites.

When it comes to determining which piles would be best suited to your project, it is important to discuss it with your engineer.  Since we are helical pile contractors, one note is that some local engineers aren’t as familiar with helical piles as they are other options – if this is the case for you, please do call us and we can work with your engineer in concert with other local engineers with strong helical pile experience, to determine if helical piles will perform in capacity and budget.

Is both the installation and material quality?

Generally speaking you won’t get a precast concrete pile or timber pile that is low quality in terms of material or installation as the bulk of piling contractors who install such piles are reputable and engineers are typically present for installation or at least for inspection.  You will want to consider a couple of things when looking to do concrete CIP piles or helical piles, especially on residential project sites.  Residential piling projects don’t see as much engineer scrutiny or involvement and that makes them vulnerable to unscrupulous piling contractors who cut corners when it comes to installing piles and the materials quality as well.

With CIP piles you will want to ensure the soil is not saturated, pouring concrete into a wet hole can create voids and inconsistencies in the mix.  You will also want to ensure the mix is not watered down to buy a few extra meters of concrete.  The last thing you’ll want to ensure is that the piling contractor is drilling the holes deep enough and large enough in diameter to satisfy the pile engineering.

Helical piles are a very reliable technology that offers predictable performance when designed, fabricated and installed within generally accepted engineering principles. A major consideration is ensuring that you are being quoted new steel – as hard as it is to believe, some piling contractors buy decommissioned used oilfield casing pipes and then weld on helical blades and use them under structures.  Oilfield casing pipe is generally J55 pipe which is not structural steel.  The pipe is not consistent in yield and it can vary greatly which makes it very difficult to weld to without heat treating the steel and it also makes them quite brittle and prone to shear.  The CCMC (Canadian Construction Materials Centre) is very clear, used steel is not compliant with building code.  Your piling contractor of choice should also install helical piles with proper equipment including a reliable means to monitor installation torque.  Lastly, always ensure the piling contractor can offer you an engineer stamped close out letter / letter of compliance which certifies that the helical piles installed satisfy the design criteria.  If a piling contractor can’t satisfy an engineer that their helical piles are installed correctly, they should make your list or be considered.

Does the piling contractor have their insurance in order?

Piling contractors require reasonably expensive general liability insurance because they work underground where things like electrical or gas lines can be present.  The minimum you should verify that a piling contractor has for residential work is $2 million dollars of coverage.  Once you get into commercial or you simply want more peace of mind, a piling contractor should carry $5 million in coverage.

Another bit of insurance you will want to ensure is in order is WCB (Worker’s Compensation Board) of Manitoba.  When you hire a contractor who does not have valid WCB coverage for employees, you risk being jointly liable for any workers injured or killed on your project site.  It’s very simple to verify online if a piling contractor is current with WCB – click this link to perform a search:  https://www.securewcb.mb.ca/clearances/FirmSearch

Note, that you should require both general liability insurance as well as WCB since they cover to very different things.  In one case, one of our local helical pile competitors hit a gas line and was shocked when WCB didn’t cover the damages – they had never obtained general liability insurance and to our knowledge, still hadn’t obtained it months after the gas line incident.

Remember the adage “If it’s too good to be true, it likely is”

Like any other major purchase you might be making, if the price is too good to be true, it’s because it’s too good to be true.  Low bid piling contractor nightmares are experienced all the time.  It’s safe to assume you are building something that you want to last and won’t become problematic, remember that everything is supported on the piles and it will all be affected by a pile failure.  It is always much cheaper to do it right the first time as foundation repair projects are always exponentially more expensive than starting with a solid foundation.