In Manitoba, we face some the toughest winter conditions in North America.

And if the weather wasn’t bad enough, we also face poor-quality soil that never stops moving. It heaves in winter, it shrinks in summer, and it can struggle to provide reliable support to traditional foundations like concrete piles or surface foundations.

This intense weather and difficult soil leads to building foundations that are heaved, sunken, and shifted. Left unchecked, the result is expensive foundation repairs at best, and a complete loss of the structure at worst.

For decades, the accepted method of stabilizing a foundation was to underpin it with poured concrete piles. But, these concrete underpinnings are expensive and prone to frost-heave in our winter weather.

Thankfully, there’s a faster and easier option for stabilizing existing structures.


The Problem with Concrete

In Manitoba, it’s no surprise that winters are long and the frost line runs deep. With conditions like these, some foundations can succumb to the elements and end up experiencing frost heave.

Frost heave is what happens when the ground freezes and the moisture turns to ice – expanding as it does so. This causes the ground to move, or heave, and it can wreak havoc on building foundations. Especially if those building foundations aren’t set deep enough.

Let’s take a look at an especially common building foundation in Canada: The concrete piled foundation.

Now, before we keep going it’s important that we tell you that concrete is not a bad material. In fact, we’re not anti-concrete. However, there are situations in which concrete is a poor foundation choice. In cases of difficult soil that’s prone to movement, or under lighter structures such as home additions or decks, concrete piles can be prone to suffering from frost heave. This heave causes foundation stress, uneven floors, cracked walls, and can lead to the complete failure of the foundation.

Postech Screw Piles installed under cement patio to stabilize the failing concrete foundation

This Concrete Piled Foundation Was Cracked, VersaPile Installed Helical Piles to Shore Up the Foundation

Does that mean concrete is bad? Nope! It just means that concrete can be more susceptible to frost heave compared to other foundations.

Because the ground shifts and moves to such an extent in winter, foundations like concrete piles are highly prone to movement. They tend to heave upwards, especially under structures like homes, cabins, and garages.

Now, this part is important.

Traditionally, if you have a structure that has experienced frost heave, the advice has been to stabilize it with concrete piles. That means you need to have concrete piles installed close to the structure, and use brackets to secure them to the structure.

But, if you have a structure that’s heaving and shifted on concrete piles, why would you use concrete piles to try and stabilize it? Odds are the fix may not last, and it could heave as well in the coming winters. Even if it holds up, getting concrete piles installed near a structure can be difficult and expensive.

Thankfully, there’s a better solution for stabilizing existing structures.


Helical Screw Piles – The Alternative to Poured and Driven Piles

Helical screw piles have become a favourite foundation solution in recent years – although they’ve existed since the 1800’s.

Screw piles have a unique design that gives them advantages in extreme climates and soils, especially when compared to other foundations.

It starts near the bottom of the screw pile, with the portion called the helical. The helical is a piece of heavy-duty welded steel, and it’s where the magic of a screw pile happens.

As the screw pile is turned into the ground, the helical resists the surrounding soil and creates torque on the screw pile. At Postech, we measure the torque as the pile is installed. Thanks to some engineering principles (and special computers), we can figure out how much weight the screw pile can hold based on the torque applied.

Picture of Screw Pile Install Computer That Shows Torque Numbers

Special Computers Help Us Know The Weight Capacity of a Screw Pile

Once the screw pile is firmly anchored into the ground, the helical does two things:

  1. It is extremely effective at resisting the upward-force of frost, so it defends against ground heave
  2. It protects against the foundation sinking, because it is effective against downwards movement

After the screw pile is installed in the ground and verified for capacity, it isn’t going anywhere. Through savage winters and poor soil, a helical screw pile will stand up better than other foundations.


Screw Piles to Stabilize Structures

There is another thing that makes screw piles exceptional at stabilizing structures.

A screw pile can be installed with simple hydraulic equipment. And, a screw pile can be installed in tight locations. Unlike concrete piles, screw piles don’t require excavation before install. That means less mess, less hassle, and usually less cost than other foundations.

Postech screw pile installed under cement foundation of house

VersaPile Installed Helical Piles Under This House, and Saved the Unstable Foundation

Here’s how VersaPile stabilizes structures with screw piles:

  1. Carefully dig out dirt along the foundation if needed. Often, only 2 – 6 feet needs to be excavated.
  2. Decide where to place the screw piles.
  3. Precisely install each screw pile along the foundation wall – you’d be surprised how close we can get.
  4. Monitor the install with equipment that tells us how much torque is on the screw pile, so we can verify the weight capacity.
  5. Install special heavy-duty steel brackets under and alongside your foundation wall, which secures the screw piles to the structure. These brackets can accommodate a hydraulic jack, so the structure can be lifted, leveled, and secured.

In less time than you think, screw piles can be used to provide stabilizing support that will last for generations.


The Right Choice for Stabilizing Your Structure?

We won’t pretend that screw piles are the right choice for every situation. Any company that wants to sell you a product that’s “right for any situation”, is lying to you.

However, screw piles are a good fit in many cases. Often, a screw pile stabilization can save a building from further damage and avoid expensive repairs down the road.

If you’re curious about screw pile foundations, get in touch with us! Click here to get connected with one of our foundation experts, and they’ll help you figure out if screw piles make sense for you.