When it comes to foundations, one size does not fit all. There are a variety of foundation types including – but not limited to – basement foundations, crawlspace foundations, slab foundations, and pier and beam foundations (also known as post and beam foundations). 
This guide will focus on pier and beam foundations. We’ll talk about what they are, what types of problems they commonly experience, how they’re repaired, and what factors figure into the cost of repairing them. We’ll also talk about how you can prevent problems with your pier and beam foundation, and finish up with a brief discussion about how to spot foundation damage.

What Are Pier And Beam Foundations?

A pier and beam foundation is an elevated wooden foundation that rests on concrete piers (or, in some cases, wood piers) that have been advanced deep into the ground. Usually, a home built with a pier and beam foundation will be somewhere between 1-2 feet off the ground, but not always. Homes built near the ocean with pier and beam foundations are elevated enough so that you can stand up under them.  Pier(or stilt) and beam foundations are also popular in flood-prone areas.  
Like crawl space foundations, pier and beam foundations provide easy access to the building’s plumbing, heating, ventilation, and electrical systems. 
The name ‘’pier and beam’’ comes from the fact that it uses beams, both exterior grade beams and floor joist support beams.

Most Common Causes Of Pier And Beam Foundation Problems

Because the beams are made from wood, they can decay over time from contact with moisture. If this happens, it will negatively affect the building’s structural integrity. This is why pressure treated, cedar heartwood, and the heartwood of other rot-resistant wood species are used for the beams. However, heartwood is no longer easy to find at a reasonable price. That’s why pressure treated sapwood is the usual choice for beams today, and sapwood is not rot-resistant.  Therefore, the wood beams in a pier and beam foundation are often the source of problems.
Like all foundations, pier and beam foundations can also experience problems related to water, either too much or too little of it. If the soil is expansive it will swell as it absorbs water and shrink as it dries out. This causes movement in the soil and the foundation which can, over time, destabilize a pier and beam foundation. This is especially true of pier and beam foundations where the concrete piers have not been drilled into the bedrock or to a competent load bearing soil strata.
Wood-eating pests such as termites are another cause of problems with pier and beam foundations. However, because pier and beam foundations have crawl spaces that provide easy access for inspections, it’s possible to catch this problem early, before it has a chance to do significant damage.

How Are Pier And Beam Foundations Repaired?

Pier and beam foundations can be repaired via a variety of solutions including,
  • Concentric Bracket and Steel Push Piers. You’ll also see these referred to as micro piles, push piers, or resistance piers. They’re driven deep into the earth beneath your foundation until they reach what’s called the ‘’load-bearing strata’’. This is strong, stable soil that’s able to support the weight of the structure. Once the push piers are in place, hydraulic jacks are attached to them and the building is raised.
  • Screw Jacks. Screw jacks are often used in repairing a pier and beam and/or crawl space construction. Each screw jack permanently stabilizes and raises existing beams and floor joists in a crawl space or pier and beam foundation with load carrying capacities of 60,000 lbs. Typically, a pre-cast or poured concrete footing is installed to support the screw jacks. Each screw jack is equipped with a heavy duty threaded rod to allow for final and precise elevation adjustment. This system is often used to stabilize and lift existing support beams and floor joist in a crawl space that have been structurally compromised and are commonly used to support sagging beams and floor joists that are often the result of improper spacing of existing pier columns or weakened floor systems due to mold and wood rot.
  • Helical piers. Helical piers – which get their name due to their corkscrew-like shape – are another common method of repairing pier and beam foundations. After they’re screwed into the ground until they reach stable, load-bearing soil, hydraulic jacks are used to lift the foundation back up.
  • Wooden floor joist and beam replacement. Sometimes, there are signs of foundation settlement even though the structure’s foundation is sound. This happens when there’s a problem in the crawl space under a pier and beam foundation. Crawl space repairs will often include wooden floor joist and beam replacement. 

Cost Of Pier And Beam Foundation Repair

The cost of any pier and beam foundation repair will depend on a variety of factors including the size of the building, it’s condition, the type and severity of the settlement problem, the chosen repair solution, and the building’s geographical location.  Therefore, it’s impossible for us to give you even a ballpark figure. 

If you want a repair estimate for your pier and beam foundation you should contact an experienced foundation repair specialist and schedule an inspection. Whatever you do, make sure the repair includes a warranty. A foundation repair is something that you should only have to do once, and a reputable foundation repair contractor will have no problem offering you a warranty on their work.

Homeowners are often worried that a foundation repair specialist will suggest either an unnecessary repair, or the most expensive repair solution. If you’re worried about this, you can contact a structural engineer and have that person perform an inspection and then write up a report that includes a recommended repair solution.

Signs Of Foundation Damage

Your goal should be to spot a foundation problem early, before it has a chance to cause major damage. The signs of foundation damage include…
Interior signs of foundation damage
  • Sticking doors and windows. This happens because, after a foundation moves, everything is out of plumb.

  • Floor, wall, or ceiling cracks. Usually, cracks caused by foundation damage will be larger. However, this isn’t always the case. If you see any crack that looks suspicious, have a professional foundation repair contractor come out and inspect it.

  • Torn or wrinkled wallpaper. This can happen when the wall behind the paper cracks.

  • Fascia board pulling away. Gaps indicate a possible foundation problem. 

  • Leaning or bowing walls. Walls can bow when water-saturated soil presses against the foundation.

  • Water damage, or the presence of mold and mildew. 

  • Floor feels spongy when you walk on it. This is a common symptom of a problem in your crawl space.

Exterior signs of foundation damage

  • Gaps around doors/windows. Gaps around doors and windows may be an indication that the foundation has moved and things are now out of plumb.
  • Leaning chimney. This could indicate a problem either with the foundation under the chimney, or with the foundation under the house.
  • Foundation or masonry cracks. Also look for stairstep cracks in brickwork. 
  • Uneven concrete slabs. If your sidewalk, driveway, or pool deck is uneven, it could be a sign that your home’s foundation is as well.

How To Prevent Pier And Beam Foundation Problems

You can prevent problems with your pier and beam foundation by having a foundation repair professional or structural engineer perform regular inspections. If you do this, you’ll be able to spot signs of a foundation problem early, before it has had a chance to cause serious structural damage. This saves you money in the long run.
Another way to prevent problems is to make sure the crawl space under your home is well-ventilated. This keeps the humidity level down which slows wood rot and hampers mold growth. You’ll also want to make sure pests can’t enter the crawlspace.
Pier and beam foundations aren’t as popular as they once were. However, they’re a tried and true method for building a solid foundation for your home. They will last for decades provided you give them the right care. That means regular inspections to catch problems early, and either a well-ventilated crawl space which will help slow wood decay, or an entire encapsulation to remove moisture and protect your crawl space.
If your home has a pier and beam foundation and you’ve spotted any of the things we’ve mentioned above, contact us today for an inspection and free estimate.