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What’s the Difference Between a Helical Pier, a Screw Pier, and a TorcSill Pile?

Picture of back of adult male's head as he looks up at different names for helical piers above him. The text reads - helical piers? Screw Piles? TorcSill piles?

John Lisle | Updated October 13, 2022 | Helical Pier Essentials

Ever heard of a “regional synonym”? It’s when the same thing has different words that can refer to it.

Like the words “sofa” and “couch” for example. Whether you use one word or the other likely has a lot to do with where you grew up (or learned English) in the U.S. And the term sofa/couch is far from the only “regional synonym” we have in our country.

Here’s a few more I could think of…

“soda” vs “pop”
“crawfish” vs “crayfish” vs “crawdads”
“tennis shoes” vs “sneakers”

…you get the idea. If you want even more examples, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has a cool list here.

Why am I talking about “regional synonyms”, sofas, and crawdads on a helical pier blog? Because helical piers have “regional synonyms” too.

If you’ve been looking into helical foundation technology you might have already seen terms like “screw piers”, “helical piles”, and “TorcSill piles”. And it probably didn’t take too long before you wondered:

“What’s the difference between a screw pile, helical pier, and TorcSill pile?“

That’s a good question, and one of the more common ones I get asked. Since a lot of folks are wondering the same thing, I thought it was time for me to sit down and write a solid answer. Give me a few minutes of your time and I’ll uncover the exact differences between screw piles, helical piers, and TorcSill piles.

What's the Right Name for a Helical Pier?

If you want the short answer, here it is:
Helical piers, screw piers, and TorcSill piles are all (essentially) the exact same thing. They have different names, but those names all refer to the same technology.
Let’s break it down.
The reason there’s so many different terms that describe a helical pier comes down to a couple factors:
1: Helical piers have been around nearly two centuries, so there’s been plenty of time for different names to arise.
2: Geographic differences (where the helical pier is manufactured and installed) have lead to different names being used, especially between Britain (prolific users of helical piers) and the United States
Let’s talk about that first point. Helical piers are a very long-lived technology, being first patented in the early 1830’s. When they were invented in Britain they were called “screw piles” because, well, they turned down into the ground like a giant screw.

Some examples of the earliest “screw piles” (helical piers) ever used. The structure on the right is the Maplin Sands lighthouse in the U.K.

As technology advanced, the engineers that studied helical piers increasingly understood the relation of a pier’s helix plates to its performance and capacity. Over time, particularly in the U.S., the term “helical pier” or “helical pile” became more common as it was seen as a more technically-correct name.

In the U.K. the term “screw piles” is still commonly used today, likely due to the technologies’ long history in the country. You’ll also see the term screw pile used more frequently in Canada.

Here in the beautiful United States the terms helical pier and helical pile are most common. Again, both names refer to the same technology. Here at S&B Helical we happen to call them helical piers.

Picture of a blue telehandler construction machine unloading large-diameter galvanized helical piers from the back of a semi-trailer

Thing is, what you call a helical pier isn’t as important as the design of that helical pier. It must match the definition of a helical pile (helical pier) as found in Howard Perko’s industry-accepted ‘Helical Piles: A Practical Guide to Design and Installation‘.

Here’s how Perko defines a helical pile (helical pier) in his book:

Helical Pile: “A manufactured steel foundation consisting of one or more helix-shaped bearing plates affixed to a central shaft that is rotated into the ground to support structures”
Howard Perko | Helical Piles: A Practical Guide to Design and Installation

If the end product meets those requirements it doesn’t matter if it’s called a helical pier, screw pier, or helical pile. What matters is that the design and engineering is done in accordance to accepted standards. That’s the only thing that can deliver a versatile and high-performance foundation.

Solid foundations come from smart design, expert engineering, and hard work

To recap:
● Helical piers can have lots of different names owing to regional differences and the longevity of the technology (almost 200 years)● It’s important to avoid getting caught up in names, and instead look at the technology itself● In order to be considered a true helical pier foundation, the helical pier must fit the definition of a “helical pile” laid out by Howard Perko in his book “Helical Piles: A Practical Guide to Design and Installation”● Names and terms may change, but the design and engineering of helical piers have rigid guidelines so you can ensure you’re getting a true helical pier

“Okay” I hear you say, “that’s all well and good, but you forgot about TorcSill piles. What’s the difference between a helicalpier and a TorcSillpile?“

That’s a good question, and I have a good answer for you.

What’s The Difference Between TorcSill Piles and Helical Piers?

I’ve been asked, more than a few times, how the helical piers we install at S&B Helical are different from a “TorcSill pile”.

TorcSill is a solid company run by good people. They’re also very well-known in foundation work. So well-known, in fact, they’ve experienced a phenomenon that happens with successful companies:

The name of their company has become synonymous with the technology they use.

Think of it like this: if you need to sneeze you might reach for a Kleenex. Even though the technical term for the nose-wiper is “facial tissue”, the name Kleenex is so well known that we refer to all facial tissue by the brand’s name.

White box with a white tissue box inside of it

This is a generic stock photo of facial tissue, but you and I would still call it “Kleenex”. That’s how powerful brand recognition can be

So, to answer the question… A “TorcSill pile” is the same thing as a helical pier.

TorcSill, in fact, doesn’t even call them “TorcSill piles”. They call them helical piers or helical piles like we do.

Here’s All The Names for a Helical Pier

Sorry if your head is spinning at this point, I know these different names can be confusing at first. Trust me, I had the same reaction back when I first started learning about the world of helical pier foundations.

To help you keep all these terms clear in your mind, here’s a list of the different names for a helical pier. Remember, the following terms all refer to the same helical foundation technology:
● helical pile● screw pier● screw pile● augured steel pile/pier (uncommon, used in some areas of Canada)

Now, this next part is important so read closely. There’s plenty of products on the market that have names similar to helical piers, but they are not true helical piers. Sometimes these products are even presented as having a helical pier design, but a closer look reveals they don’t follow the definition of a proper helical pier.

Some of the names to watch out for and avoid these faux helical piers are:
● ground screw● ground anchor● earth anchor● steel pier

Text showing what is and what isn’t considered as a helical pier. “Screw pile” “”Screw Pier” Helical Pier” are under what is considered. “ground screw” “ground anchor” “earth anchor” are not considered helical piers

Remember, if the design or product in question doesn’t match the definition of a true helical pier, it’s not a helical pier. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just means you can’t expect the engineering or performance of a true helical pier.


Now, even though I just spent a few minutes telling you that screw piles and helical piers are the same thing, there is one key exception.
It has nothing to do with the name of the helical pier…
But it has everything to do with the quality of your helical pier contractor.
See, while it might not matter if it’s called a screw pile or helical pier, how it’s installed does matter. The best thing you can do for your project is make sure you work with helical foundation experts. People with knowledge, integrity, and experience that follow the best current practices and principles.
Don’t get wrapped up in fancy names or glitzy marketing when it comes to your foundation. Stick with companies who do by-the-book work and trust in proven engineering.
Do that and you’ll have a solid foundation that will last for decades.
Question about helical pier foundations? Confused about the technology? Curious to see how a helical pier foundation could make your project more efficient and economical? 
Scroll down to get in touch with our foundation experts and they’ll help you de-mystify the best foundation for your project.

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