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If you asked me what the absolute number one most-popular question our team gets at S&B Helical, it has to be…
“How much is a helical pier foundation going to cost me?”
That question is, by far, the most common one we’re asked. And don’t get me wrong, it’s a completely reasonable question.
But. (There’s always a “but”, isn’t there?)
Coming up with an answer isn’t as easy as throwing around some vague price ranges that don’t really mean anything. When it comes to industrial helical pier foundations, there’s no “one size fits all” answer I can give.
What I can do is tell you about the factors our own team considers when creating an estimate for a helical pier foundation.
I’ll show you what makes the biggest impact on the cost of your foundation and how you can identify bad estimates from a mile away - helping you avoid huge financial headaches.
1) 4 Key Factors to the Cost of a Helical Pier Foundation
1.1) Factor 1: Type of Structure to be Supported
1.2) Factor 2: Soil Conditions
1.3) Factor 3: Location of the Jobsite
1.4) Factor 4: Your Helical Foundation Contractor
2) Watch Out for These 3 Sneaky Helical Pier Pricing Tactics
2.1) “Forgetting” to quote long enough helical piers
2.2) Not including the helical pier finishing work
2.3) Leaving mobilization costs off the estimate
3) What to Look For in a Helical Pier Estimate
4) Cost of Helical Piers Compared to Concrete or Driven Piers
The price of a helical pier foundation is determined by more than just how many helical piers need to be installed. They come in a staggering range of sizes, designs, and applications, each with their own unique benefits and uses.
This is great news for your project, as you’ll get a foundation that perfectly fits your structure. Flipside, it also complicates things when it comes to estimating the cost of your helical pier foundation.
When our engineers sit down to design a helical foundation, they have an almost staggering number of things to consider. For the sake of this article, and our sanity, I’m going to limit us to 4 key factors engineers consider when estimating the cost of your helical pier foundation.
Factor 1: Type of Structure to be Supported
A good place to start is by assessing the type of structure that needs support. Our design team studies every aspect of your structure, including:
● Weight● Physical footprint● Function of structure● Types of expected loads● Foundation-to-structure connection● Location of structure● And more
These aspects have a big impact on the design of the foundation, including how many helical piers you need and what sizes. That, in turn, will affect the final cost of your foundation. This is a great benefit of helical piers, because instead of a “one size” solution our engineers will design a foundation that precisely fits your project. Nothing more, or less, than you need.
Factor 2: Soil Conditions
The unique composition of the soil will affect the type and amount of piers needed. It also dictates what installation equipment we use, how deep the piers go, and how hard it’ll be to install them.
Helical piers going into firm and well-supported soil free of impediments will be easier (and probably cheaper) to install than ones going into a mucky bog or gravelly desert hardpan.
You can see the different layers of soil in the cross-section. The depth and composition of these layers can have a big impact on the design of a helical pier foundation
Soil conditions also affect the corrosion of the helical pier, which may necessitate a protective coating like galvanization or an increase in steel thickness. The harsher the soil conditions, the more it could cost you to install a foundation.
Factor 3: Location of the Jobsite
If your jobsite is in a remote or hard-to-access area, your costs will likely increase. That’s true for any work on a remote site, it simply costs more to mobilize materials and equipment to out-of-the-way locations.
The more out-of-the-way your jobsite is, the more costly it can be to transport material and equipment. Fortunately, helical piers mitigate this with their lightweight design
One of the benefits of helical piers is they’re lighter and easier to transport than a material like concrete. Due to their lower cost of transport, helical’s tend to be more economical to use on remote or hard-access sites compared to other foundations. Plus, they require less equipment to install which further pushes your costs down.
Sometimes your site isn’t in a remote location, but it's difficult to access for other reasons. It might be in a tight spot, at a tough elevation, or in an area without decent roads or services. These types of sites can affect your price as well.
Factor 4: Your Helical Foundation Contractor
Working with a cheap foundation contractor can (and often does) end up costing you more money in the long run.
I know because I’ve seen it happen.
One time, a company in North Dakota got in touch with us. Turns out another helical contractor had botched the foundation for their new cryogenic plant. They needed someone to pick up the pieces, so our team at S&B Helical came in to fix it.
The other helical contractor had been chosen as the “cheaper” option, but their inexperience ended up costing the project tens of thousands of dollars. While we were able to put the pieces back together and finish the job right, the client had still wasted time and money on a poor-fit contractor.
Raw steel and heavy equipment aren’t the only things needed to install a helical pier foundation. There's much more science to helical pier foundations than simply "putting pipes in the ground".
A good helical contractor will make your life easier and your project run smoother. A bad one will bring no end of grief and cost you money. If you want a durable, strong, and efficient foundation, then choose your helical contractor carefully.
Like any industry out there, the helical pier market has good and bad operators. The good operators can’t stand the lazy amateurs, because they give the rest of us a bad name.
That’s why I like to highlight the unscrupulous tactics of bad actors in the helical pier market – so you can avoid working with a nightmare contractor.
One place to be extra-careful is during the bid process. This is the perfect opportunity for underhanded operators to slip in and try to take you for a ride. They tend to follow the same playbook though, so I’m able to let you in on some of their sneaky pricing tactics.
“Forgetting” to quote long enough helical piers
Helical piers are manufactured in sections, generally in 10 to 25 foot lengths. This makes them easier to transport and more cost-effective to install.
In order to achieve the required depth of the pier, we don’t need to transport crazy-long helicals to your site. Instead we couple extensions together as we install the pier, until it reaches the required specifications.
You get exactly the pier you need without any unnecessary extra.
This unique design also means that your costs will increase based on the how many extensions you need. Be warned, this is exactly where a crooked contractor can pull some pricing trickery.
Some helical contractors will intentionally quote only the cost of the lead sections on their estimate, or under-quote how many extensions are needed. Conveniently “forgetting” to quote the extensions, they wait until they’re on-site and hold your project hostage until you agree to the additional cost of the extensions (which they knew they’d need).
A quality helical pier contractor will be transparent and honest about how many extensions they estimate they’ll need to complete the foundation. Plus they’ll include the cost of additional extensions in their estimate to account for unexpected conditions in advance, so you won’t be surprised by added costs in the late game.
Not including the helical pier finishing work
Once your helical piers are in the ground, they aren’t quite a cohesive foundation yet.
Finishing work is needed to transform them into a functional foundation. This might involve attaching a grillage, pier cap, pipe supports, or other support, in order to couple to your structure.
This structure needed a grillage to attach the structure to the helical piers. Finishing work adds cost to your project and a good contractor will include these costs on your estimate
Designing and completing this finishing work can take the effort of engineers, machinists, and welders. If that cost isn’t accounted for in the estimate, it can cause a big shock in the final stages of the foundation install.
Leaving mobilization costs off the estimate
In order to get materials, employees, and equipment to a jobsite, it costs money in terms of fuel and transport. These expenses are referred to as mobilization costs.
Helical piers are easier to transport and handle on-site than other solutions
Good news is, helical pier foundations tend to be less expensive to mobilize than other foundations. Bad news is, these expenses can still catch you off-guard if you’re not ready for them.
Some contractors will conveniently “forget” to include mobilization fees on the estimate, or purposely under-quote them, then hit you with extra costs later. Quality contractors have a good idea of what it will cost to get the project mobilized and will include this on their estimate.
When you’re reviewing helical foundation bids for your project, you need a quick and easy way to sort the good from the bad. Since we know you can’t rely on price alone, how do you sort-out the great helical pier contractors from the dangerous amateurs?
Good helical pier contractors should be happy to walk you through their estimates and explain all the costs. They’re not hiding behind sneaky tactics to try and undercut the competition, they’re focused on giving you the best foundation possible.
Here’s some things you should watch out for on a helical pier estimate to try and separate the good contractors from the bad:
● Is their pricing open and transparent?● Are costs like mobilization and pier extensions included?● Have they accounted for unexpected costs or site conditions (as much as is possible)?● Does their bid explain how the piers will be connected to your structure and the cost of finishing work?● If you ask about any of the costs on their estimate, do they take the time to explain them to you?
At this point, you might wonder how helical piers compare in cost to cast concrete or driven pier solutions.
Again, there isn’t one definitive answer. The cost of a concrete or driven foundation will be determined by a number of factors, just like a helical foundation.
How do these foundations compare in cost? It all depends on the specifics of your project
Instead, I’ll put it this way:
In projects where helical piers are a good fit, they will often cost less than poured or driven piers. Does that mean helical piers are always cheaper? No. They were never intended to be a “budget foundation”. The fact they do tend to be more economical is further proof of their efficient design.
Helical piers, ultimately, represent outstanding value.
They let you put more projects, in more places, on better support, for less effort, in less time. You can’t assess whether they’re worth it or not based on price alone. Consider things like:
● Foundation performance you need● Soil conditions at your site● Climate forces acting on your foundation● Access to your site – is it remote or hard to reach?● Mobilization costs – how much will it cost to get everything to your site?● Environmental considerations – will you need to remediate the site someday and leave no trace?
At this point, you might be appreciating the challenges engineers and designers face when designing a helical pier foundation solution. You might also appreciate why it’s surprisingly difficult to give a short answer to the question, “How much does a helical pier cost?“
We’re not trying to force you to talk to us in order to get a price. We need to talk to you so we can give you the most accurate price we can. If a contractor is willing to give you a price before even looking at the basics of your project, be wary of them.
There was a lot of ground covered in this post today, so here’s a summary of what we talked about…
Helical pier cost factors
Every project is unique and requires the consideration of a list of factors when designing a helical foundation. A consequence of this is that no two projects are ever really the same. There’s no “one size fits all” price for helical piers. The cost is ultimately determined by many factors, but 4 key ones are:
● Type of structure to be supported● Soil conditions at the site● Location and ease of access of jobsite● Quality of your helical foundation contractor
Watch out for crooked contractors
Don’t forget: good helical pier contractors want to have accurate estimates. Bad helical pier contractors create inaccurate and confusing estimates that leave out important pricing factors.
Three tactics I’ve seen unscrupulous contractors use to make their estimates appear cheaper are:
● “Forgetting” to quote long enough helical piers● Not including the helical pier finishing work● Leaving mobilization costs off the estimate
Consider this before making a foundation decision
While helical piers can cost less than other deep foundation solutions, you should never make a decision based on price alone. Money only tells part of the story.
You also need to consider:
● Foundation performance (type of structure, loads, etc)● Soil conditions at your site● Climate forces acting on your foundation● Access to your site – is it remote or hard to reach?● Mobilization costs – how much will it cost to get everything to your site?● Environmental considerations – will you need to remediate the site someday and leave no trace?
Even though I can’t give you a simple answer to the question “How much does a helical pier foundation cost?”, I can say this:
Helical piers let us build in more places than ever before.
Their speed, convenience, ease of transport, and ability to install in a range of conditions, makes them an adaptable and versatile foundation. They’re unlocking a world of better, safer, more environmentally-friendly structures.
That might just be priceless.
Debating if helical piers might be a better support for your project? Wondering if the estimate you got from another contractor is honest? Have foundation questions you need answered? Scroll down to get in touch with our foundation experts at S&B Helical.
We help people find the answers to their tough foundation questions every single day.
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