Deck foundations are a key element of any deck. The foundation supports the weight of the deck and everything that sits on it, ensuring the structure is stable and safe. The result of an improperly installed deck foundation will result in deck failure, potential injury and damage. Popular options for deck foundations are screw pile, concrete pile and concrete pad foundations. In this article, we will discuss the differences between these three types of deck foundations and determine which one is better.
Screw Pile Deck Foundations
Screw pile deck foundations consist of long, steel screws that are twisted into the ground using a hydraulic torque motor. These screws are made from durable materials such as galvanized steel, which makes them resistant to rust and other environmental factors. Screw piles are typically installed using a skid-steer or small excavator, which can access tight spaces where large equipment cannot.
One of the primary advantages of screw pile deck foundations is that they can be installed quickly and with minimal disruption to the surrounding area. The installation process does not require any excavation, which means there is no need to remove large amounts of soil or disrupt any existing landscaping. This can be especially beneficial in areas with limited space, steep terrain, or delicate ecosystems. They are relatively low cost due to their quick installation with no materials being hauled off site.
Another advantage of screw pile foundations is their versatility. They can be used in a wide range of soil types, including sandy, loamy, and clay soils. They can also be installed at a variety of depths, depending on the load requirements of the deck. Additionally, screw piles are relatively easy to remove, making them a great option for temporary structures.
Once installed, you can immediately begin installing the deck which is a great advantage as opposed to concrete piles. Also once set, you can make minor height adjustments to the screw piles for added ease of installation with the deck beams.
One disadvantage when it comes to screw piles is they may not be easily installed on rock beds. Under these circumstances, another foundation may be better suited. Also machine access is essentially required. Manual installation is very labour intensive and will increase the cost significantly.
Screw Pile Overview:
Lifespan: 5/5 Can last 100+ years if installed correctly with quality materials
Look: 4/5 Their low profile makes them a great option
Support: 5/5 Can withstand very heavy loads
Versatility: 5/5 There's a screw pile for almost anything
Frost Proof: 5/5 Installed at depths well below the frost line
Material Strength: 5/5 Galvanized steel for high loads
Installation: 4/5 Very quick installation, requires small machine access
Price: 4/5 With their quick installation, they're offered at a moderate cost
Total Score - 4.63 / 5
Best For: Any application where small machinery can access the project area.
Concrete Pile Deck Foundations (Piers)
Concrete pile deck foundations are typically created on site using concrete mix. They can be made in different sizes to accommodate different load requirements. Concrete pile foundations are ideal for decks that require significant support or are built on unstable soil.
One of the primary advantages of concrete pile deck foundations is their strength and durability. Concrete piles are designed to withstand a significant amount of weight and pressure, which makes them ideal for decks that require superior support. They're also resistant to environmental factors such as rust, rot and insect infestations, which means they can last for decades with minimal maintenance.
Another advantage of concrete pile foundations is their versatility. They can be used in a wide range of soil types, including sandy, loamy, and clay soils. They can also be installed at a variety of depths, depending on the load requirements of the deck. Additionally, concrete piles can be reinforced with steel rebar, which makes them even stronger and more durable. Concrete piles typically don't require machinery although it can make the job easier and less time consuming. Some types of concrete piles will require machinery.
The main disadvantage of concrete piles, is their long drying process, once installed, they will need to sit for a couple of days before the project can continue. Another disadvantage of concrete piles, is that it's hard to change their height once installed, typically the posts need to be adjusted to suit the height of the deck, leading to minor time consuming adjustments. Also the top of the pile can be uneven requiring added work after its installed and set.
Concrete Pile Overview:
Lifespan: 4/5 Can last decades if installed correctly
Look: 3/5 Relatively low profile with minimal footprint
Support: 5/5 Can withstand very heavy loads
Versatility: 4/5 Can be installed in various conditions
Frost Proof: 4/5 Installed at depths below frost line, can be subject to heaving
Material Strength: 5/5 Concrete for high loads - Rebar can be added
Installation: 3/5 Long installation due to material hauling, machine may not be needed
Price: 3/5 Long installation time & high material cost leads to higher cost
Total Score - 3.88 / 5
Best For: Applications where small machinery can't access the project area while heavy load support is required
Concrete Pad Foundation
Concrete pad deck foundations offer several benefits that make them a popular choice among homeowners and contractors alike. A concrete pad foundation is a pre-cast slab or a solid slab of concrete that is poured directly onto the ground and used to support a deck structure.
A key benefit of concrete pad deck foundations is their ease of installation. Unlike some other types of deck foundations, such as piers or footings, a concrete pad foundation requires minimal excavation and does not require heavy machinery. The installation process involves minor excavation, installing a gravel base, leveling the base and placing the concrete slab on the base or pouring the concrete slab, which can be done relatively quickly and efficiently.
Concrete pad deck foundations are also incredibly versatile. They can be used in a variety of soil conditions, including areas with poor drainage, rocky soil, or high water tables. Additionally, concrete pad foundations can be customized to fit the exact size and shape of the deck structure, making them a great choice for decks with unique designs or layouts.
Concrete pad deck foundations are a relatively cost-effective option for homeowners and contractors. They require less labor and equipment than some other types of foundations, which can help keep costs down. Adjustable supports can be added for a quick beam installation.
Concrete pad deck foundations have a reduced environmental impact compared to some other types of foundations. They do not require much excavation or removal of soil, which means there is less disturbance to the surrounding ecosystem. Additionally, the installation process does not produce much excess waste, which can help reduce the amount of material that ends up in landfills.
The disadvantages of concrete pad foundations are as follows. Concrete pads are not ideal for slopes as erosion can increase the risk of failure. The frost during winter months can also move or alter the position of the post leading to maintenance in the future as well as other issues that can arise. Installation time is also not as convenient as a screw pile; however definitely better than a concrete pile. Their larger footprint makes them a poor choice for some situations and if the deck foundation is exposed, they aren't as nice to look at as some other options.
Concrete Pad Overview:
Lifespan: 3/5 Can last decades if installed correctly and maintained
Look: 2/5 Relatively low profile with increased footprint
Support: 3/5 Can withstand heavy loads if installed with proper pad size
Versatility: 3/5 Can be installed in various conditions
Frost Proof: 2/5 Installed above frost line, can be subject to heaving
Material Strength: 4/5 Concrete for heavy loads
Installation: 4/5 Moderate installation due to material hauling, machine not required
Price: 4/5 Moderate installation time & material cost leads to moderate cost
Total Score - 3.13 / 5
Best For: Applications where small machinery can't access the project area or if you are on a low budget and want to install them on your own
Which One Is Better?
The choice between screw pile, concrete pile and concrete pad deck foundations is a relatively easy choice. With screw pile technology advancing, there is a screw pile for essentially every application. The average deck screw pile can support 4000+ pounds per pile. Larger screw piles can be used for decks with heavy loads from enclosures, etc. They make screw piles that can support 250,000lbs of force so the options are endless. Their quick installation with a relatively low cost make them a great choice for nearly every deck application. If you can access the property with small machinery, you are better off with the screw pile nearly every time. Installing screw piles by hand is a very labour intensive installation requiring multiple people. If machine access is not available, a concrete pile is your next best option. For a quick and cheap installation where machine access is not available, the concrete pad is your best option.
In summary, screw pile, concrete pile and concrete pad deck foundations have their advantages and disadvantages. The choice between them depends on the specific needs of the project. However, regardless of which type of foundation is chosen, it is essential to work with a professional contractor who has experience with these types of foundations to ensure that the installation is done correctly and safely.
Winner: Screw Piles!
What We Use When We Install Decks - We use screw piles on nearly every installation due to their quick and easy installation with exceptional strength and durability; leading to a secure and durable finished product you can trust while enjoying your new deck sooner. We often times use screw piles for deck stairs as well.
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