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Pier and Beam Foundation: Pros and Cons, Cost, and Comparisons (2022)

By Jacob L.

If you are building a house, one of the most important decisions you can make is to determine what kind of foundation it will rest on. While this may seem obvious, it is important to emphasize the importance of foundations: they keep your home in place even when the ground beneath it shifts, they keep the moisture out, they provide insulation, and they keep your house level. Therefore, builders choose foundations by considering the home’s location and climate, surrounding soil conditions, local humidity levels, and, last but not least, the price tag.

Pier and beam foundations are a popular choice for many home builders these days. Unlike basement foundations or concrete foundations, pier and beam foundations elevate houses off the ground, making this type of foundation ideal for areas that are prone to floods. Keep reading to learn more about the pros, cons, and costs of pier beam foundations. Plus, you’ll also get to see how pier and beam foundations stack up against other foundation types.

What is a Pier and Beam Foundation

Pier and beam foundations are a type of foundation that supports the structural integrity of your house or building. This specific type of foundation is built using rebar and concrete beams that are driven deep into the ground until they reach the bedrock. Additional beams are added to extend from one pier to another to increase support for the joists and flooring of the above structure.

Most modern homes are not built using pier and beam foundations because they are more expensive than slab foundations. Pier and beam foundations differ from slab foundations because the former is elevated by nearly 24 inches off the ground, and the latter sits directly on top of the ground. You will find pier and beam foundations below many homes built before the 1960s.

Pros and Cons of Pier and Beam Foundation

Pros

Protection from flooding

Flooding inside your home is less likely to occur because pier and beam foundations elevate structures off the ground. For rainy climates or land that is downstream from large bodies of water, pier and beam foundations can help prevent water from entering your home.

Repair costs

Although repair costs vary according to the nature of the damage done to your house’s foundation, pier and beam foundations are often easier and cheaper to repair because you can better isolate one portion of the foundation that needs to be replaced. The fact that pier and beam foundations elevate homes off the ground assists greatly with repair efforts.

Easier access to pipes and wiring

Pier and beam foundations create a crawl space that makes it easier to do repairs and modifications to your home. Unlike concrete slabs, which set electrical wiring and plumbing into the concrete, pier and beam foundations leave wires and pipes in more open and accessible spaces.

Increased mobility

While most homeowners don’t buy or build houses with the intention of moving the structure elsewhere, pier and beam foundations leave open the opportunity for you to move your house. Indeed, by elevating the house off the ground, this type of foundation gives you easy access to the underside of your house.

Flexibility for uneven plots of land

As housing development expands further into the countryside and away from easy-to-build-on land, pier and beam foundations create more flexibility for developers to build on uneven slopes. In comparison, concrete foundations tend to create foundation issues when a site is not level.

Lower excavation costs

Because pier and beam foundations elevate house structures off the ground, there is less of a need for construction crews to excavate deep into the ground. While this is largely true for concrete slabs as well, pier and beam foundations require far less excavation than full-basement foundations.

Cons

Increased dampness

The crawl spaces of pier and beam foundations can become quite damp depending on the location of your house and structure. While you might not be at risk of flooding because the foundation is elevated off the ground, you will still want to be aware and take steps, if necessary, to drain dampness out of your foundation.

Rotting

While dampness in your foundation is a minor issue, the larger problem at hand is the rotting that often follows a damp foundation. Consequently, your house’s structural integrity may falter, and you will be on the hook for thousands of dollars in repair costs.

Higher risk of infestations,

Unfortunately, the crawl spaces created by pier and beam foundations are havens for termites, insects, rodents, and other creatures that like to infest your home. But this should not stop you from considering a pier and beam foundation for your house, especially when there are so many professional pest control companies and DIY solutions to pest problems.

Earthquake risks

If your home stands on a faultline or an area susceptible to earthquakes, you may want to consider bolting or anchoring the beams to the posts and the posts to the foundation piers. Otherwise, your house may be at risk of shifting off its foundations during an earthquake or small seismic activity. Damage of this sort will prove exceptionally costly to repair.

Heating expenses

In colder climates, homeowners should be aware of the impact that cold air entering their crawl space can have on the temperature in their homes. Indeed, the crawl space created by pier and beam foundations collects cold air, but this can be mitigated by installing subflooring above the foundation.

Pier and Beam Foundation Repair

Type of Repair Summary Cost
Reshimming The process of refilling gaps between the sill and settled support piers of your foundation. Reshimming should be done every three to five years. $1,200 to $1,800
Rebuilding/Adding Pier Stacks Adding more piers to evenly support and distribute weight while smoothing out bowing floors. You can alternatively repair or replace piers that are damaged. $4,000 to $6,000
Replacing Wood Removing sections of damaged wood and replacing them with newer wood. When doing this, you need to temporarily support the crawl space to ensure your home doesn’t fall in on itself. $10,000 to $20,000
Add Underpinning to the Beam When the perimeter beam needs to be put back into its original position, you need to add drilled bell-bottom piers or concrete pillars to support the settled areas. $20,000+

Damage Types and Cost

Sagging Floors and Shifting Beams – Summary

When your house or structure’s floors begin sinking or settling, a variety of issues can develop that threaten the structure of your home. Sinking and sagging floors occur when foundation piers at the base of the pier shift due to soil movement, excessive moisture in the crawlspace and beam structures, and improperly prepared soil prior to construction.

Sagging Floors and Shifting Beams – Cost

In order to fix the problem of sagging floors and shifting beams, you should install shims, piers, and foundation supports. The extent of support that your foundation needs is dependent on the severity of your foundational problems. Consult a professional to assess what kind of repair your foundation needs. On the lower end, a simple reshimming may only cost up to $2,000. However, replacing wood or adding piers may require you to pay nearly $20,000 in repair fees.

Cracking Exterior Piers – Summary

A common type of damage associated with the pier and beam foundation is a cracked exterior pier. Specifically, cracked exterior piers can lead doorframes to fall out of kilter. These kinds of problems are not terribly dire and can usually be fixed relatively quickly.

Cracking Exterior Piers – Cost

Cracked exterior piers generally require you to add or replace exterior piers on your home. Depending on how many piers you need to add or replace, this repair should not cost more than several thousand dollars.

Tilting Piers and Building Problems – Summary

When piers begin to tilt, they can threaten the structural integrity of your house’s foundation by causing its beams to move. Tilting piers, like other problems associated with pier and beam foundations, are typically caused by moisture and dampness in your foundation’s crawlspace, infestations, and shifting soil underneath your house.

Tilting Piers and Building Problems – Cost

The best way to fix tilting piers is by stabilizing all piers that make up your house’s foundation. Again, the size of this repair is dependent on the number of piers that are tilting. This type of job will cost you in the realm of a few thousand dollars. That is unless you need to add underpinning to the beam to ensure stabilization — a process that can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Poor Construction – Summary

A poorly constructed house will cause all sorts of problems to your pier and beam foundation. Indeed, unevenly distributed weight, weak pieces of wood and supporting material, and a range of other issues that occur when a house is not built properly can put far too much pressure on your foundation.

Poor Construction – Cost

The best way to solve issues of poor construction is to raise your foundation and floor joists. This is a large project that you will be unlikely to do on your own. Consult a professional contractor to get a quote for a more accurate estimation of the cost.

Damp Crawlspace – Summary

It is all too common for the crawlspaces of pier and beam houses to have moisture issues. Luckily, the fix to dampness is usually not too expensive or time-consuming, assuming that your foundation isn’t completely flooded.

Damp Crawlspace – Cost

To get rid of dampness in your foundation’s crawlspace, you may simply need to wipe up moisture or use a fan to dry the area. However, if your dampness problem is more severe, you should seek a foundation drainage correction service. The cost of these repairs varies, so you should seek a quote from a professional to accurately assess the price of removing dampness from your foundation.

Moldy Beams – Summary

As previously mentioned, mold can eat away at the beams in your foundation until they are weak and unable to support the weight of your house. Mold can occur for a variety of reasons, but water and moisture are the usual culprits. As such, mold is the logical next step if you let dampness remain present in your foundation’s crawlspace for too long.

Mold Beams – Cost

To deal with moldy beams, you will need to extract the problem sections and replace them with new wood. You will also likely need to do some shimming to re-establish the strength of your home’s foundation. This repair job will cost you at least a few thousand dollars.

Pier and Beam vs. Other Foundations

Type of Foundation Summary Cost 
Pier and Beam Foundation This specific type of foundation is built using rebar and concrete beams that are driven deep into the ground until they reach the bedrock. Additional beams are added to extend from one pier to another to increase support for the floor joists and flooring of the above structure. Approximately $21,000 for a 2,000-square foot house.
Basement Foundation This is a type of foundation built at least eight feet below the ground to accommodate an underground living space. The structural foundation walls are placed on concrete footings that run the perimeter of the basement. Approximately $40,000 for a 2,000-square foot house.
Crawlspace Stem Walls Foundation This is a short foundation with walls on concrete footings or stem walls that form the foundations of a house. The crawlspace created is a slightly elevated space below a house that you can crawl through and has enough room for storage or a furnace. Approximately $14,000 for a 2,000-square foot house.
Concrete Slab Foundation The concrete slab foundation, sometimes called a monolithic or monoslab foundation, is made of a flat concrete slab resting on the ground in one piece. These types of foundations are less expensive and faster to build. Approximately $13,000 for a 2,000-square foot house.
Wood Foundation Using preservative-treated wood, you can build a wood foundation that is resistant to decay and easy to install. These foundations are easy to install because they are less labor-intensive and less expensive. Approximately $10,000 for a 2,000-square foot house.

Pier and Beam vs. Basement

Basement foundations are built at least eight feet below the ground to accommodate an underground living space. For maximal support, the structural foundation walls are placed on concrete footings that run the perimeter of the basement. These footings are placed 12 inches below the soil and at least 12 inches below the frost line. Finally, the basement beings to take shape as you pour beams, put in foundation walls, and pour a cement slab inside the walls.

The main advantage to basement foundations is that they provide extra living space for your home, and oftentimes, they double the home’s square footage. In colder climates like the Midwest and Northeast states, basement foundations are common because the home’s foundation needs to be put below the frost line anyway to prevent the home from shifting during thaw and freeze cycles.

Basement foundations are the most expensive type of foundation, and they are not advisable in areas with flooding risks. As a result, pier and beam foundations may be a better alternative if you are hoping to elevate your home off the ground and pay slightly less in construction costs.

Pier and Beam vs. Crawl Space

Crawlspace stem wall foundations are short foundations with walls on concrete footings or stem walls that form the foundations of a house. The crawlspace created is a slightly elevated space below a house that you can crawl through and has enough room for storage or a furnace. Like pier and beam foundations, crawlspace stem wall foundations offer protection from flooding and other environmental hazards by elevating the house above the ground. They are also usually less expensive than building a full basement.

This type of foundation is popular throughout the United States, especially in areas where earthquakes frequently occur. The sturdiness of crawlspace stem wall foundations is, therefore, a major benefit. But like pier and beam foundations, this type of foundation is prone to mold, mildew, and associated problems.

Pier and Beam vs. Concrete

The concrete slab foundation, sometimes called a monolithic or monoslab foundation, is made of a flat concrete slab resting on the ground in one piece. These types of foundations are less expensive and faster to build.

It is a fairly simple process to install a concrete slab foundation: you lay a concrete-embedded beam nearly two feet deep around the perimeter of the slab and embed wire mesh and steel bars to reinforce the foundation. Because there are no crawlspaces present in the foundation, homeowners need not worry about maintenance issues like dampness, infestations, and mold that are present in pier and beam foundations.

The downsides to concrete slab foundations are that they will crack in cold climates when the ground freezes and thaws, and problems with drainage pipes will require you to cut into the slab to access the pipes embedded in the concrete.

Pier and Beam vs. Wood

While wood may not be the most intuitive choice for a house’s foundation, it is actually a relatively popular type of foundation for many homebuilders. To ensure that the wood used in your foundation doesn’t rot, this type of foundation is made from preservative-treated wood. Many home builders prefer wood foundations because they are cheaper and less labor-intensive to install.

Although you may doubt the durability of wood foundations, archaeologists have discovered wooden beams in Egyptian pyramids that are more than 6,000 years old. So, in other words, your house can handle wooden foundations. Nevertheless, you can certainly put greater trust in the durability of concrete foundations over wood foundations.

Final Thoughts

Foundations are incredibly important because they keep your home in place even when the ground beneath it shifts, they keep the moisture out, they provide insulation, and they keep your house level. After reading this article, you should have a good idea of what pier and beam foundations have to offer. As you now know, pier and beam foundations elevate houses off the ground, making this type of foundation ideal for areas that are prone to floods and making it easier to repair pipes and wires under your home. While the pier and beam foundation may not be right for every home, they’re certainly a great option for many homebuilders to consider.

 

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