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How to Build a Pier and Beam Foundation:
A Step-by-Step Guide

By Shay Glisson
Published June 28, 2024
Estimated read time: 8 minutes

Foundations utilizing pier and beam construction offer numerous advantages in areas prone to inclement weather and unstable soil. These include versatility, simplified and cost-effective building processes, and lower flood damage risks.

This step-by-step guide explores the advantages of pier and beam foundations and their applications and provides instructions on installing these supportive systems.

What is a Pier and Beam Foundation?

A pier-and-beam foundation elevates a home off the ground using pillars (piers) as its support system. They have two primary components: vertical piers made from concrete or brick and horizontal beams constructed from wood or steel. Together, these elements form a sturdy grid that supports your home.

This foundation type creates a crawlspace beneath the house, providing convenient maintenance access to electrical and plumbing systems. Pier-and-beam foundations are often chosen for homes in regions prone to flooding or with unstable soil conditions.

Concrete Piers and beams

Structure of Pier and Beam Foundations

Piers

Piers are vertical structural elements inserted into the ground, usually made of concrete, masonry, or steel. Spaced at regular intervals, they support the building’s weight, and their depth and size are determined by the soil conditions and required load-bearing capacity.

Beams

Beams, usually made of wood or steel, are installed horizontally across the piers. These beams support the floor joists and the home’s flooring system.

Crawl Space

By design, every pier and beam foundation includes a crawl space. This crawl space is the gap created beneath the house by the pier and beam elevation. This area provides easy access to plumbing, electrical, and HVAC systems, making maintenance and repairs more convenient.

Pier and beam foundation diagram

Materials Required for a Pier and Beam Foundation

Pier and beam foundations are constructed using various materials. Selecting materials based on the project requirements is best, as some may be better suited to specific conditions than others. The most commonly used pier and beam foundation materials include:

Piers

Piers are vertical columns that transfer the load to the ground. They are made from:

  • Concrete
  • Brick
  • Steel

Concrete, brick, and steel piers provide strength, stability, and durability in pier and beam foundations. However, each material has benefits and is suitable for different project scales and requirements. Concrete is typically recommended for smaller-scale projects because it is affordable, while steel benefits larger, heavy-load projects despite its higher cost. Installation times and difficulty vary; concrete installations can be more labor-intensive, but they provide a budget-friendly option for small businesses and homeowners.

Beams

Beams are horizontal supports that distribute the load to the ground. Beam materials include:

  • Wood
  • Steel
  • Concrete

Wooden beams are less expensive than steel beams, but steel is more durable. The risk of damage caused by moisture and insects is also lower with steel beams. Despite this, many constructors still choose wooden beams when building homes due to their easy availability, value, and ease of repair.

Creating a pier and beam foundation requires concrete footings to establish the base of the pier and effectively distribute the load to the ground.

Benefits of Pier and Beam Foundations

Pier and beam foundations offer many benefits, including:

  • Flexibility and Versatility: Pier and beam foundations are adaptable to many soil types, making them suitable for various sites. This foundation type can be used in flood-prone areas and in sites containing unstable soil.
  • Moisture Prevention: Pier and beam foundations are elevated, creating space between the ground and the structure. This can reduce moisture exposure and protect against water damage.
  • Improved Accessibility: The crawl space affords easy access to plumbing and electrical systems for hassle-free maintenance and repairs.
  • Cost Effectiveness: Pier and beam foundation installation and maintenance are often less expensive than other foundation types.
worker inside encapsulated crawl space

Step-by-Step Construction Process

1. Plan and Design

Before you begin, obtain the relevant permits and design the foundation layout. Consider the structure’s size and any environmental considerations, including proximity to bodies of water, hills, or infrastructure such as water lines.

2. Site Preparation

The next phase involves preparing the site. Clear the plot, level the ground, and mark the foundation layout. This step includes testing the load-bearing soil value.

3. Excavation and Pouring

After preparing the site, the next step is excavation. Holes are required to create concrete footings for the piers. Determine the appropriate size and quantity of footings based on the structure’s dimensions. The width and depth of the footings will vary accordingly.

4. Pier & Beam Installation

Position the beams on the piers and secure them. Several methods are available for securing secure piers and beams, including metal brackets, connectors, anchor bolts, shims, cradle beams, and beam pockets. Choosing fasteners for ground-level construction in Texas requires considering material compatibility, corrosion resistance, and strength.

While stainless steel or silicon bronze might suit their corrosion resistance, the specific choice depends on the project. Always remember to follow local building codes, which may have performance requirements for fasteners. Once you’ve chosen the primary method to secure your piers to your beams, consider the long-term durability of your structure.

Additional security measures like cross-bracing, foundation piers, or grout can further enhance the stability of your foundation.

5. Backfilling and Finishing

The final step involves backfilling around the piers and grading the area. Ensure all finishing touches are completed to maximize security and stability.

Safety Considerations

It’s crucial to understand the risks involved with foundation construction. Safety should always be a top priority. Here are a few safety considerations:

  • Wear protective personal equipment (PPE) during the construction process.
  • Plan thoroughly.
  • Secure the site. Ensure individuals without appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), children, and pets, remain at a safe distance.
  • Ensure you have the expertise to operate appropriate machinery and tools.
  • Clear the site before you begin laying the foundation.
  • Exercise caution when lifting heavy items: utilize machinery or vehicles for safe transportation.
  • Seek expert advice.
  • Always ensure that you are familiar with local building codes and regulations.
Man putting on work gloves

We recommend contacting a professional, local foundation repair expert for assistance. Foundation installation, repair, and maintenance can pose safety hazards that only a professional can address with the appropriate tools and expertise. They also ensure code compliance and regulation adherence.

Maintenance and Inspection

Regular inspections detect issues early, which reduces the risk of further damage and enhances longevity and durability. Here are a few tips to maintain your pier and beam foundation:

  • Regularly inspect and maintain drainage systems.
  • Inspect foundations for signs of damage or wear.
  • Keep gutters clear of debris.
  • Consider installing trench drains as needed.
  • Consider adding a moisture maintenance system.
  • Be proactive in reducing the risk of water damage.
  • Inspect the crawl space regularly.
  • Plant small shrubs to boost water absorption.

Basic maintenance saves time and money in the long term. If you don’t have time to inspect and maintain your foundation and drainage systems, seek professional advice. Crawl space encapsulation keeps piers and beams in optimal condition.

Signs of Foundation Damage

There are several problem signs that indicate the need for repair. Common issues to look for include:

  • Sagging floors
  • Gaps between the floors and walls
  • Doors that don’t close fully
  • Signs of rotten, decaying wood
  • Excess moisture in the crawl space
  • Tilted or uneven beams
decaying floor beam

If you notice signs of damage, contact a local foundation expert for repairs before problems worsen.

Contact FSS for Help With Your Pier and Beam Foundation

FSS work truck

Piers and beams are versatile, durable foundation systems that support structures in various conditions. Compared to other foundations, they offer home and business owners a cost-effective solution.

Contact Foundation Support Specialists for a free inspection and to learn more.

Pier and Beam Foundation FAQs

The time it takes to repair a pier and beam foundation can vary considerably depending on the extent of the damage and the specific repair solutions being implemented. Generally, minor repairs can be completed in a few days, while more extensive repairs may take several weeks. In projects where additional piers are being installed or the entire foundation is being replaced, the timeline could extend even further. 

Pier and beam foundations, also known as post and beam foundations, offer several advantages. They provide easy access to plumbing and electrical systems, reducing repair and modification costs. Elevating the house above ground level enhances flood protection. These foundations also absorb ground movements better, resulting in fewer cracks and structural issues, offering a more comfortable living experience. 

Some pros to this type of foundation include:

  • Homes are more protected from flooding since they are elevated.
  • They offer easy access to plumbing and electrical systems that can be housed underneath the home.

Some cons to pier and beam foundation include:

  • Can attract vermin and rodents.
  • May gather moisture that is hard to control.

Related Resources

Shaye Glisson

Shaye Glisson

Shaye is an SEO Content Writer for Groundworks with over twelve years of experience creating helpful content across various industries, including home services and retail. She is a Gulf Coast native and writes from her firsthand knowledge of the area's hurricane and flood impacts on the local community. In her free time, Shaye enjoys exploring the local food and music scenes.

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