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HHI-Pedia Entry

Pier Foundations

By HHI Staff

Often used in hot, humid climates, pier foundations are the easiest to build when it comes to healthy construction. Less conventional than other foundation types, pier foundations can look out-of-place in a subdivision. Yet for a house on the water or hillside, pier foundations can add a striking design element.

 

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When a pier foundation lifts a house up off the ground, the house is separated from the soil. Because there is little direct contact with the ground, radon, moisture and termites are less of a problem than with other foundations. The piers themselves can be made of concrete, masonry or insect-resistant (usually chemically-treated) wood.
Insulation
From an energy standpoint, a pier foundation itself doesn’t need to be insulated, but the floor system of the house should be. The floor will, in effect, function just like an exterior wall and it should be insulated, tightly constructed and fitted with a diffusion retarder. A pier foundation can be combined with a variety of floor framing systems: metal or wood joists, wood or concrete subfloor.
Drainage
Pier foundations must have proper drainage to ensure the surface water is directed away from the structure. If the ground slopes toward the structure, water will run under the house and form puddles; havens for microorganisms or insects such as mosquitoes. A high water table will require an underground drainage system to minimize uneven settlement and frost heaving.
Covering the Foundation
The bare ground under a house built on piers can be unsightly and dusty. A covering of crushed stone or gravel will improve appearance and help control the dust. Because the area under the house is shielded from both sun and rain, weed growth is generally not a problem. Weed growth can be prevented by laying, plastic sheeting under the gravel.

A latticework of wood or metal around the perimeter can sometimes enhance the appearance and make the foundation look more conventional. The space under the house should not be totally sealed with a skirting material—as is done with mobile homes—because it will begin to function like a crawl space and cause build-up of moisture and radon. Leaving the area under house as open as possible is the best and safest option.
Termite Control
The tops of the piers can be capped with a metal termite shield so insects cannot sneak into the house through small cracks or openings in the piers. If piers are made of masonry, and a termite shield is not used, the tops should be well-sealed to prevent radon from rising up through them into the floor system.

 

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Pier Foundations:  Created on May 8th, 2010.  Last Modified on May 17th, 2010

 

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