Before the 1960s, homes used to sit propped up above the ground vs. have a concrete foundation. In fact, back before slab technology was refined, most homes were elevated by pier and beam structures.
Today, pier and beam foundations (sometimes called post and beam) aren’t as common but are still the norm in certain parts of the country, especially in areas that receive a lot of rain or are prone to flooding.
When designing your home, you should consider using pier and beam foundations for their advantages over slabs. However, they also have several disadvantages you should consider before making a decision. Our guide should help you weigh your options and determine if a pier and beam foundation is right for your home.
Uses for Pier and Beam Structures
Pier and beam foundations aren’t just used for older homes; these structures include decks, sheds, raised homes, and fishing piers. The pier and beam method is a very cost-effective way to secure any of the above structures. The piers can go deep into the ground, offering strong support for the beams and foundation of your structure.
There are several reasons you might want to consider using pier and beam construction:
1. Drainage: One of the main advantages of pier and beam foundations is that they offer much better drainage than slab foundations. By elevating your home off the ground, water can drain away from the base of your home, preventing flooding and pooling.
2. Easy Access: Have you ever tried to crawl under your house? It’s not easy. With pier and beam foundations, it’s a breeze. This accessibility can be a huge advantage if you need to make repairs or want to add new plumbing or electrical lines.
3. Repairability: If there is damage to your pier and beam foundation, it’s much easier (and less expensive) to repair than a damaged slab. Individual piers can be replaced or repaired without affecting the rest of the foundation.
In addition to these benefits, there are also some more benefits with a few disadvantages that can explain why they might be less used these days. Either way, it can help you determine if the structure you need a foundation for can manage with a pier and beam system.
Comparing the Pros and Cons of Pier and Beam Foundations
Pier and beam foundations, as we said, are a bit outdated, but in the right climate and scenario they can be the best fit for your home or structure. In order to find that out, we recommend:
- Getting a professional inspection of your property
- Weighing the benefits and disadvantages
To get started, here are the pros and cons of pier and beam foundations.
- Pier and beam foundations (sometimes called post and beam) elevate homes to protect them from flooding and moisture.
- Between the home and the ground is a crawl space high enough to crawl through (hence, the name), allowing utilities including plumbing and electrical wiring/units, to be installed and easily accessed if issues should occur.
- In fact, the above point is probably the biggest advantage pier and beam foundations have over slab foundations. For example, if there are any plumbing problems in the latter, it could require having to break open the concrete floor to get at any damaged pipes. Generally, the former has fewer foundational problems than slab structures and can be less expensive to repair.
- There’s also an extra bit of insulation from the air under the home, saving you on energy costs. Some people prefer the feel of the wood platform over a concrete floor. While this might attract termites, they’re actually easier to detect, thanks to the crawl space.
While the pros of pier and beam foundations may make them seem like a superior choice to slab foundations, there are also many cons you should consider.
The biggest disadvantage of pier and beam foundations compared with slab structures is the cost. While the foundations of small sheds and buildings may be cheaper with a pier and beam structure, elevating your home is almost always more expensive than letting it sit directly on the ground.
Here are some other disadvantages to pier and beam foundations, which could be potential roadblocks when buying or selling a home:
- Sagging, creaking, and bouncy floors
- Rain accumulation and moisture problems
- Poor ventilation
- Mildew, mold, and rotting wood
- Bugs and rodents in the crawl space
The poor design further adds to the list of problems, especially improper spacing between the pier and beams and shim failures on account of inferior materials. Fortunately, repairing these issues is often easier and cheaper than slab problems. In fact, if the latter’s foundation starts to crack, it might be impossible to fix it.
If the Pros Outweigh the Cons— Call Perma Pier
If you decide on a pier and beam foundation either out of choice or necessity, remember that no structure is perfect. Fortunately, most pier and beam foundational issues are easily remedied when spotted early. However, determining the best solution requires professionals who can guarantee quality.
With over 25,000 foundation repairs over the last 25 years, we understand pier and beam foundations. For a FREE evaluation or to learn more about pier and beam foundations, contact us.
Editor’s note: this content has been updated. It was originally published on 05/06/2015.