How to Select Proper Pile Type?

The purpose of a pile foundation is to transfer and distribute load through a material or stratum with inadequate bearing, sliding or uplift capacity to a firmer stratum that is capable of supporting the load without detrimental displacement. A wide range of pile types is available for applications with various soil types and structural requirements. So before we delve deep into selection of appropriate type of pile, let’s have some idea regarding some common pile types and their features.

Features of Common Pile Types

(1) Steel H-Piles

Steel H-piles have significant advantages over other types of piles. They can provide high axial working capacity, exceeding 400 kips. They may be obtained in a wide variety of sizes and lengths and may be easily handled, spliced, and cut off. H-piles displace little soil and are fairly easy to drive. They can penetrate obstacles better than most piles, with less damage to the pile from the obstacle or from hard driving. The major disadvantages of steel H-piles are the high material costs for steel and possible long delivery time for mill orders. H-piles may also be subject to excessive corrosion in certain environments unless preventive measures are used. Pile shoes are required when driving in dense sand strata, gravel strata, cobble-boulder zones, and when driving piles to refusal on a hard layer of bedrock.

(2) Steel Pipe Piles

Steel pipe piles may be driven open- or closed end and may be filled with concrete or left unfilled. Concrete filled pipe piles may provide very high load capacity, over 1,000 kips in some cases.

Installation of pipe piles is more difficult than H-piles because closed-end piles displace more soil, and open-ended pipe piles tend to form a soil plug at the bottom and act like a closed-end pile. Handling, splicing, and cutting are easy. Pipe piles have disadvantages similar to H-piles (i.e., high steel costs, long delivery time, and potential corrosion problems).

(3) Precast Concrete Piles

Precast concrete piles are usually pre-stressed to withstand driving and handling stresses. Axial load capacity may reach 500 kips or more. They have high load capacity as friction piles in sand or where tip bearing on soil is important. Concrete piles are usually durable and corrosion resistant and are often used where the pile must extend above ground. However, in some salt water applications durability is also a problem with precast concrete piles. Handling of long piles and driving of precast concrete piles are more difficult than for steel piles. For pre-stressed piles, when the required length is not known precisely, cutting is much more critical, and splicing is more difficult when needed to transfer tensile and lateral forces from the pile head to the base slab.

(4) Cast-in-Place Concrete Piles

Cast-in-place concrete piles are shafts of concrete cast in thin shell pipes, top driven in the soil, and usually closed end. Such piles can provide up to a 200-kip capacity. The chief advantage over precast piles is the ease of changing lengths by cutting or splicing the shell. The material cost of cast-in-place piles is relatively low. They are not feasible when driving through hard soils or rock.

(5) Mandrel-Driven Piles

Mandrel-driven piles are thin steel shells driven in the ground with a mandrel and then filled with concrete. Such piles can provide up to a 200-kip capacity. The disadvantages are that such piles usually require patented, franchised systems for installation and installation is not as simple as for steel or precast concrete piles. They offer the advantage of lesser steel costs since thinner material can be used than is the case for top-driven piles. The heavy mandrel makes high capacities possible.

Mandrel-driven piles may be very difficult to increase in length since the maximum pile length that can be driven is limited by the length of the mandrel available at the site. Contractors may claim extra costs if required to bring a longer mandrel to the site.

(6) Timber Piles

Timber piles are relatively inexpensive, short, low capacity piles. Long Douglas Fir piles are available but they will be more expensive. They may be desirable in some applications such as particular types of corrosive groundwater. Loads are usually limited to 70 kips. The piles are very convenient for handling. Untreated timber piles are highly susceptible to decay, insects, and borers in certain environments. They are easily damaged during hard driving and are inconvenient to splice.

Selection of Appropriate Type of Pile

Preliminary Selection of Pile Type

All identified foundation alternatives should first be evaluated for suitability for the intended application and cost. For piles, this evaluation should be based on the capacity, availability, constructability, and expected performance of the various types of piles. Initial evaluation of non-pile alternatives should be based on similar criteria. This will limit further studies to those foundation alternatives which are reasonably feasible. During this initial evaluation, it may also be possible to eliminate from consideration obvious high-cost alternatives.

(1) Load Capacity and Pile Spacing

Of prime importance is the load carrying capacity of the piles. In determining the capacity of a pile foundation, it is important to consider the pile spacing along with the capacity of individual piles. The lateral load resistance of the piles may also be important since lateral loads can induce high bending stresses in a pile.

(2) Constructability

The influence of anticipated subsurface and surface effects on constructability must be considered. Piles susceptible to damage during hard driving are less likely to penetrate hard strata or gravel and boulder zones. Soil disturbance or transmission of driving vibrations during construction may damage adjacent piles or structures. Pile spacing and batters must be selected to prevent interference with other structural components during driving. The ease of cutting or splicing a pile may also affect constructability.

(3) Performance

The pile foundation must perform as designed for the life of the structure. Performance can be described in terms of structural displacements which may be just as harmful to a structure as an actual pile failure. The load capacity should not degrade over time due to deterioration of the pile material.

 (4) Availability

Piles must be available in the lengths required, or they must be spliced or cut off. Project scheduling may make lead time an important consideration, since some piles may require up to 6 months between order and delivery.

(5) Cost

Once a pile type satisfies all other criteria, relative cost becomes a major consideration. For comparisons between types of piles, it may be adequate to compare the pile cost per load capacity. A comparison between unit capacity costs may lead to an obvious exclusion of certain pile types. The cost evaluation should include all expenses related to and dependent on the pile foundation. Such costs may include additional expense for storage or splicing. They may include pressure-relief systems used to reduce uplift pressures and thus control pile loads. In addition, any required modifications to the structure to accommodate the piles should be included in a comparative cost estimate. For example, an increase in base slab thickness may be required to provide additional embedment for the tops of the piles.

Final Selection of Pile Type

The final evaluation and selection should be based mainly on relative costs of the remaining alternatives. This evaluation should include the costs of structural or site modifications required to accommodate the foundation type. Cost and other factors may be important in the selection. Differences in delivery or installation schedules, levels of reliability of performance, and potential construction complications may be considered.

When comparing a pile foundation to another type of foundation, it will be necessary to develop a preliminary pile layout to determine a reasonable estimate of quantities.

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