Horrible Pier Construction

I was recently in the crawlspace of a 1940s home and took this photo.   How many problems can you find wrong with the pier and drop girder? This redefines horrible pier construction.

Pier Construction Inspection

Problem 1 – “Dry Stacking”

If you look at the pier, the concrete blocks are stacked on top of one another without the use of mortar. This is called “Dry Stacking”.   Dry stacking blocks in this manner is never an approved method of constructing piers.   They just lack the strength and stability that properly built piers offer.  And think about it – Piers are supporting the entire weight of your home. You never want to have piers that were built by dry stacking blocks. This alone doesn’t make for Horrible pier construction, but it’s a good start

Problem 2 – No permanent footer

I know it’s difficult to see from the photo, because the vapor barrier is in the way, but the pier in this photo is sitting directly on the ground. This is never OK. All piers need to be sitting on a permanent footer.   Since piers support the entire weight of your home, footers need to be big and deep. Typically footers are about 2-3 times wider than the width of your pier of foundation wall.   I always like to build mine a minimum of 12 inches deep.   Footer depth is dependent on a lot of things, including frost line and the weight that the pier will support.

Problem 3 – Drop Girder Cantilevered over Pier 

The drop girder is the wood beam that sits on top of the pier and runs perpendicular to the floor joists. All girders (whether regular girders or drop girders) must be fully supported on each of their ends. In this photo you can see that the drop girder overhangs the pier and supports a floor joist in the cantilevered section.   This is never acceptable. Some people might argue that since the drop girder isn’t needed and is only used to decrease “bounce” in the floor, it’s OK to be cantilevered.   I totally disagree. If you’re going to construct something, it has to follow certain guidelines and rules. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pier or a drop girder. If you’re going to build it, it needs to be built properly. You don’t want to be known as the horrible pier construction guy.

Problem 4 – Top part of pier looks like a “squash block”

Piers are stable because concrete blocks are wide. The taller the pier, the more blocks are required to maintain stability. If you look at the top of this pier you will see that the final block is a landscaping looking block that’s been turned on its side.   Your typical concrete block is 16” x 8” x 6”. By using this other concrete pad and turning it on its side it is taller than it is wide. That offers very little stability. It’s the same reason race cars look like they do instead of double decker busses.   This pier needs to have the correct sized blocks going all the way to the drop girder.

Problem 5 – Drop Girder is not resting fully on pier.

If you look closely you can see that the drop girder in this photo is not resting fully on its pier. Girders are the main horizontal support of your home. They support the floor joists, the wall and everything in your home. They need to be resting fully on their pier. They can’t be hanging off an inch or two.   The other side of this drop girder had about 25% bearing on the pier. The other 75% was hanging in the air and resting on nothing. This is not how you install a drop girder. This is another example of horrible pier construction

Problem 6 – The Drop Girder not properly attached    

I mentioned in Problem 5 that the girder was not fully resting on the pier. In fact on the other end of the drop girder, only about 25% was resting on the pier. I’m not sure if it was built like this or over the years things have shifted, but either way it’s wrong. It wouldn’t be like this if the drop girder had been properly attached from the beginning. The drop girder should be nailed to each of the joists it intersects.  And don’t forget to nail that shim to the girder as well.  That should be Problem 7, but I’m tired of typing.

That’s all I see from the photo.  I should have made a YouTube video of it and explained everything while I was there. I’ll make sure to start doing that.  If you need a construction inspection done give me a call.


Be Happy and Be Kind!

T.J. Thorne