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Underpinning involves driving very strong steel pipes (often called “mini piles,” “pin piles,” “pipe piles” or “piers”) deep into the ground underneath a house or building. The pipes are driven until they reach a layer of very strong soils or limestone bedrock. When the pipes need to be driven to great depths or through dense soils, deep holes are first drilled into the ground (called “pre-drilling”) to make driving the rods easier. Brackets are then used to attach the tops of the pipes to the house or building foundation. In cases where the foundation has subsided (sunken) due to poor support from the underlying soils, powerful hydraulic jacks are used to lift the foundation back to its original height before the brackets are attached. Once the underpinning process is completed, the foundation is completely supported by the steel pipes instead of the surficial soils.

Underpinning is the most effective repair method when buried debris, shallow organic soils (often called “peat” or “muck” soils) or other unstable soils are found underneath a house or building. In these cases, the surficial soils supporting the foundation will gradually subside over time, damaging the house or building. Underpinning bypasses these unstable soils and instead transfers the weight of the building or house to a deeper layer of stronger soils or to the limestone bedrock.

Underpinning also is occasionally used in sinkhole repairs. In these cases, great care must be taken to ensure that the steel pipes are driven deeply enough to reach the strong limestone bedrock. Otherwise, the house or building will still be susceptible to the effects of sinkhole activity, and may even suffer worse damage than if underpinning was never performed. We have encountered many cases where sinkhole activity was supposedly repaired by underpinning a house, only to find that the steel pipes were not driven deeply enough to reach the limestone bedrock.

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