Everything You Need to know about Piling | Construction, History, Types


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Piling refers to the installation of structural piles deep into the ground as a foundation of a structure. Piling is the most common foundation method used for high-rise constructions where there is a risk of rapid settlement of soil due to the extreme dead load of the building.

Pile foundations have practically extended the boundaries of construction. They allow engineers to build higher-than-ever and stronger-than-ever structures. Piles foundations have opened doors to offshore and underwater constructions as well.

What is the Origin of Piling Foundation?

Although the origin of piles is not determined, however, they have been in use since ancient times. People used timber piles under their houses near rivers or lakes due to weak subsoil. There are examples of Romans using timber piles as foundations in bridge construction. The large monasteries built in the East Anglian fenlands during the Middle Ages were built on piles of oak and alder. Timber was the only material used for piles for a long time due to its strength, lightweight, durability, ease of cutting, and handling.

Different Types of Piles?

Piles can be categorized in the following ways:

End Bearing Piles

End-bearing piles lie on a rock or soil with high resilience at their bottom. The building’s weight is directly transferred through the pile and onto the sturdy layer, bypassing all the weak strata or water beneath the building.

Friction Piles

Friction piles, as their name suggests, transfer the load they are carrying by creating friction between the soil and themselves. Their entire surface is designed in such a way that they increase friction as they are driven deeper into the soil and finally lock themselves with the particles as the force of the friction equals the load they are bearing.

What are the Methods of Construction?

Driven Piles

These piles are inserted into the ground without removing the soil. They displace the soil as they are driven in and densify the soil. They are useful in underwater constructions where the soil is loose and slushy.

Bored Piles

On the contrary, in the bored pile, the soil is removed, and a bore is created to cast the piles into the ground. They are normally where the subsoil is cohesive enough to support a friction pile.

What Materials are Used for Piling?

Generally following four types of materials are used for piling.

  • Timber
  • Concrete
  • Steel
  • Composite Material

Classification of Piles as per the British Standard Code of Practice for Foundations

Large Displacement Piles (Driven Types)

  • Round or square timber Piles
  • Pre-cast concrete piles with solid or tubular sections
  • Prestressed concrete piles
  • Steel tube Piles driven with closed end
  • Fluted and tapered steel tube
  • Steel box piles driven with closed end
  • Jacked-down solid concrete cylinder
  • Jacked-down steel tube with closed end

Large Displacement Piles (Driven and Cast-in-situ types)

  • Steel tube is driven and withdrawn after adding concrete
  • Thin-walled steel shell which is filled with concrete and driven by the withdrawable mandre
  • Pre-cast concrete shell filled with concrete

Small Displacement Piles

  • Precast concrete piles with tubular sections driven with open end
  • Prestressed concrete piles with tubular sections driven with open end
  • Steel tube section driven with open end
  • Steel H-Section
  • Steel box section driven with open end

When and Where Pile Foundations can be Used?

Many construction sites can use piling, as it provides many benefits. Some of these are mentioned below:

  • When there are large and heavy constructions being built, and the soil is weak, a pile foundation is required.
  • Piling is a better option in places where uneven settlement problems are frequent as a result of soil liquefaction or problems with the underground water table.
  • In some cases, the site's subsoil water table is so high that using shallow foundations will be severely hampered. When this occurs, piles can be extended into the water and easily penetrated until they hit a hard stratum.
  • Forces acting horizontally on the structure like wind and earthquakes can have a serious impact on the foundation. The usage of pile foundations aids in both bearing the vertical load that comes over the foundation and resisting this bending movement.
  • The pile foundation is essential for withstanding uplift forces brought on by a rising water table or any other reason. Transmission towers and offshore constructions frequently bear uplift forces.
  • If the structure of the building is uneven, the load on the foundations will be non-uniformly distributed. In these situations, using a shallow foundation will cause uneven settlement and severe cracks in the superstructure. The pile foundation is required in such situations to eliminate uneven settlement.

Can Piling be Used for Underpinning?

Yes, piling can be used to strengthen the existing foundation of your building. This process is also known as underpinning.
If you are sensing that the foundations of your building have submitted to uneven settlement due to soil liquefaction you need underpinning. You can hire a foundation specialist who will install new piles using hydraulics that will level out your building again.

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