Piling in Building Construction

Piling in building construction

It is common knowledge that the foundation of any building needs to be strong enough to bear its load. In addition to vertical loads, buildings are also subject to horizontal loads during earthquakes, heavy winds and hydrostatic pressure. In order to avoid any damage or calamity to the buildings, it is only wise to design foundations considering these diverse conditions. Sometimes the loose nature of the soil or excessive water table is an impediment to constructing an economic shallow foundation. It is at these times, we need to go in for piling in building construction.

Piling in building construction

It is also common to drive piles upto a depth where rock or hard soil is available so as to transfer the building load to it. Piling therefore ensures a sturdier base for your building to safeguard its stability.

What is piling and why is it necessary?

Essentially, piling is a process where long structural members (typically steel or concrete with reinforcement steel) are driven deep into the soil. This ensures an even distribution of the building loads over a large surface area. For multi-storeyed residential buildings in areas with loose soil like dried-up waterbodies, sea shore,  river-banks etc, piling is essential. For large commercial buildings, considering the heavy loads, engineers recommend piling even where the soil strength is not very weak.

If shallow foundations are used in afore-mentioned cases, the load will not get transferred to the soil evenly. This tends to cause subsidence in the soil and will lead to instability of the building. In most of such cases, the huge load of the building will result in fracture of the foundation and superstructure. This could well result in collapse of the building.

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Advantages of piling

Primary to providing a solid and strong foundation, use of piling in building construction has many advantages. Piles can be pre-made in any length or size, which can reduce construction time. Driving piles results in compacting and densifying the soil around it, thereby increasing the soil bearing capacity.  The work is neat and clean and requires less supervision than regular shallow foundations. Use of piling in building construction ensures that the building can take more load than in regular foundations.

Types of piling

End bearing piles – where the bottom end of the pile rests on rock or strong soil. The building load is transferred to the bottom, through the pile, which acts as a column.

Friction Piles – where the load is transferred across the full length of the concrete pile to the surrounding soil.Types of Piling before foundation

DMC piles– Direct Mud Circulation is in common use in areas where space is a constraint. It consists of the distribution of mud from the pile bore directly to a bentonite pit. A pump recycles the bentonite slurry and abandons the settled mud. Bentonite is pumped into the bore during drilling so as to stabilise the sides of the bore hole. As drilling proceeds, bentonite is washed out at the top. Concreting is done when density of the bentonite+water mix is less than that of concrete. This causes the concrete to settle down.

Rotary piles – a more recent type involving the use of tungsten/diamond cutting tools for boring. Used where noise/vibration free boring is a must. However, this type is very expensive and is mostly used for industrial applications and where time is a factor.

Sand piles – This method involves filling of a pre-driven steel pipe with sand. The pipe is withdrawn while the air pressure is directed against the sand inside it. A bottom plate opens during withdrawal ensuring sand flows into the voids created earlier during the driving of the pipe. The sand backfill prevents the soil surrounding the pipe from collapsing as it is withdrawn. During this process, the soil gets densified.

What are Piles made of?

Current construction practices mostly go in for concrete piles (round or hexagonal). These can be cast in situ. Another option is to go in for steel beams, which can take very high loads and save construction time. However, the disadvantage here is less resistance to moisture.

In areas with more water content or corrosive soil, concrete piles would be preferable. Wooden piles have been known to be used in early times. The limitation here being the length of a single tree, as joints cannot be made. The beautiful city of Venice is a classic example – it boasts of age old buildings built on wooden piles.

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How is one to decide whether to opt for pile foundation for your building? Your architect is the best person to decide. The architect would carry out a soil test, which would determine the soil bearing capacity. Soil chemistry, corrosiveness, water content, salinity and a host of other characteristics also serve as key parameters. Pilot bores would give a fair idea as to what depth stronger soil or rock is available. With all these inputs and knowing the applicable loads, he would then design an ideal pile foundation for your building.

Remember, there are no cutting corners when it comes to piling in building construction. For, your entire building depends squarely on its reliability!


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