define pier and beam foundation

What Is a Pier and Beam Foundation? How Can I Tell If I Have One?

What exactly is a pier and beam foundation? You *think* you have a pier and beam foundation. . . or maybe you have another foundation type?? Everyone throws these terms around and you want to make sure you’re using the right one. It’s good to feel like you know what you are talking about, amiright?

Anchor Foundation Repair Bryan College Station

At Anchor Foundation Repair, we have been talking about and fixing up foundations for decades (for 35+ years really). We can help you out by explaining this home foundation type to clear up any confusion. We’re pretty much experts on foundations and whatnot.

This article will define and describe the pier and beam foundation home type. We will talk a little about how to tell if you have one and how they are built. So by the end of this article, you should be able to confirm if you have a pier and beam foundation and know a few facts about them.

Definition of a Pier and Beam Foundation

true pier and beam

A pier and beam foundation is primarily defined by its elevation off of ground level. There is space between the ground and the base of your home flooring structure. The *space* is called a crawl space. All pier and beam foundations are technically a sub-type of what’s generally called a crawl space foundation.

In other words, there are different types of crawl space home foundations, and a pier and beam foundation is just one of them. Here’s a simple way to think about it.

Types of crawl space foundations:

  1. Block and Base
  2. Pier and Beam

A true pier and beam foundation is also defined by the type of support used on the perimeter of the home. A pier and beam foundation will have a continuous, ground-penetrating concrete or masonry beam that supports the full perimeter of the house. Underneath the interior of the home, you will find an array of free-standing support piers

not a pier and beam, this is a block and base foundation
Block and base home, no solid perimeter

The piers under the interior of the home are arranged in an organized pattern to support and distribute the weight of the rest of the home structure.

A block and base foundation home *does not* have this continuous beam along the perimeter. Block and base homes have the same type of free-standing piers along the perimeter that are used under the middle of the home as well. So the defining difference between a block and base crawl space and a pier and beam crawl space foundation is that continuous perimeter beam. A block and base home will often have a non-weight bearing and removable skirting around the perimeter or no perimeter covering at all.

Common Confusion about Pier and Beam Foundations

Many people will call block and base homes “pier and beam” and don’t know that there is a technical difference between the two types of crawl space foundations. The *pier and beam* term seems to be the one that everyone gravitates towards around here in Central Texas. 

questions about pier and beam foundations

We hear people (mistakenly) call their block and base home a pier and beam home all the time. It’s okay though, we know what they are talking about. We try to be polite and don’t correct them.

We’ve heard that in other states north of here, they seem to like the term *crawl space* foundation better. It’s just the way people talk in different places.

We adjust our words to the way people talk and will often use the terms pier and beam, crawl space, and block and base as meaning *just about the same* thing. Although it’s not technically correct, we use the terms interchangeably anyway. 

All of these foundation types and sub-types generally need the same treatment from us and homeowners don’t tend to focus on the little differences the way *us industry-types* do.

How To Tell if You Have a Pier and Beam Foundation

So here’s a quick checklist of physical qualities that will let you know you have a pier and beam foundation:

  • Your home is elevated up from ground level,
  • You likely have to take several stairs to enter and exit your home,
  • Your home could be older and built before slab foundations became the norm,
  • You have a solid concrete or masonry perimeter around the outside of the home,
  • Your floors might have some bounce to them or feel *less solid* in the middle,
  • And can see ventilation holes every so often along the perimeter of your home.

We haven’t talked about vents yet so let’s do that now. 

true pier and beam foundation
Concrete perimeter beam and telltale vent

While the crawl space under your home is enclosed by a solid perimeter, it requires ventilation and airflow. A series of vent openings are used to keep crawl spaces dry by allowing ground vapor and moisture to escape. When you have a pier and beam home with a continuous perimeter beam that penetrates the ground, proper venting is essential to encourage air circulation and avoid damage from humidity and dampness.

In other words, even though a pier and beam crawl space is physically enclosed by the perimeter beam it still needs to be vented. It can’t be sealed up with no way for moisture to escape.

Vents can come in a variety of appearances from basic to kinda fancy. Vents can simply be a rectangular opening every so often along the perimeter. Or that rectangular opening can be covered with a simple framed screen, be made out of bricks with space between them, or an ornate and attractive metal grate.

A common problem particularly with crawl space homes that are pier and beam is poor ventilation causing wood decay and moisture damage from mold or mildew. We’ve got an article focussing on ways to increase ventilation in your crawl space if you’re interested.

How Are Pier and Beam Foundations Built

Like all crawl space foundation types, pier and beam foundations are built layer by layer from the ground up. The perimeter beam is the first thing to go into the ground, then all the piers under the interior of the home would be placed. 

The concrete perimeter beam supports the exterior walls, while a structure of wooden sill beams is laid to bridge the gaps between piers and support load-bearing walls under the interior. Floor joists are placed on top of the sill and perimeter beams. Then sub-flooring and the rest of the home on top of that.

crawl space foundation

It’s like a big, very organized, and multi-layered sandwich of concrete and wood. These kinds of foundations are generally thought of as being more *primitive and simple* since they tend to be older, but they are actually quite complex. If one little part of that sandwich sinks, misaligns, becomes compromised, or is moved then the whole foundation can be affected.

We’ve got a whole other article that goes into the nitty-gritty details of understanding pier and beam foundation structures and how they can get messed up and need to be repaired.

Does Your Pier and Beam Foundation Need Repair?

repairing a pier and beam foundation

Speaking of repairs, does your pier and beam foundation seem to be having issues? The top symptoms of pier and beam foundation problems are things like diagonal cracks on interior walls, doors that stick or don’t close/latch properly, and floors that rattle and bounce, or feel like they go up and down.

At Anchor Foundation Repair, we repair crawl space foundations (including pier and beam) as well as slabs in Bryan, College Station, and the surrounding Brazos Valley communities like Brenham and Madisonville.

If you’re in our service area, we can help you handle your pier and beam foundation issues with ease. It all starts with a foundation inspection. Find out more about what to expect from our In-Home Assessments as the first step to getting your beloved pier and beam home back in shape.