What are pilings?
A piling is a strong column of steel, wood, or concrete that is driven into the ground and functions to provide deep structural support. Construction contractors use pilings to set structural foundations for buildings, bridges, piers, and roads. Pilings are used in home improvement and maintenance projects, as well as commercial, housing development, maritime, and road construction projects. Pilings may also be used in other applications, such as sound wall barriers, bulkheads, retaining walls, and embankments. The choice of piling material utilized is tailored to the project. Because they provide such strong foundational support, pilings are indispensable for any major construction project.
Pilings were traditionally made from timber. However, wood pilings degrade over time, especially when exposed to air and oxygenated water. Additionally, fungi, insects, and hole-boring marine organisms all affect the longevity and inherent integrity of the wood pilings. Various forms of chemical applications have been developed over the past three centuries, in an attempt to maintain the integrity of timber pilings. These treatments, including creosote and metal arsenate, helped preserve the wood and prevent its decay. However, some of those treatments proved to have adverse effects on aquatic life and water quality. Newer, more sustainable materials have been developed to maintain and extend the lifespan of timber pilings, while other, more resistant piling materials have also been developed and adapted to multiple environments.
Common materials for piling construction include metal and concrete. Metal pilings might consist of steel pipes, large diameter casings that serve as a casing for concrete, or structural steel, such as I-beams. Though metal pilings tend to be inert in the ocean, it is recommended as an added precaution that those used in salt-water projects be coated. Coating materials usually consist of paints, epoxy, and fiberglass. The coating material should first be vetted for components that may be known aquatic contaminants, and should be durable and non-abrasive (if used in an area with boat-traffic). An additional benefit of coating is the improved appearance of the piling.
The advantage of concrete piles is their ability to support large loads while resisting decay. Furthermore, they have little to no impact on water quality once the concrete is set. Concrete piles have high compressive strength but low tensile strength. Consequently, they are often reinforced with steel or other materials to provide complementary tensile strength. Such reinforced concrete is a common sighting at piers, docks, and commercial building developments.
Regardless of the chosen material, dynamic or static testing prior to installation will confirm load carrying capacities of the pilings to ensure a high level of quality control.
A pile driver is a mechanical device that introduces pilings into the ground, displacing the soil. A pile driver consists of a tall frame, with an arm that either raises and drops a pile hammer, or supports an air or stream hammer. A hydraulic hammer inserts both timber piles and pipes into the soil. Such hammers have devices that measure impact velocity, which helps model the pile driving process prior to installation. Pilings are commonly driven vertically, but it is also possible to install them horizontally or at assorted angles to provide greater support for lateral loads.
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