Screw Pile Installations in the UK

Screw pile or helical pile foundations have a number of benefits compared to traditional concrete foundations – not least of which is the reduced time it takes to install the foundations themselves. This includes less time digging out the foundations as well as installing the steel. Here is a brief guide to helical pile foundation installations for anybody who is new to the process.

Planning the Installation

The steel plates used in a screw pile foundation are unique to every project and created bespoke to meet the needs of the structure and conditions that the foundations will be subjected to. This means that their size, pitch, and thickness will be different for every install.

The factors considered when designing and building the steel plates are the load required by the project, the geotechnical parameters, the corrosive conditions (including proximity to the sea, type of soil, and water table), and how long the foundations are expected to last as well as the demands of the structure itself.

All of this must be decided based on a professional site survey and in-depth discussion of the final structure. Planning the foundations properly is an essential part of the process, and at Screwfast we pride ourselves on considering every detail to create long-lasting foundations that are perfectly designed for their purpose.

The Installation

The installation itself is relatively simple once everything has been designed and built; screw piles are literally screwed into the ground the way that you would secure a screw in a DIY project. There may be more than one helix involved, depending on the project, and machinery is used to install each screw pile securely and accurately.

Some ground may need to be dug out, but nowhere near as much as a traditional concrete foundation would require. This means that you have less costs associated with both digging out the foundations, the amount of time it takes, and the cost of dumping the results of the dig out.

Once the foundation has been installed, there is no waiting time for materials to dry or set – the rest of the structure can be added straight away, which is another reason builds including screw pile foundations are completed so quickly.

If you would like to speed up your builds and reduce a number of costs associated with them, get in touch to find out if helical pile foundations are suitable for your project.

Screwfast’s Alternative to Conventional Solutions

As a team of innovators and critical thinkers which continues to deliver results originated in extensive experience and specialist knowledge, Screwfast is at the forefront of technology and practical application across a wide range of sectors.

Working across the board with leading organisations and visionaries throughout all major infrastructure sectors, including rail, energy, roads, civils and commercial sectors, Screwfast provide conventional and innovational foundation solutions and offer expertise in:

  • Foundation solutions
  • Full earthworks and groundworks packages
  • Specialist design and specification services

Since 2000, Screwfast have continued to deliver quality services and carefully considered routes to success in the implementation of a variety of projects; the delivery of which are based always, on speed, budget and the provision of excellence in terms of results.

The team at Screwfast consists of specialists who have a wide range of areas of technical expertise combined with many years of experience; all projects are undertaken with the same attention to detail and with an objectivity which is unique to Screwfast and can be attributed to the team’s broad knowledge. This merging of skills enables the team to share and combine ideas and to implement solutions as needed from the varying perspectives of their diverse fields.

Screwfast have expertise in the design and build of;

  • Concrete foundations
  • Stability analysis
  • Ground improvement
  • Retaining systems
  • Earthwork Strategies – including cut & fill, reduce level excavation and bulk earthworks
  • Below ground structures
  • Internal & External concrete slabs
  • External finishes e.g. paving and slabbing etc.
  • Street works
  • Platform extensions

Screwfast’s solutions will always be based firstly in a full understanding of each project and secondly in outstanding results.

Screwfast Traditional Design and Build Services

As innovators in their field, the team at Screwfast are proud of a track record which reflects an inimitable style of delivery; theirs is an approach which above all, focuses on delivering a full range of solutions to clients in a variety of sectors and delivering those solutions with an attention to detail and a whole-picture approach unique to the company.

Screwfast provides traditional design and build services which have been honed, fine-tuned and calculated to simplify as well as to unify the various flows of work for the diverse projects which they undertake, from concept through to completion.

The company is made up of an exceptional team of talented professionals, each with a highly developed skillset and experience spanning many years. The team are pleased to provide expert opinions and practical implementations for clients in need of comprehensive services for their project.

Services designed to save time and money

The company’s broad range of services are grounded in one notion; to provide investigative and design solutions which will ensure the ultimate success of every project undertaken; saving time and budget through the careful consideration of all factors, before, during and after a project is completed.

Screwfast’s services include:

  • Comprehensive desk-based geotechnical hazard assessment and options appraisal.
  • Design Specification and management of detailed geotechnical investigations.
  • Detailed site appraisals, geotechnical characterisation and design parameters, including for Eurocode 7: Geotechnical Design.
  • Foundation, basement and retaining wall engineering
  • Excavation, earthworks and slope engineering
  • Soft ground engineering
  • Ground improvement and soil stabilisation
  • Stabilisation of natural and manmade cavities and shallow mine workings.
  • Piling mat, support systems and other temporary works design.
  • 2D and 3D ground deformation modelling and movement prediction


Screwfast have been providing fully integrated services since the company’s formation in 2000 and continues to deliver innovative solutions to clients across a wide range of sectors.

Self-Builders Increasingly Use Helical Pile Foundations

As self-building becomes more popular in the UK, people are looking for simpler ways to build and techniques that will let them reduce spend and even build on more difficult sites. The cost of a site can vary depending on a variety of factors, and if it seen as more troublesome due to a significant slope (for example), it could mean that self-builders can buy more land or live in a more desirable location without exceeding their budget.

Commercial techniques are increasingly finding their way into domestic construction, especially when builders are willing to work outside the box to find solutions. This is where helical piles have become a savior for many self-builders who would otherwise have to spend considerable amounts digging out deeper foundations or wouldn’t be able to get out of the ground at all without significant additional borrowing.

Tricky building plots include:

  • Sloping sides
  • Numerous trees, or trees that builders would like to maintain in close proximity to the house
  • Made up ground on brownfield land
  • Unstable ground
  • Large amounts of clay in the soil

Since the government is working to make more brownfield land available to self-builders, even more will need to look at alternatives to standard concrete foundations.

In many instances digging down deeper is a viable option, but this has larger costs associated with it:

  • You will need to spend more time digging
  • You will need to spend more to dump the soil
  • You will need to pay for more concrete
  • You will need to spend longer waiting for the concrete to set

All of which can eat into budget reserves before the house is even begun.

Screw piles are an elegant solution to many of these problems. While some soil will still need to be dug out – especially on sloping sites that will need a level base for building work to begin – most of the piles can be installed with soil displacement. This means that you reduce the cost of all of the items listed above, and spend no time at all waiting for the foundations to set – they can be built upon on the very same day.

Choosing screw pile foundations means that self-builders can reduce the amount of time it takes to install their foundations from weeks to just a few days.

The Lowdown on Grillages

Grillages are a versatile and environmentally friendly foundation technique which is often applied in situations where towers, road signs, gantries or overhead line electrification needs to be installed.

The term grillage comes from the French “greille” meaning grating of metal or steel bars.

Placed on a number of screwpiles, steel grillages support the overlying structure firmly and reliably whilst reducing installation time when compared to traditional support systems, to under an hour in some cases.

The superior technology and more sustainable methods and materials make grillages a desirable and cost effective solution in most cases.

Advantages of Grillages

  • High speed installation
  • Convenience
  • Cost effective – reducing expenditure and manpower
  • Versatile – suits a wide variety of applications

Types of Grillage

There are a number of standard grillage types which are adaptable to specific requirements.

  • Y- Shape
  • T-Shape
  • Cruciform
  • 6,8 and 10 pile grillages

Bespoke grillages are also available and the beauty of these foundations is that not only are they highly effective, they are also versatile and sustainable.

Choosing steel grillages is an option for many applications, including;

  • Telecommunication towers
  • Gantries
  • Signage
  • Overhead line electrification masts

Dispensing with the need for poured concrete and causing minimum disruption to surrounding infrastructure means that time and money are saved both in the short and long term.



Subsidence: The Symptoms and the Causes

It’s every homeowner’s nightmare. The realisation that the very ground on which your home stands, is on the move.

The problem with subsidence is that by the time the symptoms are visible, the damage is already done.

There are some very early signs which many people miss including doors and windows beginning to ‘stick’ when they’re opened or closed. But other signs are more often the first to be spotted and they include cracks around door frames or windows and particularly around extensions where the newer building meets the older. This is due to the buildings trying to pull away from one another.

It should be noted that most buildings, especially older properties will have some visible cracks both within and without but cracks which are due to subsidence are often very distinctive in appearance and are usually quite small, diagonally situated and wider at the top than at the bottom.

Some of the main causes of subsidence include the following;

  • A long spell of dry, warm weather
  • Soil which contains a high quantity of clay
  • Large trees close to a building can suck out moisture from the areas around your foundations which causes them to shrink
  • A leaking drain which can soften the ground

Steps to Take to Avoid Subsidence

Of course we all want to avoid subsidence; it’s responsible for a lot of stress, paperwork and sometimes years of wrangles with insurance companies but there are some things you can do to help your property stay on the straight and narrow.
Check your drains and pipes on a regular basis to make sure there are no blockages or leaks. This is particularly important during and immediately after winter. Trees need to be pruned on a regular basis as this will reduce their water consumption and make sure that any new trees or shrubs are planted at a safe distance from the building.

Why is Concrete Bad for the Environment?

Concrete is still widely used in the building industry as a result of its strength. It’s typically utilised in the building of most construction types including houses, tunnels and public buildings.

Concrete and cement are often spoken of as though they were one and the same thing but cement is merely a part of concrete, a quantity of its whole together with sand, gravel and water. Cement is the binder within concrete and it’s what keeps the whole mixture together, lending strength and durability.

Because we can’t speak of concrete without discussing cement, we must therefore look at why cement is an issue for the environment.

Why Cement is the Issue

Second only to coal-powered electricity, the manufacture of cement is the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses and it accounts tor 5% of yearly anthropogenic global CO2 production.

For each tonne of cement produced, a tonne of CO2 is produced with it.

Why is CO2 Bad?

CO2 is a naturally occurring gas which is emitted by human activity. It’s one of a number of greenhouse gases within our atmosphere; others include water, vapour, ozone and nitrous oxide.

In order to begin to understand the impact of these gases, we have to begin with the sun. The sun sends solar radiation (light) to Earth and the atmosphere deflects a certain amount of this radiation; the rest hits the plant’s surface and warms the land and oceans.

The earth then radiates its own heat upwards in the form of infrared rays…some of which escape the atmosphere and some of which are absorbed and remitted by atmospheric gases…these gases are greenhouse gases and they help the planet to retain its usual temperature.

The natural systems of Earth regulated the production of greenhouse gases very successfully for millions of years. Gases were absorbed and emitted at healthy rates whilst temperatures were regulated at a good level which supported life on the planet.

Humankind managed to live in harmony with this regulated and perfect system until around 1750 – the start of the industrial revolution.

Since that time, we have been adding greenhouse gases, mostly CO2 to our atmosphere at a regularly increasing rate. We have been trapping the heat and as a result of that, causing temperatures to rise.

CO2 represents around 84% of all greenhouse gases for which humans are responsible and most of it is as a direct result of burning fossil fuels to provide electricity and transport but industrial processes contribute enormously.

With 25 billion tonnes of concrete produced globally on a yearly basis and around 900 million tonnes of construction and demolition waste (of which between 20% and 80% is made up of concrete) is produced in Europe, the U.S. and Japan alone, it makes sense to consider how much of its application is strictly necessary when there are innovative alternatives on the market.

Whilst the U.K. is the current global leader when it comes to recycling concrete (reusing 22% for aggregate in roads) there still needs to be a huge rethink in terms of the way in which concrete is produced, used and recycled.

How Can We Improve the Situation?

There are many theories which discuss a variety of strategies which could potentially improve the situation with regards to concrete; the production methods used, the mixes which are currently sold and the ingredients used have all been discussed and new ideas are emerging which could improve the outlook for the future of the planet.

Helical Piles as an Alternative to Poured Concrete Foundations

Helical piles require no concrete whatsoever and are currently the most practical and effective way to avoid the use of concrete within foundations. Cost-effective and fast to install they are suited for ground conditions at every individual site.

They may be installed;

  • At raked angles
  • Protruding from the ground or buried
  • In any soil
  • To support structure in compression and tension
  • At grade, on embankments and in cuttings
  • In low temperatures – unlike concrete
  • In bespoke situations

With so much at stake, it makes sense for the construction industry to embrace the newest and most innovative tools available – especially when they make financial sense.

Why are Helical Piles the Best Choice?

Helical Piles have so many benefits that once you understand them, it’s hard to see a reason not to choose them over traditional foundations. However, some people remain slightly sceptical of them. This comes from some lack of understanding for the most part as many people assume Helical Piles are a new idea or a new technology when in fact, the first Helical Piles were used over 200 years ago!

In the past, Helical Piles were usually put to good use on coastal structures such as lighthouses and piers where their firm grip was the best solution in the unstable marine environment, but recently, the advantages of them have seemed more relevant than ever and so people are choosing them over concrete foundations for buildings of all types and in all kinds of landscape.

Some of the main benefits of Helical Piles include the following:

  • Fast installation means less cost
  • No concrete means ecologically friendly and fast curing times
  • Small base construction means ease of installation even in restricted access areas
  • Removable and reusable
  • Lack of noise during installation means minimal disruption
  • Can be installed in any soil
  • Can be installed at an angle
  • Suitable for marine applications

The benefits of Helical Piles clearly outweigh traditional foundations when compared in many areas.

Not only is the cost less but the cost to the environment is much less.


Amazing Structures of the Past Still Standing Thanks to Helical Piles

Helical Piles aren’t a new concept; they’re gaining popularity fast thanks to their recognition as one of the most underrated engineering feats of the 19th century and as we learn more about the environment, we’ve naturally come to realise that Helical Piles are by far the kindest foundation solution when it comes to ecological awareness.

Because Helical Piles use less machinery, less manpower and no concrete, their impact on the environment is significantly less than that of traditional foundations.

They are also extremely effective…there are some very well-known landmarks which are still standing in the UK today thanks at least in part to their Helical Piles.

Many historically interesting coastal structures were completed using the then, innovative and brand new system including the famous Margate Pier which was in fact the very first pleasure pier to be built with Helical Piles.

Margate Pier was built in 1853 and designed by Eugenius Birch; it was his first pier and he used Helical Piles in its construction. It opened in 1855 and was also the first iron pier in the country. After numerous near misses over the ensuing years when the pier was almost lost to fire and weather, it was still standing during WWII when it was utilised for troop and supply movements.

It came to a sad end in 1978 in a severe storm but a small section of it remains to this day as a testament to the earliest efforts of the engineers who pioneered Helical Piles.

Gunfleet Lighthouse in Frinton-On-Sea Essex was built in 1850 by James Walker. The screw pile lighthouse is still standing, mounted on 7 piles and includes living accommodation.

It is now used as an automated weather station.

The Palace Pier in Brighton was opened in 1899 following a fraught few years in which progress had been blighted by storms. The Palace Pier was built to replace a much earlier pleasure pier which had been completed in 1822.

The new pier was heralded a triumph and included 330 screw piles to counter the shifting sands upon which it was built.

The pier was briefly up for sale in 2011 much to the dismay of the general public but was subsequently withdrawn from the market by its owners; it remains Britain’s most visited pier.

The UK’s coastal structures form a valuable part of our heritage; with so many beautiful and long-lasting period landmarks still standing thanks in part to Helical Piles, we can only hope that there are yet more, innovative and exciting heritage buildings yet to come.


Helical Piles the Future of Construction

Understanding when and where Helical Piles are the best solution in building is dependent on first understanding their purpose.

Any foundation needs to be strong enough to support and to bear the weight of whichever structure rests above it. When we look at traditional foundations we come to realise that they are inherently weak.

Varying soil conditions, water or plant life can all contribute to the detriment of a traditional foundation meaning that the building it supports can suffer damage. As moisture seeps into the fabric of the building, walls can crack or bow, floors can list and within the building, the weakness of the traditional foundation becomes all to apparent.

In some areas, flood prone areas in particular, it is vital that foundations are extremely stable or the risk of damage is high. Helical Piles are often the best solution to the problem of building in flood prone areas or in areas where the ground is unstable for other reasons.

Helical Piles are basically steel shafts with blades which are attached in a corkscrew fashion in the manner of a screw. This is sometimes simply referred to as a pile. Piles are attached to the foundation and screwed into the ground; the weight bearing ability of the structure is drastically increased and the structure is also stabilised.

The piles act as a means of spreading, or sharing the load of the building they’re supporting and they can also be added to buildings which have already been completed with traditional foundations in place but which may need stabilising due to subsidence or other damage.

Helical Piles could become mandatory in areas at risk of flooding and because of this they are the best option for any new construction and for any construction on unstable land.

Another great advantage of Helical Piles is the ease with which they may be installed in tight, difficult to access areas. The equipment used to install Helical Piles can be operated even in very awkward spots.

Eco-Friendly Foundations

Helical Piles are a low impact solution offering significantly reduced carbon emissions as well as fast installation with minimal noise pollution. Helical Piles are also removable and reusable…. unlike traditional foundations.


Because Helical Piles are available in a variety of lengths and thicknesses to suit different needs, they’re incredibly versatile and can be provided to suit your exact needs.

Not only can they be used in any soil, but they can also be used at varying grades and at varying angles; the pile is designed to fit the conditions at the site in question and installation is far cheaper and faster than that of traditional foundations.

The future of construction is already here and it’s a lot more reliable than it used to be.




Balfour Beatty Associate Highways England Osbourne Associate Kier Associate