Most developers and many residents in coastal regions inevitably face the question: how can I build a structure, whether it’s a home, dock, or marketplace, in a way that preserves the local foliage and wildlife to the greatest possible extent?
Time, trial, and error have revealed driven piling foundations as the answer to this question. Driven pilings are “prefabricated elements (timber, steel or concrete), which are driven into the ground by percussion, pressing or vibration, using proper machinery.” Driven pilings are commonly used to support bridges, homes, docks, and other structures located near or above bodies of water or tidal regions.
When installed properly, pilings are driven through sediment and loose ground that is unsuitable to support the weight of a permanent structure. They eventually come to rest in a strata of earth with necessary load-bearing capacity on top of which a home, restaurant, pier, or other above-water structure can be built. Environmentalists should support driven-pile foundations, too, as they’re the least invasive building method for maintaining wildlife habitats and preexisting foliage.
There are a few reasons why driven pilings are preferable to other potentially destructive approaches to near and above-water development. A key term within the description of driven pilings is “prefabricated”. Whether the builder chooses to use concrete, steel, or timber, the pilings can be constructed off-site, reducing the volume of foot traffic and construction byproduct at the building location. The ability for off-site piling fabrication also lessens the overall construction time of a project, limiting the length of any disturbance to the natural environment.
Driven pilings are a cleaner, more conservative alternative to drilling, especially in areas where there’s a legitimate fear of hitting groundwater. We’re talking about constructing homes, docks, and commercial buildings, not drilling a well. Driving pilings is the method least likely to create unwanted groundwater leakage and related headaches.
Then there’s the issue of spoil, the term for “excavated materials consisting of topsoil or subsoils that have been removed and temporarily stored during construction activity.” Processes like dredging and boring create spoil that must be removed and stored throughout the construction process. The creation, removal, and storage of this waste material necessitates further interaction with the natural environment that is avoided through the driven-pile approach. That’s right: driven piles do not create spoil. Instead, driving piles naturally displaces the earth, which is left to re-settle on its own.
The topic of avoiding unnecessary waste brings us back to the pilings themselves. The ability to fabricate the pilings in an ideal, controlled off-site environment reduces the amount of byproduct at the construction site. Once fashioned, the pilings can be transported to and installed at the site immediately, reducing the interaction of transport vehicles and construction crews with the natural environment. Pilings also require very little settlement time, meaning that all pilings can be driven in short order, lessening any disturbance to local wildlife.
There is good reason why driven pilings are widely accepted as the best available method for constructing above-water foundations. They’re minimally invasive to the local ecosystem, require relatively little time and effort to install, create little to no waste byproduct, and are proven to stand the test of time without expanding in moist environments — further limiting impact on the preexisting landscape.