How to install a precast concrete pier foundation for a shed

How to install a precast concrete pier foundation for a shed


Are you planning on building a shed but can’t decide what would be a good foundation for it? Or you may have some ideas but still need more information to make a good choice.

Being here, you’re considering precast concrete piers for the shed foundation, among other options, and depending on the situation, it might be a working option.

precast concrete pier foundation is the most stable foundation besides a concrete slab. It is much more stable than skids, and you can be sure your shed will be sturdy for years.

There are also solutions to protect concrete pier foundations against frost heaving if that is a problem. Piers go some way into the soil, so if your soil is vulnerable to frost heaving, we can change it for a more suitable one.

Pier and beam foundation summary

Concrete piers work with others; they need something that transfers the weight of the floor, walls, and roof into the ground. Wooden beams are often used for that as they are cheap, depending on the size, and can handle a lot of weight depending on the x and y measures.

The precast concrete piers are embedded in the wet concrete footings and support 4×6 pressure-treated timbers once the concrete has cured. Piers should lift it off the ground high enough to prevent moisture from entering the structures.

Air can flow under the shed, and pressure-treated timbers are also moist-resistant.

The pressure-treated beams on top of the piers will support the shed.

That sounds good. So, how do we install the concrete piers?

  1. Here, we will assume a little. You have a plan for your concrete shed. How big and how many piers does it need? What size beams do you need for the floor, wall, roof, and usage weight? Remember to add the stuff you will store if it weighs a lot.
  2.  Once you know what you’re building, lay out your shed’s outlines and excavate it to a depth of 3 to 4 inches.
  3.  Find out how deep your frost line is. From the ground studies, you had before building the house or paying someone to find it out. Either one works. The key features are how fine the soil is and how much capillary water it holds. You should change some for dry gravel if it’s fine-grain soil like clay.
  4.  Then, dig holes 10 inches below the frost line for footings.
  5.  If it’s fine soil, dig 20 inches instead and fill 10 with gravel you compact with a tamping rammer or something like it. This will help protect against frost heaving.
  6.  Pour the concrete for the footings of the precast piers and then set the precast piers in the wet concrete.
  7.  Check with the laser or level that all the precast concrete piers are on the same level, making it easier to continue with the 4×6 beam.
  8.  Once the concrete cures, lay down landscape fabric and a gravel drainage bed, then install the beams. If the ground drains well and stays frost-free all year round, you will not need to make the gravel drainage bed. If you don’t have good drainage, you will need to do this, and I will explain how later in this article.

Everything above is overly simplified here. For a shed outside a small house, 4-6 pieces of concrete piers might be enough, but when the shed starts to be the size of a small house, you need to calculate everything correctly so it’s safe.

Suppose you properly compact the soil around the shed and under the concrete piers. Piers can hold much weight in that case, as concrete is solid regarding straight pressure.

How many pier blocks for the shed foundation do you need, then?

Technically, one well-done concrete pier on solid soil should hold the weight of a regular tool shed on the side of the house. Still, we need beams for the structure, so four concrete piers should be enough for a small cube. For a more extended cube, two rows of 3 could be good so that it would be six.

For pier and beam foundation spacing, you need to figure out the structure’s shape and size of your beams. Do they need more than two support points? Which way do they go?

What is the size of the concrete piers, and how much weight can they hold without giving in and sinking in the soil?

Local regulations also give you the answer or tell you how much you need. Considering regular building materials, a 6-10 feet distance between concrete piers seems reasonable.

More won’t hurt; less might, as I like to think about it.

Concrete piers and pillars are widely used around the world. You find them everywhere, so they should also work out for your shed.

How to build concrete pier and beam foundation in more depth

The last part was the summary, and while I was writing it, I felt in-depth text might be needed for those who like to read and know things more in-depth.

Start by laying out the concrete pier foundation design on paper or in nature.

Every project should begin with planning on paper. I won’t look down on the people who manage to do this without planning, but it’s for maintaining project size and cost for regular folks.

You draw the shed on the paper, know how many piers you should have between the distance, and see how many beams you need. You can calculate the walls and roof materials from that.

Next, you check the hardware store for prices, and if it’s too much, scale down or think of other solutions. This is how I like things, and I won’t end up with that many unfinished projects.

So now we have everything on paper and make it for real. We got the materials needed and moved the project outside.

We first must lay out our project, as we have already done. Then we remove the sod and 3 to 4 inches of soil from the site. This will help us to install the drainage later.

Use your batter boards and string line and put masking tape or mark every 4-6 feet to help lay out where your piers will go. Getting it right is essential, as no one wants to move the piers and footings once they are done. So, take your time measuring everything correctly.

Run string lines across the taped points. Square the lines by applying the 3:4:5 triangle rule. Every triangle with 3:4:5 sides is a right triangle. This way, you can make your shed any rectangle shape.

With a plumb bob and powdered chalk, mark the locations of piers on the ground where the lines intersect.

You can make your concrete forms for the pour if you like; there are also ready-made ones on the market with a price tag.

Dig holes for concrete footings.

Now, the footings are like shoes for the concrete piers. They apply the weight of the piers to a broader area so the piers won’t sink into the ground quickly.

Next, we need to dig some holes for the concrete footings. These need to be 12 to 14 inches square and 10 inches below the frost line.

As mentioned in summary, if the ground is fine-grain soil, you should dig 10 inches deeper, 20 inches in total, and fill the 10 inches with gravel. Compact it with a tamping rammer or something else so the pillars won’t sink when the weight starts to add up.

Why do we do this? Fine soil, like clay, has good capillary properties for water to rise higher. We didn’t want that, so we changed it to a rougher material.

If the soil is ok, we shovel 4 inches or so of gravel into the holes for drainage and tamp it down with a 2×4 or something similar. Just have the bottom level, so it’s easy to set form on top of it if we use one.

Let’s assume you do want to make your concrete forms. We build square forms of 1×6 material for the top of the footings, seat the forms over the holes, and level the forms on all sides and with each other. We should use stakes to hold the form on the bottom if necessary.

Another pro move would be to measure the distance between the top of our form and the supposed 4×6 beam height. That helps us set the precast concrete pier foundations to the correct height.

Add some rebar to the footing; it will make it stronger. If there is no instruction, the rebar should be 1-2 inches deep from the sides so it has some concrete covering it. It should go in the x and y directions.

Finally, we mix concrete and shovel it into the forms and holes. We move the shovel up and down in the concrete to help eliminate air pockets or use a vibrating tool for the same purpose. With a straight edge, scrape the concrete even with the top of the form.

Attach concrete pier foundations on the footings.

Next, it is time to install the precast concrete pier foundation on the footings; we need to do this before the concrete cures to have one solid piece. This way, the cement in concrete adheres to the precast concrete piers and the aggregates in it.

We can align the piers by placing a straight board across them with the board lying horizontally. Then, put the straight board on the edge next and sit on top to level the anchors from end to end.

You can use a laser or other tool to ensure all piers are at the correct height. We do not want to adjust them once everything is done.

We should let the concrete set for at least 24 hours before removing the forms. Depending on the concrete, it can be even 2-3 days.

After we remove them, we can shower the footings with water so they will harden some more. It will also prevent possible cracks.

If necessary, we should place landscape fabric and gravel for drainage. If the drainage is already good, this is unnecessary. When in doubt, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

I’d compact the gravel around concrete piers well and under the shed. It will help against frost-thawing.

At last, we place 4×6 beams into the anchors on the piers. Beam sizes can vary depending on the shed size; I like to imagine this size shed.

We can level the beams from end to end, side to side, and with each other by slipping shims under them if needed. Next, we can attach the anchors to the beams with nails or screws.

Now, we have the precast pier foundation ready for the shed. This is an excellent way to do a stable shed foundation; it will work in most applications. It’s suitable for wet, uneven ground, frost-heaving ground, etc.


Precast concrete pier foundations have their place in building houses and sheds. It’s an excellent way to get the building off the ground if there’s a problem with ground moisture.

It’s also an excellent way to build on uneven ground, and you might have seen some precast concrete piers on hill houses, etc. There is more here if you want to read more about concrete foundations.

I would lift most of the storage and other buildings off the ground I have at home. When lifted off the ground, the floor gets to breathe, and you might even plan for that quality.

Raise the structure enough, and you no longer have to worry about sinking. I had a kid’s playhouse built on piers, and when it started to drop, all I did was raise it back up with some leverage and concrete pads. In my defense, I didn’t build it.

If you’re interested in ways to support concrete foundations, here is an article about precast concrete piles supporting underground foundations.