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Design of Prestressed

Concrete Piles
for Seismic Loads
Adds a New Dimension
McLeod C. Nigels, P.E. FPCI Senior Associate Davis & Floyd, Inc.

he design of piling in the Charles-
Table I: section properties and allowable concentric loads for the three
ton, S.C. Area has become more
commonly available building foundation piles.
focused on seismic design with
the advent of the International Build- Size Area Prestress Effective Allowable Axial Load In Tons
ing Code.1 Regardless of the type of (Inches) (Sq. In.) Strands Prestress F’c
pile selected, design involves a greater 5000 6000 7000
awareness of the need for ductility in
10 100 4--7/16” 804 71 88 104
pile foundations. In years past, the
selection and design of piles for use 12 144 4-1/2” 750 104 128 151
in building foundations has been a 14 196 6-1/2” 819 140 172 204
simple process in which standard
designs were considered for vertical Figure 1.
loads. The selection of piles simply
meant estimating gravity loads and
dividing those loads by allowable axial stronger and, as a result, piles became seismic loads indicated the need for
loads on piles. The piles used were gen- larger. Whereas piles were 10” square, greater ductility. Research performed
erally 10” square. Lateral loads due to they are now generally 12” or 14”. and articles written indicated the
wind or earthquake were taken by pro- Larger piles are often used in bridge need for greater confinement of the
viding batter piles. It was general prac- and marine construction but these larg- “core” of the pile in order to provide
tice to assume that the reactions from er piles require heavier handling and greater ductility. The “core” is defined
lateral loads became axial loads on the driving equipment than that generally as the central portion of the pile cross
batter piles, so piles were not assumed found at building construction sites. section defined by the spiral. Sheppard3
to be subjected to bending moments. Fig. 1 provides a table showing reported on research done regarding
A presentation by Margason2 in section properties and allowable con- the behavior of prestressed concrete
1977 called attention to the fact that centric loads for the three commonly piles subjected to curvatures similar
batter piles fared poorly in recent San available building foundation piles. to those to which piles are subjected
Francisco earthquakes. If batter piles The table also includes a list of the to during an earthquake. A method to
were not to be used in cases where they commonly used prestress strand for analyze flexural strength and ductility
had been used in the past, vertical piles each pile with the corresponding cal- by increasing the spiral reinforcing is
were to be called upon to provide enough culated effective prestress after losses. presented in a paper by Joen and Park4.
bending moment capacity to provide lat- Along with greater need for bend- The results of research conducted in
eral resistance. This required piles to be ing capacity, the analysis of piles for New Zealand are summarized by a later

32 • Q4 • 2005
Photo courtesy Palmetto Pile Driving
Figure 2.

paper by Joen and Park5. Fig. 2 shows W12 Wire at 2” pitch within the duc-
typical cross sections of piles, both tile region. Such heavy wire is a much
Figure 3.
with square and circular spiral. more important portion of the cost of a
prestressed concrete pile than the W3.4
Typical Sections through Piles wire was in days gone by before seismic 2) Cast dowels extending from
Circular spiral wire is generally design was considered. Not only is the the pile head. Cut holes in the
much larger than the W3.4 wire for- cost of the wire a concern, but the con- driving helmet or spud so that
merly used as standard spiral. Seismic gestion caused by the closely spaced wire the helmet or spud can fit over
spiral is circular because of the desire in the form is of primary concern as well. the extending dowels.
to use the spiral in direct hoop tension Whereas a contractor casting concrete in 3) Drill dowel holes in the pile
to confine the core. (In addition, it a building column has to cast concrete after driving and grout dowels
becomes impractical to attempt to down both sides of a column spiral, the into the holes.
bend the larger wire in a square). precaster is faced with the task of cast- 4) Cast dowel holes in the pile
The upper portion of a pile sur- ing through two layers of confinement and grout dowels into the
rounded by soil and subjected to seismic reinforcement along the length of the dowel holes after driving.
loads is referred to as the “ductile zone”. form. Fig. 3 illustrates congestion when In this area, the generally accept-
The IBC requires that the ductile zone 12” square piles are prestressed using ed practice is to cast dowel holes. This
be at least the upper 35 ft. of the pile and 6 strands and reinforced using W10 Wire avoids the necessity of cutting off the
that the spiral ratio in this region meet spiral @ 2” pitch. top of the pile as required under (1),
certain criteria. A series of equations is cutting holes in the driving head
provided and the spiral ratio is required Pile Connections under (2), or field-drilling dowel holes
to equal certain minimums. The spiral In the design of pile foundations, as required under (3) above.
in the lower portion of the pile, below piles often are required to be designed The dowel hole is generally formed
the ductile region is required to be equal for uplift or fixity at the head of the pile. with spiral metal tubing similar to that
to half that required within the ductile The Code (1808. requires used in post tensioning sheathing.
zone. Therefore it is usual practice to reinforcing at the interface between The selection of the diameter and
provide a spiral pitch throughout the the pile and the pile cap. Reinforcing length of the dowel hole depends upon
lower portion of the pile twice that pro- for this usage can consist of prestress- the size of the dowel required. The
vided in the ductile zone. ing strand and/or mild steel reinforcing. length must accommodate the develop-
In 12” square piles it has become The four usual options are: ment length of the dowel and, usually,
the usual practice to provide seismic 1) Cast the pile longer than re- the development length of the strand.
spiral in the ductile zone consisting quired, with mild steel added Fig. 4 illustrates design considerations.
of W10 wire at 2” pitch. W10 Wire if necessary. Cut the top of the The size and number of dowel
has a diameter of 0.34-in, close to 3/8”. pile off after driving, exposing holes that can be safely provided at
14” square piles are usually provided with the strands and/or dowels. the head of a pile must be limited. If

34 • Q4 • 2005
The design of piles to resist lateral
UPLIFT loads due to earthquake has changed the
design of pile foundations. However, even
with the increased cost due to seismic spi-
DOWEL CAST OR ral, prestressed concrete piles remain the
GROUTED IN piling of choice in the local area as they
have been for more than forty years. ▼

2003 International Building Code.
International Code Council, 5203
PILE PULLS APART Leesburg Pike, Suite 708, Falls Church,
IF STRANDS ARE VA 22041-3401
Margason, E., “Earthquake Effects
on Embedded Pile Foundations”,
Associated Pile & Fitting Corp. ,
PILETALK Seminar, San Francisco,
California, March 1977.
Sheppard, D.A., “Seismic Design
of Prestressed Concrete Piling, “PCI
JOURNAL, V.28, No. 2, March-
April 1983, pp. 20-49.
Joen, P.H., and Park, R., “Flexural
Strength and Ductility Analysis
POSSIBLE MODE of Spirally Reinforced Prestressed
OF FAILURE Concrete Piles,” PCI JOURNAL, V.35,
No. 4, July-August 1990, pp. 64-83.
Figure 4. 5
Joen, P.H., and Park, R., “Simulated
Seismic Load Tests on Prestressed
the cross section of the pile is exces- section should not be reduced more Concrete Piles and Pile-Pile Cap
sively reduced and hard driving is en- than approximately 6 percent. Most Connections,” PCI JOURNAL, V.35,
countered, the result can be damage dowel holes are 1¾” dia. for smaller No. 6, November-December 1990,
to the pile due to driving stresses. In piles and 2” dia. for others. The num- pp. 42-61.
the case of 10” piles, experience has ber of dowel holes provided in 12” and 6
Nigels, McLeod C., “Prestressed
shown that the number of dowel holes 14” piles is generally limited to four. Concrete Tension Piles and Their
must be limited to two. For other piles, A paper6 by the author discusses the Connections”, PCI JOURNAL, V.43,
as a general rule of thumb, the cross design of dowel connections for uplift. No. 4, July-August 1998, pp 138-140.

• Underpinning • Earth Retention Systems • Driven Piling • Micropiles


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