No Mess, No Fuss

Metal foundations are a simple alternative to pouring concrete around ground-mounted systems. Metal Foundations Industries’ decision to introduce its successful business model to the solar industry was just as simple.

Solar power systems are sprouting up across the country just as quickly as the grass and greenery surrounding them. Why ruin the landscape with deep, concrete-filled holes? If a metal foundation is a practical choice, why not use it?

Metal Foundations Industries (MFI), just outside of Pittsburgh, has had two decades of success making support structures for airports, highway signs, security fencing and more. MFI holds numerous patents, both in design and installation processes, and more than 200,000 foundations have been successfully installed since the company formed in 1993, says CEO Geoffrey Feidelberg.

“Historically, the company was serving heavy highway and various airports,” he says. “It was just a logical extension to move into the solar industry. Solar arrays are going up all over the place. [They] require an extensive amount of foundation, so it’s an ideal application of our product.”

MFI’s foundation designs are made from 100 percent recyclable solid steel. Each foundation is uniquely designed for the specific application. Feidelberg says the company has no preconceived notion for what the metal foundation will look like when approached for a project.

“We have to evaluate what the soil conditions are that the foundation is going to be installed into. We have to evaluate knowing the loads that the foundations are going to support,” he says. “It’s not off-the-shelf foundations. The beauty of that is you know what you’re getting is going to work. They’re not over-designed and they’re not under-designed.”

The design consists of a central pipe column, a tapered end to ease the installation into the soil, two to four steel fins welded to the pipe and a top plate that is custom-designed for easy integration with the structure the foundation will support. Solar mounting systems can be installed same-day.

Metal foundations can be installed in any weather, rain or shine. With concrete, if it’s raining outside, the project has to be halted. Or if the installation is in a desert-area, water has to be trucked in. With the typical concrete foundations for solar, water can both make or break a project.

But with a metal foundation, water is not a concern, and neither is excavating or drilling. The small amount of discarded soil that is pushed through the middle of the pipe is reused around the site.

“It’s much safer because there’s no excavating going on, no drilling going on, no dewatering going on,” Feidelberg says. “The soil that is on the jobsite remains at the jobsite. There’s minimal disturbance of the soil and no spoils to haul away.”
Carports benefit greatly from metal foundations, as the parking lot sees minimal disturbance.

“We can punch right through the asphalt with our foundation,” Feidelberg says. “We don’t tear up the parking lot, and it’s out of commission for a minimal amount of time. If you use concrete, that parking lot is destroyed.”

MFI’s foundations happen to be a great option for projects on brownfields and EPA Superfund sites. For sites with soil contaminated by hazardous materials (retired landfills, former steel mills, fuel testing sites, etc.), having a foundation with minimal soil disruption is the only way to do the project. MFI has worked on a few temperamental projects.

“We’ve done an installation at a Superfund site,” Feidelberg says. “We were the only viable option because you couldn’t move the soil. We put the foundations in and there was no disturbance to the area. You have to worry about all these contaminates in the soils. [The foundations] stay put right where they are.”

Another added benefit of MFI’s foundations is the fact that they are completely removable at the end of the lifecycle of the project and extremely environmentally friendly. This may not be an immediate concern for solar projects, but it is something to consider in this “green” industry.

Although Metal Foundations didn’t form 20 years ago with solar in mind, recent success in the industry has allowed the company to grow.

“One thing that I’ve learned as I drive around this country of ours, there are needs for foundations everywhere, and the solar industry just happens to be a bright star right now. It is definitely an opportunity for us,” Feidelberg says. “A lot of construction companies do a lot of different things. This is what we do. This is where our expertise is. This is our niche.”

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