Billboard Mastery Podcast: Episode 52

Taking The Terror Out of Drilling Holes

You can’t build a billboard without drilling a hole first, and this one act is often a source of concern. Don’t let drilling a hole hold you back! In this Billboard Mastery podcast, we’re going to discuss what I’ve learned from drilling hundreds of holes in my career and hopefully help you conquer your fear of putting in billboard foundations.

Episode 52: Taking The Terror Out of Drilling Holes Transcript

Taking The Terror Out Of Drilling Holes. This is Frank Rolfe, the Billboard Mastery Podcast. We're gonna be exploring all the things that concern people about drilling foundations for billboards and how it works, what can happen, how to fix things when it does happen, and some additional tips. Let's start off with the process. You wanna build a billboard, it doesn't matter whether it's a wooden billboard or a steel billboard, the very first thing you have to do is you have to drill a hole before you can put in the column, whether it's wood or steel, or steel I-beam, a hole must be drilled. Why? Because you're holding something up in the air, so it can't be just sitting on top of the ground, there's no way that will work. You're gonna have to drill a hole into the Earth, and it'll be a pretty big hole. Typically a wooden, telephone pole sign, those holes are still gonna go down 6 to 10 feet in the ground, and those big monopole signs may go down as much as 20 feet or more. I once drilled one that went down 40 feet into the ground. Now, what happens when you do this? How does it work? Well, they bring out a machine called an auger. It looks like an electric drill, only attached to a giant piece of machinery. It basically spins and it will drill a hole, typically 2 feet in diameter, up to 4 feet in diameter, at a fairly rapid rate of speed.

It will only take a matter of hours to drill the hole. So it's the drilling of the hole, it's really not that difficult. These guys do nothing but drill a hole, so they are truly professional at it. The problem is what happens when you drill down and you don't get to go where you thought you were going to go? So sometimes as a drill is drilling, it encounters rock. What do you do when you hit rock? Well, rock is very, very expensive to fix, because the drill bit cannot go through rock, it can only go through dirt, when it hits rock, it stops. Now, they make drill bits that can drill through rock, but they are smaller in diameter. So what they have to do is, they have to drill over and over and over through the rock, trying to break a hole big enough that their bigger bit can fit through it, and it adds a ton onto the cost, thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars if you hit a rock. So what happens a lot of times is, if it's a billboard out in a big, open field, they'll just wanna move the hole over to where there's no rock, because sometimes these boulders are very finite positions. There's normally not a big, old strata of rock, it's just an individual boulder of some type. So you can't move the stone, so if you can't move over 'cause there's no room, then all you can do is try and drill through it and ask the person drilling the hole what the cost will be to do so.

I will definitely wanna get the price upfront because based on what happens, you wouldn't wanna be caught with a gigantic bill that you cannot afford to pay. Another common thing when you're drilling that hole is you'll encounter water. Now, why do you encounter water? Well, because the Earth, although you may not know it, has all these underground rivers running through it, and there's water flowing at all times underground, and sometimes when you drill down, you hit one of these kind of water aquifer kind of arrangements, so you just have a lot of water in the soil. So what happens when you hit water is, you'll drill the hole and suddenly, instead of bringing out dirt, you bring up mud, and then sometimes a whole lot of water along with that mud. Sometimes it's just kinda slightly muddy and sometimes it's literally like just muddy water. So what happened now is you've hit water. Now, that's not the end of the movie when you're drilling the hole, but it depends on how much water there is. If the water content isn't quite that much, if it's coming up just kind of a soft mud kind of thing, you can typically continue to drill down, but at some point that hole will start caving in. Now, again, that's not necessarily bad for the billboard foundation, that's called a bell hole foundation.

And what it means is, the foundation looks like a pyramid, where the top of the pyramid is basically the top of the Earth, and at the bottom, it becomes very wide, that actually adds strength to the billboard, many people believe. Because now, in the middle of a high windstorm, you have a bigger foundation underground to hold it in place. Now, if it's losing a lot of water, such that the thing just starts collapsing like crazy, not only down deep, but also in the middle and even up to the top, then you have to do what's called casing the hole. That means you have to bring out a piece of metal pipe and drill down through that metal pipe. So the metal pipe goes around the exterior of the hole. You've seen this on shows. There's Mysteries of Oak Island, when they're digging those giant shafts, they have to case those holes, but you also see it on just a regular water well, where they put a case down those little water wells too. However, it's very expensive when you start casing the hole. So you hopefully you don't have to case the hole. When you case the hole, that may drive your cost up just as bad as if you hit rock. Now, if you hit moist soil, not such that you have to case it, there's another trick you can do on that.

You can actually pour, through a company called Custom-Crete or something similar, concrete down that hole that does not have hardly any water in it. So what you're doing is, you're allowing the water in the Earth to become the water that becomes part of the concrete, and that gives you a much better concrete. If you pour regular wet concrete and mix in a whole bunch of water, well, you're gonna dilute the concrete. So they can actually custom make the concrete and in some cases will pour into that hole the mixture of concrete completely dry, which then mixes with the Earth's water to fill that in. So that's another option you can do when you have the hole that has a lot of water in it, but not so much that you have to case it. Now, what are some other things you have to know about drilling holes? Well, number one, you gotta make sure when they drill these holes that the hole is deep enough, that's the key item. It's not so much even the diameter as is the depth. If you look at what happens with signs when they fall down, typically not a diameter issue, because if you think about it, all that power, all that force, the top of the sign has been reflected in that fulcrum point below the Earth.

So if your hole was designed or should be eight feet deep and they only drill it six feet deep, you could have a real problem on your hands from a safety standpoint. So I always like to stay there when they're drilling the hole with my own tape measure to measure how truly deep it is, because every so many feet, they'll measure it and you need to make sure they're not cheating. A lot of those guys realize, that once they drill the hole, well, you're never gonna catch on to how deep it truly was, particularly if it's, there's water and things going into the hole as they're drilling it, so I would wanna stay there the entire time they drill the hole, and I would wanna see that final number to make that that hole is deep enough, so you don't get stuck with a hole that's insufficiently deep, also don't forget if the hole is not deep enough, the sign will be too tall, and in some markets, if your sign is too tall, well, you'll violate your permit and they can make you lower the sign. So it's very, very important you make sure that that sign is sufficiently... That that hole is sufficiently deep.

Next, you gotta make sure you've got the correct access, because to drill a the hole requires a big piece of equipment, you can't just fit it right in between the small slot between two buildings. So make sure that you have enough access for that drilling machine, and then, additionally, for putting the pole into that hole that you have drilled. Now, when they put the pole in the hole, they use a crane, and the crane can pick up that pole and it can maneuver it in fairly tight quarters, but the drilling machine cannot, because the drilling machine as it drills the hole, it has to then turn sideways to throw the dirt off. It needs a whole lot more room. If you're not sure you have enough room, I would call the drilling company to begin with, and see if they would come out and look or at least give you a rough idea in feet, how much radius they need to spin that drill around to get the dirt off of it, so always make sure you have sufficient access. Also make double sure that you've got all the correct setbacks because once you build that sign, once you drill that hole, you can't move it. You can't come back later and say, "Oh gosh, I screwed up, it's three feet too near the road, it's two feet near the property owner's land." No.

That has to be done on the front end, because once it's in, it's in, there's really no way to correct it, so I would double, triple measure everything you do, and I'll also tell you this from experience, don't go double, triple measuring it the day before or the week before and put a stake in there granted the spray paint that stake, and say to yourself, "Aha, that's where the sign goes," on many occasion, you will find that a teenager, just for fun, will move that stake over, into the wrong position, basically, just to try and screw you up. Additionally, I've seen the guys drilling the hole move the stake around just to what conveniences them. What a disaster that would be, they drill the hole, on the stake that you thought was where it was supposed to be, only to find out that they moved it, and now you're in deep trouble 'cause your sign is in completely the wrong position. So once again, before anything is drilled, I would wanna go out there and see for myself that it is in the exact right spot, because if it's not, it's too late once the drilling begins. Drilling holes for billboards is really not that scary of a science.

I've done hundreds of them. I have no terrible tales of anything that went drastically wrong, however, I have hit rock, I have hit water, I've hit all of it. Now one final item, when we talk about hitting things, and you gotta make sure that you get covered is, making sure that you've checked all utilities. Now it should go without saying, in America today, if you're gonna drill into the ground, you've gotta call Dig Test, or One Call, or on one of those numbers to make sure there are no utilities in the vicinity you're drilling. Yet too many people forget to do that. And that's crazy. Those services are free, they will come out and tell you and mark, if there's any water lines, sewer lines, power lines, gas lines, cable lines, telephone lines, whatever the case may be, they'll mark that for you, and that is a very, very important to have, item to have marked, if you hit those utilities, it can be very, very expensive, it can be financially life-ending if you hit cable... I'm sorry, not cable, but fiber optic telephone. So just make sure before you drill anything, you have all the utilities identified. Again, if you follow these tips, you should have no problem drilling a nice hole, not having a problem, and then moving on to the next. This is Frank Rolfe, with The Billboard Mastery Podcast, hope you enjoyed this, talk to you again soon.