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Lally Column

Updated on July 1, 2016

Full Pallet of Lally Columns

A full truckload of lally columns looks like this.
A full truckload of lally columns looks like this.

What is a Lally Column?

A lally column (sometimes referred to as a lolly column and more than one as lallies or lallys) is simply a structural support for a heavy load. Invented at the turn of the 20th century, it was a fire resistant alternative to wood, consisting then of a stronger steel tube filled with concrete.

Nowadays concrete footer pads are poured and a lally column bottom is installed over cement footing. The top of the column connects to the header above it. The load of the entire home (roofing system, wood posts, sub-flooring, block of wood, and beam) depends upon lallies doing their job.

New columns are generally installed to fix a sagging floor that squeaks. In much older homes sometimes wooden columns have to be replaced due to rot. For whatever purpose, the lally column holds an interesting history and exhibits multiple facets. Even the name is sort of fun to say.

Learning More: Definitions

  • The New Oxford American Dictionary described a lally column as "a tubular steel column filled with concrete and used as a supporting member in a building."
  • An Architectural Drafting author (Hornung, 1957) specified the "vertical support for beams" aspect.
  • New York Times Wordplay participants who associated a "concrete-filled steel cylinder" with a lally column were correct on August 6, 2010.

But for those of us building or renovating, a lally column is more real than words.

Perhaps not so glamorous in comparison to interior or landscape design projects, lally columns are very important, and very much mentioned within the building world. The heading of an often quoted article in the September 1984 issue of Irish News stated that "inventor's brainchild supports world." These below-the-surface-supports do indeed hold up their above-super-structures. We picture them in our basements; however, many, immense lallies bear the weight of heavy public edifices, even bridges (as seen below).

Large (exterior) Lally Columns

Lally columns supporting truss of Red Bank Creek Bridge, Red Bluff, California.
Lally columns supporting truss of Red Bank Creek Bridge, Red Bluff, California. | Source

Patent US614729 A, The Genuine Lally Column

Cool, we are glancing at a diagram of Lally's first patent, 1898.
Cool, we are glancing at a diagram of Lally's first patent, 1898. | Source

Discovering: History

According to WorldCat (the world's largest library catalog), the Biography of John Lally, Inventor of The Geniuine Lally Column was written by two of his children in 1950. I'm sure it likely begins when he was born, in 1859, in the town of Tuam, County Galway, Ireland. He immigrated to the United States via Boston, and later moved to its outskirts in Waltham, Massachusetts. By the age of 27, he had become a master mason, later owned a construction company, and was building all over the place. Fire damage losses and weak support cave-ins catapulted him into fiddling around with concrete and thus inventing a stronger, fireproof solution: The Genuine Lally Column.

A fact so spectacular that the Waltham Museum considered the invention of the lally column by John Lally to be one of "the 10 most significant contributions made to America by Waltham Industries."

What's more, in the Internet Archive's Building Technology Heritage Library I ran across an applicable trade journal in the public domain. You can access the 10th edition of the Lally Column Handbook: 1897-1926. For archivists and history buffs, what a fascinating read. All 85 pages are chock-full of details about John Lally's The Genuine Lally Column, including some patents with lithographic-looking diagrams and corresponding explanations.

I hope you can see the details in this visual (above) of Lally's first patent in 1898. If not, get out a magnifying glass. Is that his signature in the lower right?

With the knowledge about and use of lally columns in full bore, other companies began selling them, too, as denoted in a 1922 ad (also below).

The Genuine Lally Column for Sale in 1922

Perusing a newspaper ad from April 22, 1922 (in public domain).
Perusing a newspaper ad from April 22, 1922 (in public domain). | Source

Lally Columns for Sale Today

A poster indicating that lally columns can be custom cut.
A poster indicating that lally columns can be custom cut. | Source

Two Standards: Fixed & Adjustable Lengths

With residential construction in mind, the two standard types of lally columns are permanent, distinguished by either fixed or adjustable lengths (see illustration below). Each includes a long-cylindrical hollow-steel solid post with two plates, one cap for the top, and another base for the bottom.

The fixed length has one plate welded to its tube, with the other unattached. The adjustable length also has one plate welded to its tube, with the other attached to its screw on the bottom end (which will be eventually encased in concrete) (see plate assembly below). The fine details depend upon your situation and are important to discuss with your supplier. The entire spectrum of lally columns ranges from about 12 inches to 12 feet tall. That said, if your space called for a six-foot lally, a comparison (see chart below) provides some insight about variables.

A fixed length is used in new construction.

  1. First, a hole is dug and concrete poured for the footer.
  2. Next, stones are put on sides for drainage. The column is then put on top of the footer (with the loose plate below) at the same time the beam is connected above. This operation is not a one-person job.
  3. At this point workers check if the lally is plumb, which refers to vertical (also called true) alignment: front and back, left and right. They usually use a plumb-bob tool for this calculation.
  4. The top plate is then bolted to the beam.
  5. Last, and at a later date, the concrete floor will be poured.

The adjustable type is used in a retrofit, which is an addition or renovation. The process differs somewhat, as the entire screw assembly is permanently encased in concrete. But both types require proper determination of the load bearing capacity that you will need. For this step, seek the advice of an expert.

If you see holes in the column body, these are jack posts (also called screw jacks, telescoping columns, or tele-posts), which add strength to already-existing columns or support other structures during construction. They generally contain less steel, offer less support, and are only meant for temporary use.

Lally columns however with their solid bodies provide lasting support. Early lallies had a thick shell, which was approximately ¼”; whereas those of today generally measure a lesser thickness of .06”. The diameter of the standard tube is four (4) inches, although other widths are available should your building codes require more. Since home and business spaces vary, these types of columns can be customized to fit crawl spaces, basements, and so forth. That means being custom cut (see ad above) to fit your custom space.

Types of Lally Columns

Illustrating these two lallys conveys distinctions in this diagram.
Illustrating these two lallys conveys distinctions in this diagram. | Source

Adjustable Length Mechanism

Side view, showing turning bar between plate (on left) and screw (on right).
Side view, showing turning bar between plate (on left) and screw (on right).

Plate Assembly

Custom-cut lally columns involve a plate assembly. When either fixed or adjustable column bodies are cut, the plate must be factored in the dimensions. Before purchasing make sure the supplier is aware of plates or it will result in useless columns for your project.

Lally Column Comparison

Variables
Fixed
Adjustable
Length
6.0'
6' - 6'4"
Diameter
4.0" round
4.0" round
Gauge of Steel
11
11
Top Plate
4" x 8" welded to tube
4" x 8" welded to tube
Bottom Plate
4" x 8" unattached
3 1/2" x 6" attached to screw
Weight
34 lbs.
37.9 lbs.
Maxium Load
28,900 lbs.
28,900 lbs.
Application For
new construction
retrofit
Custom Cut
to exact height
to exact height & adjustable
Concrete Footing
permanent, loose plate & column
encased, entire screw assembly
Comparing two standards, based upon a six (6) foot unit.

Fixed Length in Basement

Click thumbnail to view full-size
a. Supporting the entire house are top, body, and base (underneath concrete floor).b. Residing below are unseen base plate and footer.c. Attaching above is the column-and-cap-plate section. Sometimes shims are placed between the cap and beam to provide a tighter fit.d. Close up of bolted screw securing plate-and-column component to overhead beam.
a. Supporting the entire house are top, body, and base (underneath concrete floor).
a. Supporting the entire house are top, body, and base (underneath concrete floor).
b. Residing below are unseen base plate and footer.
b. Residing below are unseen base plate and footer.
c. Attaching above is the column-and-cap-plate section. Sometimes shims are placed between the cap and beam to provide a tighter fit.
c. Attaching above is the column-and-cap-plate section. Sometimes shims are placed between the cap and beam to provide a tighter fit.
d. Close up of bolted screw securing plate-and-column component to overhead beam.
d. Close up of bolted screw securing plate-and-column component to overhead beam.

Observing: What do you (or others) already have?

If curious, introduce yourself to the topic of lally columns by investigating what you or your neighbors already have installed. I descended to a basement (my parents') where most of us see and take-for-granted the power of the lally column. The points (below) correspond to the photos (above).

a. The whole unit appears with base, vertical pole, and top. A few years ago we painted the cylindrical body a beige color.

b. Gray latex paint on the floor has loosened during a few rainstorm floods so the previous owner's brown paint is showing through (that is not rust) as you look at the concrete floor covering the bottom plate and footer.

c. The column holds up a steel beam that is in-between air ducts.

d. The cap plate adheres to the beam with a bolted screw.

Sample 1: Summary of Municipality Checklist

Focusing on how lally columns relate to overall building factors.
Focusing on how lally columns relate to overall building factors. | Source

Building to Local Code

Most municipalities provide the public with information necessary for building new construction and retrofit projects. Retrofitting by the way refers to additions or renovations of existing buildings. For examples, note lally columns listed in two municipality checklists (see sample summary above, and sample detail below).

Those in the building trades must become familiar with lallies academically and technically. A case in point is the strategy a carpenter-in-training follows as exemplified in a worker task list (ED406537) from the Virginia Vocational Curriculum for Framing the Floor:

"1. Check condition of foundation.
2. Install sill plate.
3. Install wood post.
4. Install solid and composite wood beam.
5. Install built-up wood girder.
6. Install steel beam.
7. Install Lally column" (on page 9).

Traits and attitudes mentioned under supplementary information (on page 13 of the above PDF), ring true in "that experience is the most important factor in hiring and advancement in the construction trades." Recall this tip and definitely check references when hiring a professional to inspect and/or install your lally columns. To do so is to avoid structural problems and/or legal difficulties by properly supporting building weight loads.

Many manufacturers post load charts on their websites and in printed material. Ensure that the size lallies you purchase correspond to indicated weight loads. Also, are they IBC (International Building Code) and IRC (International Residential Code) approved? Consult a structural engineer to be certain. Most municipalities can assist you. You may first want to determine if your locale is listed online in any coding sites, such as eCode360 or Municode. Then contact the appropriate someone directly by phone, text, chat, or email, or swing on over face-to-face.

Sample 2: Section of Municipality Checklist

Detailing floor requirements, Part C of Applicant's Checklist in Building Permit.
Detailing floor requirements, Part C of Applicant's Checklist in Building Permit. | Source

Lally Column for Sale

Purchasing Lally Columns

When looking to buy lally columns make sure you are prepared by having the exact dimensions from floor to beam on a piece of paper or mobile device. Take videos or snap pictures to show supply store staff. This step will likely speed up the process and together you may come up with some solution you had not thought of alone.

Custom cut lally columns usually cost slightly more than jack posts. But other than cents what difference does it actually make? For you and many others the result is the support and precision that a good job requires. For anyone with a stake in structured steel or a project that will need a firm foundation and specialized specs, a custom cut column is the consequence of a perfect fit. From a practical vantage, it simplifies your project, adds accuracy to your toolkit, and makes certain that you end up with the right lally column. That's the overriding goal envisioned at www.lally-column.com.

No matter what your job may be, support is paramount. And support (quite literally) is the purpose of the lally column. With these twofold objectives in mind, make sure the company you are working with can:

  • Custom-cut columns prepared in-house, according to your specs.
  • Offer custom-sized screw assembly.
  • Provide custom-sized wall tubing.
  • Supply custom-sized column plates.

Just remember the adage, "Measure twice and cut once." Everything hinges upon your responsibility to calculate the correct measurement(s) before you order anything.

Load Information

Reviewing: More Terminology

We've touched upon the lally's strategic role in building essentials. What's more, and since I have the book in front of me, I thought I'd revisit known and add new words. Kreh (2008) clearly defined them in the glossary of his 6th edition of Masonry Skills. Verbatim and alphabetically, here are some terms that we should know about:

  • Beam - "a piece of timber, steel, or other material that is supported at each end by walls, columns, or posts and is used to support heavy flooring or weight over an opening" (p. 612).
  • Building code - "the legal requirement established by different governing agencies covering minimum construction practices" (p. 612).
  • Dead load - "an inert, inactive load such as in structures due to weight of the members that support the structure and permanent attachments; a constant weight or pressure used in computing strength of beams, floors, or roof surfaces" (p. 614). My dad said it's also called a stationery load.
  • Footing - "the enlarged base, usually made of concrete, that the foundation rests on. Its function is to support the building and distribute the weight over a greater area" (p. 616).
  • Live load - " the non-permanent load to which a structure is subjected or imposed on in addition to its own weight. It includes the weight of people in a building and freestanding materials, but does not include wind load, earthquake loads, or constant dead loads" (p. 618)
  • Load bearing - "the term referring to a wall or other masonry work that supports a load" (p. 618).

The above list is a start. I plan to continue compiling words. Do you? That way, it will be easy for us to refresh, to better understand concepts and talk to experts.

Lally Columns Ready for Shipping

Source

Shipping Lally Columns

Shipping fees and time frames depend on the size and quantity of lally columns. Columns under eight (8) feet can go by UPS ground. Beyond that, columns must be shipped via LTL. This abbreviation stands for less than a truckload. Rates vary according to location but can easily be calculated ahead of time by your supplier. The third option is transport of a full truckload of lally columns.

Adorning: Adding Extras

Basement lally columns look plain and simple. So some folks accessorize.

I'm not quite sure how I'd react to something fancy, but if you have kids and also a design flair, you might want to display your artistic talents on your basement lally columns. However, covers are available. Unfinished or painted wood selections come in round, rectangular, or tapered forms. The "A Homeowner and A Lally Column" video (watch it below) stated that some people put foam padding or carpeting around garage lally columns to protect car doors. Some companies sell vinyl varieties. Lots of basement pole covers or wraps are for sale.

I suppose the sky is the limit. With imagination kindled, what if someone were to promote a crowd-funding campaign on this topic?

Time Lapse of Column Installation

A Homeowner and A Lally Column

Lally Column Footer

Dealing with Old Lally Columns

When replacing existing footers, it is pivotal to plan ahead. These columns are holding up your home. Moving one incorrectly will lead to catastrophic disaster. Find an expert or educate yourself and get the right tools to redo the footer. The video above explains how to dig out a footer.

Removing a Lally Column

Conclusion

I'm reflecting upon an analogy between ships sailing upon frothy seas and buildings resting on solid grounds. Both settings require teamwork of crews and leadership of captains or contractors. Both also contain deep within, inner workings in bowels or basements, crucial yet often unnoticed.

We've merely scratched the surface, paying particular attention to fixed and adjustable length standards of lallies. Quite astounding is the tenacity and talent that an inventor exhibited to take his product to market. Thank you, John Lally. Most important is proper measurement-taking and accurate load-bearing-awareness.

Installing lally columns is not something most of us do every day. They are the forgotten soldiers of support that sit at the bottom of our homes. When a floor begins to sag or you are called to duty to resurrect one for some dire reason, aim to do it right. This is not an item you want to disregard. Get a custom cut column, get the job done, and get back to business as usual. All hands on deck.

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