Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 9 seconds

As a Remodeling Contractor, we are defined by our results. To that end, we are constantly challenged by problems that are screaming for a solution. After 17 years there are still some situations we have not solved. This is one that we ran into after we tore down a garage and large cement driveway that was cracked badly.

This is not the first bad soil condition situation but it was the first that I think we should have caught before we started. The cracked concrete should have been my first clue. Soil sampling is the new thing that we are doing prior to selling the job.

We Live in a Low Expansive Soil Area in the Country

That being said, I think someone brought in 3 feet of crappy clay fill on top of the virgin soil. Having a stable base is the thing that makes the concrete last. Some soils just cant be compacted. When saturated with water they expand and can crack concrete easily.

Removing the bad clay-filled material was necessary, we had to bring back many loads of road mix that was compactable and then use a combination of compaction tools to get it right.

Disastrous Soil Condition

When someone has disturbed soil and put it back it can not be compacted to the same amount as it was originally. This has bitten me and many others in the butt on multiple occasions. Especially in the case of basement excavation. We have seen brick walls collapse, and we have seen solid earth next door be sand on our project. We were left scratching our heads. Could this be a mother nature thing or was it previously disturbed? We later learned that sure enough, I was disturbed by a previous renovation.

Expansive Soil

When Do You Check Soil Conditions?

I’m getting the sense that it is like calling Dig-Line. Every time you are going to disturb the soil. It costs nothing in the big picture and the cost is easily absorbed during design. I am one that hates Change Orders so (Assuming, as we know makes an ass out of you and me) To that end I am inclined to do soil sampling part of every per-excavation due- diligence. I’d venture to guess that if you ask your contractor about this they would have nothing to say.

Hillside projects need plenty of soil testing and regular monitoring of conditions. Those with no experience need to beware of the 100-year flood, soil percolation calculations rates, and drainage beds. The inexperienced contractor needs to ask lots of questions and be ready to be licensed by the local jurisdiction to be a Responsible Person and have an ESC plan then use BMP’s to maintain a safe site. Suffice it to say, there will be an expensive learning curve and you’re going to be on a first-name basis with a lot of engineers.

Civil Engineers, Soils engineers, and lots of bureaucracy. Turns out some fool of a contractor built homes in a well-known unstable area and sure enough, homes slid off the hill, then the lawsuits, and now the extremely restrictive building requirements.

Experience is a Great Teacher

A quote accredited to many. This is just one more thing that sets us apart from the next guy.

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