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do you always need a soil test ??

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By Wilf in Big Bear, CA on 11/20/2004

I am due to start work on a house foundations, I have plans drawn and approved and all permits etc., I noticed a few posts regarding soil tests. No one told me I should have one done. Does anyone know if you always need a soil test? The loan company never mentioned getting one either!! 

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By John in Erie, CO on 11/21/2004

Would you pay $1000 now to ensure that you didn't have to abandon the house later? That is the drastic case, but I would strongly consider it. Talk to other projects in your area to get a feel for if these folks are having soils tests done. In my area, they are required. Entire developments of show homes have had to be knocked down because after a good rain, the soils expanded and crushed the foundations. I had soils and a septic percolation done for $1200, and would strongly recommend doing some research on the local soils before skipping the test. On the other hand, the tests don't tell you everything, but it's a good measure to help ensure that you don't have unstable or expansive soils. It will also tell you where the water table is.

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By Paula in Fredericksburg, VA on 4/14/2005


I too am required to have a soil test done.  I have spoken to a soil engineer.  His assistant  told me I need to have a site plan done before he can do the test.  Can you tell me what a site plan is?  My research seems to indicate that a site plan includes many different things that topographical in nature such as location of sidewalks, driveway, septic if applicable.  I am not sure what these have to do with that.  I spoke to the assistant again and was informed that I needed a proposed dwelling site plan.  However, I cannot find out much information about that.  What requirements did you have before having the tests done and who does the proposed dwelling site plan?  Surveyor? Excavator?

Also did your soil test indicate shrink swell issues?  If so, do you know what the resolution to such an issue is?




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By Jim in Austin, TX on 4/19/2005


A site plan often includes the following:

  • a map showing the location of the property in relation to adjacent properties, roads, and utilities.
  • location of the proposed structure, required building setbacks, and any proposed flatwork such as patio slabs and sidewalks/driveways.
  • Dimensions of any proposed structures in relation to the property boundaries.
  • north direction arrow
  • property boundaries
  • slope shown by contour lines or cross sections or both
  • any trees/plants that are to remain
  • location of any proposed fencing or masonry fencing structures
  • scale of the site plan
  • solar site information, if required
  • septic field/tank locations, if required.
  • impervious cover, building coverage, & total land square footage's.

The site plan uses information acquired from the Surveyor like topographical, boundary, tree and utility locations. Your designer/Architect should get this information directly from the Surveyor and place your house, driveways and any exterior slabs on their drawing to ensure accuracy of the presented information.

If you are not using a designer/architect, the surveyor may be able to do a site plan for you.

As for the soil tests, most structural engineering firms require one to properly design the foundation for its final resting place. A site plan is needed by the soils lab to ensure that soil samples are acquired from where the structural slabs are to be built. Random sampling is not possible when structures are involved.

The type of test normally performed to determine a soils' shrinkage/expansion capability is called an Atterberg Limits test.

Here is a rather boring, but informative web page on the subject:

I have also included a sample site plan in pdf format so you can get an idea as to what you need. Please keep in mind that this was for City of Austin Building Review requirements and your area may require more or less for approval.

Hope this helps a bit. Good Luck.

Jim Gobel


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