Take a close look at soil before building

California boasts various unique terrains. The landscape and climate are often major factors that draw many new residents here, and with more people comes more building projects - particularly during a strong economy.

Developers and contractors are typically under severe pressure to complete a project as quickly as possible due to lender required milestones and contractual requirements among the many subcontractors and suppliers. Generally, the longer a project takes, the greater the chance it will cause delay penalties and the smaller the profit. However, this should not distract from following proper building procedures.

Examining the soil conditions is critical

The diversity of our terrain also means there is a wide variety of soil conditions across the state. This variety of soil is a factor that frequently leads to construction defects and foundation issues.

Thoroughly testing the foundation and soil before beginning construction can be the key to avoiding many construction defect claims. So, it is always essential for developers to retain the appropriate experts such as geotechnical and structural engineers to conduct the proper tests to determine the existence of subsurface toxicity, stability and consistency.

Common defects in the foundation caused by soil

Failure to conduct proper soil testing could result in significant foundation issues long after the construction project is complete, and the law allows such latent defects to be discovered up to 10 years after construction is completed. Defects often include:

  • Cracks in the structure's walls
  • Shifting and/or settling of the structure's foundation
  • Deterioration of the foundation
  • Water intrusion

Developers and contractors can be held liable for these issues, and the typical construction insurance policy does not cover the cost to repair the defects.

What soil tests are necessary?

Most developers and contractors know the importance of soil testing, and most larger projects, if financed by a lender, will require soil testing in what's known as a "Phase I." They need to verify that the soil conditions can support their project long-term. Some of the most fundamental investigations include:

  • Moisture tests: Examining the soil when it is both dry and wet allow construction companies to determine how different weather conditions will impact the foundation.
  • Atterberg limits tests: Atterberg tests evaluate the liquid and shrinkage limits of the soil.
  • Compaction tests: This test is commonly called Proctor's test. It determines how soil compacts and expands when it is dry or wet.

All of these tests analyze the quality of the soil. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has an informative review of the types of soil and the procedures involved in many of these tests that developers should have performed before every project.

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