The soil surrounding your home is important to understand for purposes of structural integrity and also for its ability to handle water. Not all soil is created equal in terms of its ability to hold water and also its ability to hold the foundation of your home. While soil issues are not among the most exciting topic for home renovations and construction, it is an essential element to understand prior to building a new home, an addition to your home, or analyzing water issues on your land.
Since your home is always connected to the soil around it, the physical properties of the soil are important to understand. Soil tests are an important starting point to any construction project so that an understanding of the strength of the soil is determined. Weaker soils can lead to a shifting foundation, cracks, water leakage and general instability over time.
Development land can have strong soil in some locations and weaker soils in other locations. While this does not happen often in the same general area, soil tests are a good idea to determine if fill dirt is needed to help strengthen the soil where you want to build, or if a different type foundation may be needed for that location. Don’t gamble with the foundation of your home prior to construction. Soil tests are a wise investment to avoid structural problems years down the road.
Some tests that can be done on soil include moisture tests and compaction tests.
The compaction test determines the density of your soil and its ability to hold a heavy load. The physical properties of the soil will be analyzed to find how it will behave under heavy weight. The goal is to find out if the surrounding soils are compacted enough to support your foundation, or if additional work would be required to compact the soil until it reaches an acceptable level.
Examining your soil is important when planning home additions or construction not just to determine how well it will hold your foundation, but also how it will handle water. Some soils are expansive soils in that they will change in volume when a lot of moisture is absorbed. The expansion and contraction of the soil during wet and dry periods can cause movement, settling and damage to your foundation.
Moisture tests can help to determine how your soil will handle water and if your foundation design should be modified. Soil always needs to perform well in both dry and wet conditions. Moisture tests are therefore essential to determine how your soil will handle seasons with heavy rain or, as we find here in Ottawa, a large melting of snow.
Soil Issues in Ottawa
The City of Ottawa is currently analyzing some urban construction projects in south Barrhaven, near the Jock River, that will require sump pumps due to poor soil conditions. The plan is to have the sewers for the area be installed higher than the basement floors and the water table and let the sump pumps collect any water that accumulates below the sewers and pump it back up into the higher sewer lines.
This is because it may be too expensive to compact or consolidate the existing soils so that they would be strong enough to hold the sewers at the normal level so that they will drain properly towards the Jock River. Sump pumps are an easier, and cheaper, alternative in this scenario.