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  • Writer's pictureBrock Campbell, P.E., G.E.

Casting a Solid Foundation: Unearthing the Power of Geotechnical Testing in Construction

Updated: Nov 1, 2023

By Brock Campbell, P.E., C.E.

As a Professional Engineer in northern California, I've had the privilege of working on numerous construction projects over the years. One aspect that is consistently emphasized in every project is the critical importance of geotechnical testing. In this blog, we will explore what geotechnical testing is, why it's essential, and how it significantly impacts the success and safety of construction projects.

What is Geotechnical Testing?

Before we dive in, let's define geotechnical testing. Geotechnical testing involves the evaluation of the physical properties of soil, rocks, and groundwater at a construction site. It helps engineers and construction professionals gain a comprehensive understanding of the site's subsurface conditions, which is vital for making informed decisions throughout the project's lifecycle.

Why is Geotechnical Testing Essential?

Foundation Design and Stability: The foundation of any structure is only as strong as the soil beneath it. Geotechnical testing provides crucial data to determine the type of foundation needed and its depth. This information ensures that the structure remains stable and safe for its intended use.

Risk Mitigation: Geotechnical testing helps identify potential risks such as soil liquefaction, settlement, and landslides. By understanding these risks upfront, engineers can design appropriate mitigation measures to safeguard the project and its surroundings.

Cost Efficiency: Investing in geotechnical testing at the project's outset may seem like an additional expense, but it can save significant costs down the road. Accurate soil data allows for efficient foundation design and reduces the likelihood of costly surprises during construction.

Compliance and Regulations: Many construction projects are subject to local building codes and regulations. Geotechnical testing ensures that your project complies with these requirements, preventing legal and regulatory complications.

Environmental Impact: Understanding subsurface conditions is crucial for assessing any potential environmental impact. Geotechnical testing helps identify contamination risks and aids in developing remediation strategies when necessary.

a neighborhood is flooded during the California winter storms
A flooded neighborhood in Merced, CA (photo courtesy of CNN)

Northern California’s 2023/2024 Wet Winter Study:

One recent instance of the essential role of a geotechnical engineer on a construction project was exemplified by the unusually high rainfall experienced in Northern California during the winter of 2022/23. Water infiltration stands as the most common catalyst for soil-related complications on construction sites. Many construction sites that began earthwork prior to the onset of the unusually wet winter, found themselves dealing with significant disruptions due to the intense soil saturation.

Geotechnical engineers play a pivotal role in such scenarios by providing expert consultation and tailored recommendations aimed at resolving the adverse effects of such conditions. Their ultimate objective is to engineer stable substrates that not only align with project specifications but also endure the rigors of construction activities.

A house in surrounded by water after flooding
A flooded home in Gilroy, CA in January 2023 (photo courtesy of CNN)

During this unusually wet winter season, MatriScope demonstrated its proficiency on many affected job sites by employing an array of remediation techniques. Such methods included encompassing the removal of saturated materials and their replacement with suitable alternatives, application of lime treatment, and strategic implementation of geotextiles. These measures were instrumental in mitigating the challenges posed by inclement weather, ensuring construction progress adhered to the stipulated schedules and achieving project objectives with unwavering precision.

How Does Matriscope Contribute?

At MatriScope, we take pride in our role as geotechnical experts. Our experienced team utilizes state-of-the-art equipment and techniques to conduct comprehensive geotechnical investigations. We provide our clients with detailed reports and recommendations based on our findings, ensuring that they have the information needed to make informed decisions about their projects.

a group of four staff members surround a table with construction plans on it
Brock Campbell, P.E., C.E., and other MatriScope staff reviewing project documents

Our services encompass a wide range of geotechnical tests, including soil borings, geophysical surveys, laboratory testing, and more. We work closely with construction teams, architects, and developers to ensure that the project proceeds smoothly and safely from start to finish.

In conclusion, geotechnical testing is the cornerstone of any successful construction project. It not only ensures the safety and stability of structures but also contributes to cost savings and regulatory compliance. As a Professional Engineer at MatriScope, I can attest to the vital role that geotechnical testing plays in the construction industry. If you have a construction project on the horizon, don't underestimate the importance of understanding what lies beneath the surface – it's the key to your project's success.

For expert geotechnical testing services and consultation, contact MatriScope today. Your project deserves the best, and we're here to provide it.

About the Author

Brock Campbell, P.E., C.E.

Sr. Engineer/General Manager, MatriScope

Brock Campbell brings over 15 years of expertise in geotechnical, environmental, and civil engineering to our team. With a wide-ranging background, he's handled everything from intricate large-scale projects to smaller, specialized infrastructure work. Brock's approach to each project is driven by his technical prowess and dedication to cost-effective innovation, ensuring top-notch project outcomes every step of the way. His responsibilities encompass a broad spectrum, from overseeing geotechnical investigations, field inspections, and material testing services to liaising with contractors, subcontractors, and clients. Whether it's construction quality control, quality assurance, building code compliance, or materials selection, Brock's engineering consulting and investigative services consistently exceed expectations.

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