January 18, 2019

What is Soil Characterization in a Construction Project?

For real estate investors, property managers and construction companies alike, the composition, depth, density, quantity and quality of soils on your site are integral to construction projects. These and other characteristics of the soil throughout an entire site can determine real estate purchases and investments, as well as the kind of structural materials and plan of construction to be used and implemented. Plus, determine the costs involved.

Because of all this, it is critical that soil characteristics are thoroughly examined, identified and determined. In essence, the conditions and characteristics of soil are what determine its ability to support structures and the kind of structures to be built. Applicable to this is not only construction costs and methods, but also a concern in the design and safety of what is being built.


Where anything is to be built, it is essential to thoroughly know the composition of soil and earth. Be it an office building, a housing project, a school or community center or even a recreation facility, the reasons for conducting a soil characterization study are tantamount.

Such reasons, in addition to real estate investment and construction, can include to support the interpretation of soil moisture and temperature, land cover, and atmosphere measurements; to complement and extend land cover mapping; to develop soil maps of a region; and to provide information for computer modeling.

For the purpose of this blog, it’s important to let those involved in a real estate transaction understand the process involved in soil characterization. The process begins with hiring soil experts, geologists and scientists to conduct the soil study and analysis. Or better: to hire a professional company (such as Essel Environmental) who employs these and other experts critical to conducting a soil characterization analysis that is in-depth and complete.


Usually, a potential real estate investor who becomes interested in a particular property or parcel of land will be able to find existing soil analyses that will characterize the property is safe to build new construction and maintaining structures upon. Sometimes, such analyses may be dated and no longer effective. For soil composition can change over years of time and from rain, storms, sediment flow, earthquakes, automobile traffic and from other natural and manmade factors.

However, such property may be deemed effective and safe enough to invest in. But construction, and the kind of construction and materials to be used, cannot be determined until a new soil analysis is conducted after purchase, and one that is extensive and thorough. The kind of soil (sand, rock, clay, loose dirt, etc.) composing the property, its depth and solidity, and its ability to safely hold and maintain heavy steel and concrete structures, all become factors in the construction process. The detection of groundwater wells or canals, for example, need to be found and mapped. The presence of underground “air pockets” and tunnels or voids, also need to be determined. These and other geological changes can occur underground and wherever manmade structures have existed for any period of time.


There are site protocols for soil characterization that pertain to a site analysis and its complete findings and conclusion. All these protocols can determine interest in real estate investments and construction methods and costs. They include the following protocols:

Latitude, Longitude and Elevation: The lines of latitude and longitude and elevation above sea level will determine the location of the site. These can be determined by a GPS (Global Positioning System) and other scientific means.

Site Exposure Method: An approach used to expose and study the soil and is identified via scientific methods called the pit method, auger method or near surface method.

Site Location: Protocols for soil characterization can be added to any existing site. Together, all these are significant for interpreting soil moisture, temperature measurements, atmospheric measurements and land cover measurements.

Slope: The slope of a property is important, and using an instrument called a clinometer, the angle at which the land of a site varies from a horizontal surface can be measured in degrees.

Aspect: Aspect indicates how the sun will influence soil properties. Soils can be drier or wetter, depending on which of Earth’s hemispheres the property in question is located. Local weather conditions also can influence aspect.

Landscape Position: At a soil characterization site, landscape position describes the contours of the land and how the soil was formed. For example, formed by erosion or deposition? Also, what can be determined is whether the rain falling upon a site will run off, flow and become a pond or seep into the ground.

Cover Type: The cover type entails a description of the material (such as gravel or pavement) and vegetation covering the surface of the soil. When nothing is covering the soil, then it is called bare soil. Material covering the soil can be described as grass, shrubs, trees, rocks, gravel, concrete or other.

Land Use: The way in which land is used at a soil characterization site can be defined as urban, recreational, agricultural, wilderness or other. Land use can have a serious effect upon the formation of soil and assist in interpreting and defining a soil’s properties and development.


The condition and quality of soil on your site does indeed play a major key role in your real estate investments and construction projects. Because of this, it’s critical you identify the characteristics of the soil to determine its ability to support your structure and construction goals. Thus, proper and thorough soil testing to analyze and define the state and suitability of the soil should be conducted by an experienced and highly-rated environmental engineering company.

A soil characterization study and analysis are that which Essel Environmental is often hired (and has expert experience) to conduct as required by federal and state laws to determine the quality and suitability of soil on your property. Please visit our website for more information and to receive a free quote on the soil characterization study and analysis you need performed!







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