Specific soil types are not discussed here as the variables are countless and it is always recommended that the services of the geotechnical or structural engineer be used in assessing specific soil conditions before any building work commences. However, we outline the basic characteristics of general soil types below, to provide the reader with a better understanding of the importance of considering soil conditions.
The top surface layer of most of our soil is a layer of decomposed matter (vegetation, plant life, etc.) The thickness of the ground is usually very soft and easily compressible and various in thickness from geographic location and climate. Any top surface soil should be removed before any excavations commence or any foundations are poured.
Varieties of sub-soils are present in South African conditions and they need to be assessed before any sort of foundation can just be placed in a position to carry a specific bearing load. The hardness of these soils varies considerably from clay, sand, gravel, and many types of rock strata and may range in particle size from large stones to colloidal clay. The type of sub-soil is therefore a significant factor to deal with when designing the structure. Some of these soils can be easily compressed, whereas others may be very hard.
The building can be built on sand but the design should spread the bearing load evenly; in which case a reinforced raft foundation would suit these conditions better than a wide strip footing. Sand is unstable and needs to be mixed with other suitable materials before compaction, to provide better strength.
Clay soil remains wet underneath the foundations and SOG (slab on ground), which is very unstable to the structure. Furthermore, clay soils expand(heave) when wet and contract when dry. Foundations for these soil conditions would usually necessitate deep or raft or piled foundations, increasing the costs of the building.
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