05 Jan 2021
January 5, 2021

CLAY is a Dirty Four-Letter Word

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While clay is highly beneficial to keeping your plants hydrated due to its ability to hold water, it can be a nuisance when it comes to your project. Microscopically, clay is made of tiny particles with little air space and for this reason, water drains slowly through clay.

If you are simply looking to plant a garden, there is a layman’s test you can perform.

Moisten an area of soil then let it air dry for a day. The next day, grab a chunk and squeeze it firmly in your hand. If the ball remains tight and is slippery, then the soil is mainly made of clay. If your soil doesn’t hold its shape, easily crumbles, and is gritty, then you’re holding sandy soil. Lastly, if the soil remains in a loose ball and it slightly crumbles then you have loam, which is a combination of all three and the ideal soil for gardening.

When it comes to your important project, you will need more than the “layman’s” test, which is where GES can help.

Depending on specific project needs, the following tests are performed in our accredited laboratory:

  • Moisture Content Test. This is a very important test for building construction. The basic method is to carefully weigh the specimen in its original state, drying the water contained in the specimen, then re-weighing. Precisely HOW this is done depends upon the material.
  • Specific Gravity Test. The specific gravity of any substance is the ratio of density to the density of the water.
  • Dry Density Test. The wet weight of the excavated soil is divided by the volume of the hole to determine the wet density. Dry density is calculated by dividing the weight of the wet soil by its water content. The percent compaction is calculated by dividing the dry density of the soil by the maximum dry density from the Proctor test.
  • Atterberg Limits Test. Establishes the moisture content at which fine-grained clay and silt soils transition between solid, semi-solid, plastic, and liquid states.
  • Proctor’s Compaction Test. A laboratory method of experimentally determining the optimal moisture content at which a given soil type will become most dense and achieve its maximum dry density.

In a nutshell, clay absorbs water easily, expanding in volume as it becomes more saturated. Expansive clays can cause foundations to crack, heave, and shift. When clay soils dry out, they shrink and crack, leaving gaps around a building where water can penetrate easily and repeat the expansion cycle. 

It’s a good idea to hire a geotechnical firm before you purchase your land, if possible, as part of the due diligence process so you can better understand your soils and ultimately the fees that may be associated with building on the soils you purchase.