- Project plans
- Project activities
- Legislation and standards
- Industry context
Last edited 30 May 2018
Insitu testing of soils
Insitu testing can be used to determine the density or shear strength of soils, particularly sands, gravels, saturated clays and silts. The main advantage of testing in this way is that it can be undertaken without undue disturbance of the soil. As well as soil property information, insitu soil testing allows for groundwater pressure to be measured and moisture content data to be gathered, which can be safety-critical factors.
There are four main tests are:
A 35 mm (internal diameter) split-barrel sampler (a central tube that splits in two when unscrewed) is driven into the soil at the base of a bore hole. It is first driven 150 mm into the soil, or given 25 blows, by a standard weight. This is usually 65 kg falling 760 mm. The sample is driven another 300 mm and a record is kept of the number of blows required to achieve each further 75 mm of penetration.
The table below gives some sample data results (for illustrative purposes only).
|NO. OF BLOWS||RELATIVE DENSITY|
|0 – 4||Very loose|
|4 – 10||Loose|
|10 – 35||Medium|
|35 – 55||Dense|
|Over 55||Very dense|
|NO. OF BLOWS||CONSISTENCY||COMPRESSIVE STRENGTH IN kN/m2|
|0 – 2||Very soft||0 – 25|
|2 – 5||Soft||25 – 50|
|5 – 10||Medium||50 – 100|
|10 – 16||Stiff||100 – 200|
|16 – 30||Very stiff||200 – 400|
|Over 30||Hard||Over 400|
The apparatus consists of a four-blade stainless steel vane attached to the end of a steel rod. This is inserted into the soft clay and hand-rotated at a constant rate. The amount of torque (how much force is required to enable rotation) is measured and from this the shear strength calculated. The advantage of this test is that it is time and cost efficient and also does not disturb the soil.
A pit is first excavated to the depth of the proposed foundations or other structure and a steel plate, ranging from 300 – 1,000 mm, is lowered into place. The plate is then loaded in incrementally, either by applying kentledge (concrete blocks or steel billets) or by means of a hydraulic jack, until the plate starts to settle at rapidly. The settlements corresponding to each load increment are recorded.
The value of the soil’s ultimate bearing capacity is calculated by dividing the total value of load on the plate by the area of the steel plate. A safety factor is also applied, which is usually taken as one-third of that load which causes failure.
 California bearing ratio test (CBR)
As a result of pavement failures in the late-1920s, the California Division of Highways designed the CBR test as a means of determining the thickness of materials required for road and pavement construction. Particle sizes of a maximum of 20 mm can be tested in this way; the plate bearing test being more suitable for larger particle sizes.
The test is carried out by recording the required pressure for penetrating a soil sample. This is done by driving a small cylindrical plunger of a known cross-sectional area into soil at a given rate. Tests are carried out in 20-30 m intervals along the centre line of the proposed construction, and usually on soil at least 1 m below ground level. The measured pressure is divided by the pressure required to achieve an equal penetration on a standard crushed stone sample.
The CBR value will be higher depending on the hardness of the surface being tested. Typical values are as follows:
 Find out more
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Bearing capacity.
- Condition survey.
- Desk study.
- Geophysical survey.
- Ground conditions.
- Ground improvement techniques.
- Ground investigation.
- Pile integrity test.
- Pre-construction information.
- Road construction.
- Site appraisal.
- Site investigation.
- Soil report.
- Soil survey.
- Testing construction materials.
- Testing pile foundations.
- Types of soil.
- What does in situ mean?
 External references
Featured articles and news
When is there a right to light, and what happens if it is obstructed?
What would the nationalisation of economic infrastructure mean for GB?
A new guide to improving value by reducing design error.
We've reached 80,000 page views a day and 10,000 registered users. Why not join them?
A masterplan is a framework within which a location is encouraged to develop or change. Read our introductory article.
New consultation announced on a specialist Housing Court to settle landlord-tenant disputes.
ICE responds to a transport consultation advising the government to make decisions enabling more inclusive cities.
BRE and Loughborough University complete first phase refurbishment of demonstration home.
How the risk of collapse of fibrous plaster ceilings is being addressed in theatres.
If you’re a great writer and have practical experience of the construction industry, it could be you.
Frustrated by long documents or technical jargon? Put off by sign-up forms or costs? Take this 5 min survey to help improve construction knowledge.