In contemporary America, the role most people would associate with soil and buildings is the firm (or sometimes not-so-firm) foundation it provides. When buildings are designed and constructed correctly, no one even notices, but when something goes awry, all eyes turn to the soil beneath. News stories talk about sinkholes, homes split in two from expansive clay, and mudslides.
Not only does soil support our infrastructure, it also plays a big role in the material of our living spaces. Bricks are one of the most commonly used building materials in America, but in other parts of the world soil is used in varying ways for home construction. Walls of homes can be made by daubing mud onto a framework of sticks, or clay blocks can be made for use in construction. Homes are even dug into the earth to aid in temperature moderation.
Once we have a home, we need to move between where we live, work, and play. The infrastructure all around us is also affected by soil. If you’ve ever hit a pothole, you’re keenly aware of the relationship between soil and infrastructure. Did you know potholes are more prevalent in climates where the winter provides increased opportunity for freeze and thaw cycles? States like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia all have climatic conditions very conducive to potholes. Water gets in a crack in the road, expands upon freezing – cracking the roadway more, and then the cycle repeats during the next freeze cycle.
Potholes are certainly a nuisance, but soil affects infrastructure in more profound ways. Drive across a bridge and you are certainly putting your faith in the bridge engineer who, as part of their design, looked at the bearing strength of the soil and rock below. And on any development project, knowing the soil characteristics along the project route can aid in proper cost and time estimates when determining budgets and schedules. If utilities need to be buried four feet deep and there is shallow bedrock at two feet, this will significantly alter the construction costs and schedule. Knowing that ahead of time can allow for adequate project timeframes.
In our everyday lives, we’ve seen that soil plays a very important role, whether in keeping our communities thriving, stabilizing ecosystems, or keeping our air and water clean. Without the soil we often don’t even notice, our lives would be quite different! We hope you’ve found this information as useful and inspiring as we have!