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Isn't dirt just dirt? Why do we need to test it?

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

Dirt isn't just dirt? Nope! There are many different types of soils, and they can be good or bad, depending on your needs.

1: Soil tests are helpful for many reasons. They determine the porosity or the ability to absorb fluids for a septic system (check out my blog on Perc Testing), the stability or compactibility for structural compatibility like foundations, and moisture levels for gardening and farming. Ultimately, the intended use of the land will depend upon the results of the soil test.

2: Who does the testing? A soil scientist or specialist can determine the testing that is required. They can usually do all the testing for you that the city/county may need for the intended use. The city/county will often have their soil scientist do the testing, which usually has a fee, so prepare for that cost.

Soil test "perk test" with the expert by NYA Millennial

Fun Fact: In North Carolina, where I live, we have over 400 different soil types!

3: Is there such a thing as bad soils? You bet! Ever heard of:

Bull tallow or blackjack soil?

Well, let me enlighten you about that lovely stuff. In my experience, when these soils are wet, they are similar to expansive clay or playdough but can be as hard as concrete when dry creating large cracks in the ground. Either of these two conditions is unsuitable for septic systems.

Brownfield dirt?

This dirt has been contaminated with hazardous waste.

Pluff mud or plough mud?

Although a nutritiously rich substance for marine life, it is a terrible soil to build on. The muddy salt-marsh floor consists of plants and sea life decomposed in the marshy areas. Personally, I love the smell because it reminds me that I am near the coast. That smell is perfectly described in Southern Living's "The Scent of Pluff Mud."

Fun Fact: Dr. Simon Ghanat, a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at The Citadel, continues to research the geotechnical properties of pluff mud. They are examining ways to improve its strength and settlement.

Interested in learning more about soil? Chapter 7 of the book "10 Things You Need To Know About Land" discusses soil, testing, how, and why it is necessary.


Cheryl L. Sain has been in the real estate industry for over 20 years and has executed thousands of land transactions with investors, developers, national builders, and individuals.


This information is provided as-is and does not in any way make or imply any guarantees as to an outcome. You will need to evaluate the information herein and consult appropriate professionals such as surveyors, attorneys, tax accountants, or any other professional agencies or broker-in-charge to acquire the information and guidance you need to help you make the decision that is best for you.


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