You are on page 1of 8

AAiT

School of Civil & Environmental Engineering

CHAPTER THREE
FOUNDATIONS ON EXPANSIVE SOILS
3.1 Introduction
Expansive soils are clay soils, black or dark grey in colour and they have a potential for heaving
with an increase of moisture content and they shrink with a corresponding decrease of moisture
content. If structures have foundations which are not adequately designed to withstand the
stresses and strains caused by alternate heaving and shrinkage of the foundation soil, they will
crack. These cracks do not only affect the structural safety and aesthetics of buildings but also
bring about additional financial burden to owners for repair if structure is to be salvaged at all.
Thus it is necessary to know the outstanding characteristics of these soils and how to design
foundations on such soils.
3.2 Origin, Mineralogical Composition & Characteristics of Expansive Soils
The parent materials of expansive soils may be classified into two groups. The first group
comprises the basic igneous rocks such as basalt, dolerite sills and dykes, gabbros, etc., where
the feldspar and pyroxene minerals of the parent rocks decompose to form montmorillonite-the
predominant mineral of expansive soil-and other secondary minerals. The second group
comprises sedimentary rocks that contain montmorillonite, and break down physically to form
expansive soils. There are indications that confirm that the expansive soils of Ethiopia are
derived from both groups.
The Ethiopian black soils are invariably clays or silty clays. Natural deposits of black cotton
soils in the field are characterized by a general pattern of cracks during the dry season of the
year. Cracks about 10cm wide and over 1m deep are common. In deep deposits, the cracks
extend up to 3m or more. During wet seasons, the soil first expands horizontally, filling up the
shrinkage cracks and thus utilizing about 2/3rd of the volumetric expansion. The remaining
volumetric expansion causes vertical heaving of soil which may cause damage to an overlying
structure.
It is a known fact that the three most important groups of clay minerals are montmorillonite,
illite and kaolinite, which are crystalline hydrous aluminosilicates. Of these groups it is the clay
mineral montmorillonite that presents most of the foundation problems. Essentially,
montmorillonite is a three layered mineral having a single octahedral alumina sheet sandwiched
between two silica sheets. The units are staked one above the other like leaves of a book. The
bonds are comparatively weak, and water can enter between the sheets causing them to expand
readily. When water is removed from the boundary, the sheets contract. Thus soil containing
substantial amounts of montmorillonite will exhibit high shrinkage and swelling characteristics.
Experience shows that swelling problems arise when soils contain more than 20%
montmorillonite mineral.
3.3 Identification of Expansive Soils
In addition to visual identification, laboratory test is necessary to asses the swelling potential of
the clay. The direct tests which provide information on the amount of heaving that is to be
anticipated are free swell and swelling pressure tests. Apart from these direct tests, soil
mechanics practice for determining the engineering characteristics of expansive soils is usually
1

Academic Year: 2013/2014

AAiT

School of Civil & Environmental Engineering

based on the Atterberg Limits, sometimes in conjunction with grain size analysis. One way of
using these test results was developed by Casagrande, who plotted the liquid limit against the
plasticity index (Fig 3:1). Employing this plasticity chart, many authors found that the A-line in
the chart generally defines the expansive soil, since the great majority of plots, representing
soils known to be expansive, fall above this line.
100
90
80

70

P la s t ic it y I n d e x , I

A = C o h e s io n le s s s o ils
G

60
50
40

3
.7

(L

-2

B = I n o r g a n ic c la y s o f lo w p a s tic ity

0)

C = I n o r g a n ic s ilt s o f lo w c o m p r e s s ib ility
D = I n o r g a n ic s ilt s o f m e d iu m c o m p r e s s ib ility a n d o r g a n ic s ilts
E = I n o r g a n ic c la y s o f m e d iu m p a s tic ity
F = I n o r g a n ic s ilt s o f h ig h c o m p r e s s ib ilit y a n d o r g a n ic c la y s

G = I n o r g a n ic c la y s o f h ig h p la s tic ity

30
20

-L

IN

10

D
C

0
0

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

90

100

110

120

Fig 3.1: Plasticity Chart


Table 3.1 may also be used as a guide in evaluating the potential for volume change (swelling
potential) of soils based on easily determined index properties. In terms of relative values of a
low volume change might be taken as <5% whereas very high could be interpreted as >25%.
Table 3.1: $ Relation between S and Ip, S and LL, S and SL, S and EI
Swelling
Plasticity Index Shrinkage limit Liquid Limit Expansion index
Potentials, S
(IP) %
(SL) %
(LL) %
(EI) %
Low
0-15
>15
20-35
21-50
Medium
10-35
10-15
35-50
51-90
High
20-55
7-12
50-70
91-130
Very High
>35
<11
>70
>130
L iq u id L im it, L L ( % )

From Chen, Holtz (1959), Dakshanamurthy and Raman (1973)


Anderson et al suggested empirical relations from which they were able to relate the degree of
expansion with the plasticity index.
S 0.23I

3.12

Where: S = swelling potential

and Ip= Plasticity index

100

90
80

A c t iv it y

V e r y H ig h

1.

H ig h

it
iv
A

ct

Ac

40

tiv

50

ity

2 .0

60

BA

P la s tic ity I n d e x , I

70

30
M

IU

Ac

tiv

ity

M e d iu m

0 .5

L ow

S =25%
S =5%
S = 1 .5 %

20
GO

10

OD

0
0

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

90

100

C la y F r a c tio n o f s a m p le ( % )

0
0

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

C la y F r a c tio n o f s a m p le ( % )

90

100

( b )

( a )

Fig 3.2: (a) Activity Chart (b) Classification chart for swelling potential according to Seed et al
2

Academic Year: 2013/2014

AAiT

School of Civil & Environmental Engineering

Defining activity as the ratio of the plasticity index to the percentage of the clay fraction (finer
than 0.002mm) present in the sample, two different types of charts were presented by different
authors to identify the swelling potential of expansive soils. The first chart, known as the
Activity Chart, is a plot of plasticity index versus clay fraction. De Bruyn et al plotted
experimental data and found three distinct groupings according to the activity of soils. The soils
were classified as Bad, Medium and Good according to their property with regard to their effect
on buildings erected on them [Fig 4.2 (a)]. The second chart is presented by Seed et al, where
activity versus clay fraction is presented [Fig 4.2 (b)]. Thus, using this information judiciously
one would get a fair idea of the degree of potential expansiveness of any soil under
consideration.
3.2 Methods of Preventing damages from Expansive Soils
In order to minimize or eliminate the danger of damage to structures (buildings) because of
heave and shrinkage, the following methods have been used:
a) Moisture control
b) Soil Stabilization
c) Structural measures
3.2.1 Moisture Control
The main cause of heaving and shrinkage is the fluctuation of moisture under and around the
structure in question. In any site depending upon the topographical, geological and weather
conditions, the natural ground water fluctuates. Ethiopia, with distinct dry and wet seasons, has
large fluctuations of the ground water table. Each site has its own characteristic active zone.
This is the zone under the ground surface in which the fluctuation of the moisture content is
large. This seasonal fluctuation of the moisture content along the depth becomes minimal from
approximately 3m to 4m down wards. Fig 3.3 is a qualitative chart of variation of water content
in the active zone. In addition to the fluctuation of the ground water one should also consider
free water which may seep under foundations, or the effect of evaporation which would cause
moisture migration.
W
0

D e p th Z (m )

1
Z

1 = E q u ilib r iu m W n
2 = D e s ic c a t e d W

3 = W et season W n
P a r t o f c a p ila r y z o n e

Z s = D e p t h o f s e a s o n a l m o is t u r e c o n t e n t f lu c t u a t io n

w h ere s= 100 %

Z d = D e p t h o f d e s ic c a t io n ( M a x . d e p t h o f d r y in g
o r M a x . c r a c k d e p th )

GWT

Fig 3.3: Relative variation in field water content wn with depth z above the water table and the
saturated part of the capillary zone, i.e., in the active zone.

Academic Year: 2013/2014

AAiT

School of Civil & Environmental Engineering

Hence a satisfactory solution to the problem would be an economical way of controlling the
soil moisture under and around structures. It does not matter whether the moisture content is
high or low, as long as it can be maintained constant through out the year.
Depending upon the existing conditions, some prefer to keep the soils as wet as possible
throughout the year. Based on this approach, two methods have been presented by Deb and
Chandra, India. These methods consist of providing a) sand drains b) a flexible water-proof
apron with sand drains. The latter was found to be more effective and applied with reasonable
success. Here auger-bored holes of 20cm in diameter and 2m depth are drilled at 2m c/c and
about 1m away from all round the building. The holes are filled with coarse sand and are
connected by surface drains. A watertight apron of 1m width is built around the building (Fig
4.4)
S a n d d r a in s
D .P .C

w a t e r tig h t

2 0 c m c /c 2 m

apron

15cm

1 :1 0

20cm

p e r fo r a te d

A pron
A

cover
5 c m m o r ta r

B U IL D IN G

1m

1m
20cm

2 0 c m w id e

c o m p a c t e d r e d a s h a t h ig h

80cm

w a te r c o n t e n t

d r a in
2m

coa rse sa n d or
r e d a s h f ilte r

L o c a tio n o f S a n d d r a in s a r o u n d a t y p ic a l b u ild in g to b e tr e a te d

D e t a il a t S E C T I O N A -A

Fig 3.4: Water proof apron with sand drains


The other approach is to prevent migration of flow of water to the vicinity of the building by
providing horizontal and vertical moisture barriers, and also subsurface and surface drainage.
Horizontal moisture barriers are installed around a building in the form of membranes. Their
purpose is to prevent excessive intake of surface moisture. Widely used horizontal membranes
are polyethylene membrane, concrete aprons and asphalt membrane, extending beyond the
limits of the backfill.
Vertical moisture barriers are used around the perimeter of the building to cut off the source of
water that may enter the under-slab soil. To serve as barriers in this category, one may use
polyethylene membrane, concrete, or other durable impervious material. The depth of the
barriers should be equal to or greater than the depth of moisture fluctuation. Backfill materials
may be used as vertical moisture barriers provided they are well compacted.
The subsurface drainage system is used to intercept the gravity flow of free water, to lower the
ground water or perched water, and to arrest the capillary moisture movement. For this purpose
intercepting and peripheral drains are installed. It should be borne in mind that positive outlets
should be provided for subsurface drainage.
For proper surface drainage, the ground surface around the building should be graded so that
surface water will drain away from the structure in all directions. Roof downspouts must be
directed away from the structure so that water does not seep in to the foundation soil. They
should extend well beyond the perimeter of the foundation and should be properly drained
away.
3.2.2 Soil Stabilization
Soil stabilization consists of one of the following operations:
4

Academic Year: 2013/2014

AAiT

School of Civil & Environmental Engineering

a) Pre wetting or flooding the in situ soil to achieve swelling prior to construction
b) Compaction control, i.e., decreasing the density of the foundation soil
c) Soil replacement, i.e., replacing the swelling soil by non-heaving soil
d) Chemical stabilization, i.e., changing the swelling characteristic of the soil by addition
of chemicals.
3.2.2.1 Prewetting or Flooding
Flooding the site prior to construction will heave the soil and a potential danger of cracking
after the structure is erected will be eliminated or minimized. Prewetting may produce
successful results if the depth of the active zone is not too large and if the moisture migration is
controlled. Experience has shown that it is extremely difficult to saturate high plasticity clays
within a reasonable period of time. Expansion of partially saturated clays may continue after
completion of the structure for many years. One should also bear in mind that prewetting may
reduce the bearing capacity of the soil and may also be responsible for causing settlement.
Prewetting has been effectively used for stabilizing soil beneath floor slabs, pavement or canal
linings. However, its application for building foundations is still questionable and risky.
3.2.2.2Compaction Control
Investigations have revealed that expansive clays expand very little when compacted at low
densities and high moisture, but expand more when compacted at high densities and low
moisture. Hence the approach to compact swelling clays at moisture content slightly above their
natural moisture content and at low density should give good results. The main advantage of
using this approach is that the swelling potential can be reduced without the negative effects
caused by introducing excessive moisture into the soil, in which moisture migration to the
underlying moisture-deficient soil takes place. Even though the required depth of compaction
depends on the potential expansiveness of the soil and on the magnitude of the structural load,
it may in general be adequate to compact to a depth of 1.5 to 2m.
3.2.2.3 Soil Replacement
Soil replacement is the simplest and easiest solution for slabs and footings founded on
expansive soils. The expansive foundation soils are replaced by non-heaving materials. The
strength of the method lies in the selection of the replacement material and the depth of
replacement. If the active zone is very deep, it is not desirable that moisture migrate to the
underlying expansive soil. For such condition material selected for replacement should be
impervious non-expansive soil. Engineering judgment should be used in deciding on the
thickness of the replacement. It should always be remembered that the replaced soil services as
a due heave will be regulated.
A combination of soil compaction and soil replacement may be economical if the depth of
replacement is large. The area of replacement should extend beyond the perimeter of the
envisaged structure.
The required degree of compaction of the replaced soil depends on the structure. 90% of
standard proctor density should be adequate for slabs. For footings the degree of compaction of
95% to 100% should be achieved.
Soil replacement provides the safest method for slab-on-ground construction. The slab should
be separated by slip joints from the rest of the structure. Surface drainage should be properly
provided.

Academic Year: 2013/2014

AAiT

School of Civil & Environmental Engineering

3.2.2.4 Chemical Stabilization


By chemical stabilization is meant the process of mixing additives like lime, cement, organic
and inorganic chemicals to expansive soils, so as to retard their potential expansiveness.
The addition of lime reduces the plasticity of the soil and hence swelling potential. Lime has
been used as a stabilizing agent for centuries. The amount of lime required to stabilize
expansive soils ranges from 2 to 8% by weight. Its relative abundance makes its use popular. It
is often used successfully in the construction of highways and air ports.
The action of cement on clay minerals is to reduce the liquid limit, plasticity index and potential
volume change. Tests indicated that the effect of cement and of lime was about the same in
reducing soil expansion, but the shrinkage of air-dried specimens was reduced 25% to 50%
with cement stabilization. Even though cement stabilization has been mainly used in highway
construction, it appears to have also a great potential for use to stabilize the under slab-soil in
structures.
Some organic and inorganic chemicals have also been tested for their effectiveness in
stabilizing expansive soils. Most of the chemicals were tested in laboratories. Their economical
use in the field has not yet been reported.
3.2.3 Structural Measures
The structural measures that should be undertaken in order to minimize or, if possible, to
eliminate damages of structures due to heaving are dependent on the design of structures. One
may opt for one of the following three methods, depending upon the site and architectural
conditions. The methods are:
a) Floating Foundation
b) Foundation on piers (piles)
c) Reinforcement of Brick walls
3.2.3.1 Floating Foundation
The term floating foundation is used in a broad sense. In this category are included stiffened
slabs, rigid rafts and flexible rafts. The types of foundations in this category that have been tried
in Ethiopia are the stiffened slab and rigid rafts. Flexible rafts have not yet been used.
Stiffened slab foundations are essentially slab-on-ground construction with main beams
supporting the wall loadings. The slab and the beam rest on compacted, non heaving material.
The non-heaving material that is frequently used and which is abundantly available in Ethiopia
is red volcanic ash.
The slabs are designed assuming that they are anchored (fixed) in the beams and that a pressure
of 20Kpa acts from the soil. This magnitude is indeed small when considering that swell
pressures of 300 to 500Kpa are commonly found. The beams are designed as beams on an
elastic foundation, using the appropriate modulus of sub-grade reaction.
Before the slab and beams are cast, about 1m of the expansive soil is removed from the plan
area of the building. The soil is flooded with adequate water, and sufficient time is given for it
to swell. For practical reasons it is preferred to continuously saturate the foundation soil rather
than prevent the migration of moisture. On top of the expansive soil the compacted red ash is
placed at high water content. Sand drains are also provided around the plan area of the building.
The sand drains are 20cm in diameter and 2m deep and spaced 2m c/c and at about 1m away all
round the building. The holes are filled with coarse sand and are connected by surface drains. A
watertight apron of 1m width is paved around the building. It is provided with a gradient
slopping away from the building so that the accumulated water will be directed into the surface
6

Academic Year: 2013/2014

AAiT

School of Civil & Environmental Engineering

drains. It is suggested to cover the surface drains with perforated pre cast concrete slabs in
order to retard evaporation. At times it may be necessary to add extra water to keep the sand
drains saturated all the time (Fig 3.4).
The stiffened slab foundations would be effectively used in areas where the fluctuation of the
ground water table is not too large. Thus before deciding on this method, the engineer should
get sufficient information regarding topography, drainage and depth of the expansive soil.
The other type of floating foundation that has been used in the design of dwellings on
expansive soils is a rigid mat. A heavily reinforced rigid mat is placed on leveled soil. The
walls and columns are then built on the foundation. The rationale in this design is that the rigid
mat will eliminate any differential heave, and the structure will ride on with out suffering any
internal distress. Cost-benefit analysis should be made before deciding on such a design
3.2.3.2 Foundations on Piers (Piles)
Pile foundations provide a suitable solution for a variety of structures located on heaving soils.
They may prove economical in areas where considerable heave is to be expected, and the
additional cost can be balanced against the saving in future maintenance. In the category of pile
foundations, one of the following may be used (Fig 4.5):
a) Straight bored piles for foundations in shallow expansive soils
b) Belled or single under reamed piles for foundations of light structures in deep layers
of expansive soils.
c) Double under-reamed pile foundations of heavier structures in deep layers of
expansive soils

s u r fa c e

s u r fa c e

s k in f r ic tio n
t

D
a ) S t r a ig h t s h a ft

h
D

2 m (m in )

p ressu re

s ta b le z o n e

U p lif t in g

a c tiv e z o n e

ground

su r fa c e
a c tiv e z o n e

ground

s ta b le z o n e

a c t iv e z o n e
s ta b le z o n e

ground

r e in f o r c e m e n t

A ir g a p

A ir g a p

A ir g a p

B eam

B eam

B eam

~ 0 .4 m
1 .5 B

b ) S in g le u n d e r -r e a m

c ) D o u b le u n d e r -r e a m

Fig 3:5 Details of different pile systems for expansive soils


The piles should be placed well below the active zone where the seasonal fluctuation of the
moisture content minimum. Depending upon the depth at which the moisture content is
constant, one opts for one of the above three methods.
In the design of the pile foundation in expansive soils, two factors should be considered. These
are:
i) The ultimate bearing capacity
ii) The tensile stress developed along the shaft as a result of heaving
The ultimate bearing capacity may be determined as discussed in chapter 2. However, in
calculating the skin friction component, the friction over the first 2m length of the piles at the
top should be neglected since over this length, generally, major shrinkage cracks exist.

Academic Year: 2013/2014

AAiT

School of Civil & Environmental Engineering

For the straight bored piles, if the combined effect of the weight of the dead load and the skin
friction does not balance the uplift force due to swelling, the whole pile may be lifted and cause
structural damage to the building. One may estimate the total uplifting force from:
U .D .f .u .h

Where: U= total uplift force; D=diameter of pile; u =swelling pressure; h= depth of pile in the
active zone; f = coefficient of uplift between concrete and soil
According to Chen, the value of f may be taken as 0.15, and the value of the swelling pressure
acting on the pier for soils with high degree of expansion is about 490KPa and for soils with
medium degree of expansion is about 245KPa.
The critical factor which should be considered is the tension force produced within the pile as
the result of swelling pressure. This force becomes more critical on belled or under-reamed
piles located in deep layers of expansive soils. The principle underlying the use of underreamed pile foundations for structures erected on expansive soils is one of the anchoring the
building down, at that depth where changes in the moisture content and the subsequent
volumetric expansion of the soil will be negligible. The bottoms of the piles are belled out with
special under-reaming tools, and it is this under-reamed section which provides the anchorage
for the pile.
One may estimate the total tension force from:

T ch

2
t

k tan P

Where: T= total tensile force; c=cohesion; =unit weight; ht= depth of pile in the stable zone;
K = h/v ; = angle of internal friction; P= perimeter of the pile.
For the safe anchorage power of the under-ream, Collins suggests the values given in Table 3.2.
The values are compiled with a factor of safety of 2 for a 25cm diameter pile. For piles other
than 25cm in diameter, values may be obtained by assuming that, other factors being equal, the
anchorage power varies as the square of the diameter.
Table 3.2: safe anchorage power of under-ream on 25cm diameter pile in KN
Under-ream ratio B/D
Depth in meter
3
6
9
12
1.5
18
27
36
45
2.0
59
90
118 150
2.5
122 191 255 318
3.0
232 345 473 595
While using under-reamed pile foundations, it is necessary to consider the following:
a) There should be a clear space of at least 50cm under all grade beams, and this space must
remain clear throughout the life of the building. If the soil in between the piles rises, and if
the space becomes completely closed, the soil will press upwards against the beam and
might cause damage to the building.
b) Attention must be paid to drains and water pipes so that considerable movement can take
place without rupture of the pipes.
c) External constructions in contact with the soil must be completely free of the building.

Academic Year: 2013/2014