Study of expansive soils and residential foundations on expansive soils in Arizona

Sandra Houston, Heather B. Dye, Claudia Zapata, Kenneth D. Walsh, William N. Houston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Construction on expansive soils is challenging and thus prone to some problems and litigation. The engineering community makes extensive use of local experience and empirical procedures to address these problems. Although there has been extensive study of expansive soils and foundations on expansive soils, data related to performance of residential structures are limited in general and limited in the Phoenix area, in particular. In this study, an overview of the Phoenix Valley, Arizona, geotechnical practice and foundation performance related to residential structures on expansive clays, was developed through surveys and interviews with geotechnical engineers, structural engineers, and homebuilders. Using data obtained from files of Phoenix area geotechnical firms and government agencies, the existing Natural Resource Conservation Service map showing expansive soil locations throughout the Phoenix region was updated through the use of correlation developed in this study relating expansion index to common soil index properties such as Atterberg limits and percent passing the No. 200 sieve. Files of forensic investigations linked to expansive soil regions were made available for this study by several geotechnical engineering firms, and Phoenix Valley areas where forensic investigations have been identified, were mapped for comparison to regions identified in the updated map as having expansive soils. Comparison of the forensic investigation map to the updated map of expansive clay locations revealed that most of the forensic investigations were in regions identified with clays labeled as high to moderately high expansion potential, with a few forensic investigations in regions of medium expansion potential. Finally, unsaturated flow analyses were conducted for an Arizona expansive clay profile for two very different landscaped conditions of well-irrigated turf and desert landscape. The results of the numerical analyses were consistent with the reported observations and modes of failure identified through the surveys and interviews conducted with engineering and homebuilder professionals, including the finding that site drainage was found to be extremely important to good foundation performance, regardless of the type of landscape selected.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31-44
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Performance of Constructed Facilities
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011


  • Forensic
  • Numerical modeling
  • Practice
  • Residential
  • Soil map
  • Unsaturated soil

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Building and Construction
  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality


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