South Dakota City Council Considers Requiring Soil Tests for New Homes

July 29, 2015

Contractors building homes in Rapid City, S.D., could soon be required to test soil conditions at building sites after homeowners complained of severe damage caused by expansive soils.

The Rapid City Council is considering the proposed change to the city’s residential building code, which would require a home be designed to withstand destructive soil movement if testing finds conditions are poor, the Rapid City Journal reported. Homebuilders and their chosen soils specialist would largely be left to do the testing and determine foundation requirements.

“As far as city staff is concerned, we are comfortable with this kind of a come-to-the-middle ordinance proposal. It’s better than nothing,” said city building official Brad Solon. “This would clear it up for everybody. It would protect consumers for sure. Actually, it’s going to protect the contractors, too. We’re aware of a number of contractors that are being sued right now.”

Clay-rich soils are prevalent in Rapid City, especially on the city’s east side, and those soils shrink and expand during dry and wet spells, causing damage to foundations, said Jim Westerman of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

When a home is improperly built atop expansive soils, it often results in heaved basement slabs, bowed walls and bulged floors. And the cost to fix those problems after the fact can be very expensive.

One homeowner, 64-year-old Joe Engelhardt, said he was told his $265,000 home had an estimated $100,000 in damage caused by expansive soils, just three years after it was finished.

“I’ve got 100,000 reasons why the American dream just screwed me,” Engelhardt said. “That was my nest egg. That was what I hoped to retire on, so it was gone.”

Engelhardt said he lost his home and is now stuck renting an apartment for the rest of his life.

“We gave it back to the mortgage company, and we walked away with nothing,” he said. “We didn’t have any savings outside of that house.”

To become law, the soils testing requirement will have to be approved twice each by the city’s Legal and Finance Committee and the Rapid City Council.

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