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RE: FOUNDATIONS: "Geotechnical Report Required?"

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When a client refuses to get a soils report, I have them sign a letter (which I draft) stating that client is assuming responsibility for geotechnical performance (or lack thereof). The reasons I cite include the fact that I’m not a geotechnical engineer nor does my insurance cover geotechnical issues (not sure if that’s true, but I use it anyway). Usually (except for smaller residential projects), this either gets me a signature on file or gets a soils report in hand. Even when I get that letter, my structural notes are changed to inform the building official that, due to a lack of a soils report, owner (or client) assumes responsibility for geotechnical performance (or lack thereof).


Have I tested this practice in a court of law? No. But, for me, it’s seldom been an issue since most of my clients have insurance and none of us carry it for geotech. I most often get reports.


If you’re that concerned about the geotechnical issues, then turn down the job.


Evaluate the risk to reward ratio before proceeding otherwise.


Just my two cents.


T. William (Bill) Allen, S.E. (CA #2607)


Consulting Structural Engineers

V (949) 248-8588

F (949) 209-2509


-----Original Message-----
From: Bill Polhemus [mailto:bill(--nospam--at)]
Sent: Monday, August 16, 2004 11:30 AM
To: seaint(--nospam--at)
Subject: FOUNDATIONS: "Geotechnical Report Required?"


This may seem like an odd question, but in truth it has never come up before because it has always been understood that a geotechnical investigation is or would be required for light commercial foundation design before I would proceed to do it.


But I have a job now from an architect whose response to my query “where’s the geotechnical report” was “no report available, please proceed.” And after some digging it appear the answer to the question “does the Building Code require a geotechnical investigation” seems to be, in most cases, “no.”


I balk at this notion that I should reasonably be expected to do a foundation design without the benefit of a geotechnical report particularly in this neck of the woods, where lightly-loaded foundations get pushed around pretty good by expansive soils. Yet I cannot for the life of me find anything in the building code (SBC 1999) that REQUIRES a geotechnical investigation. In fact, the only reference to such an investigation is in Sec. 1804.2 “Soils Investigation,” which actually tells you NOTHING except that its up to the owner to pay for such an investigation if required by the Building Official.


I’m going to the particular Building Official in question for an “official” response to my question, but I’m tempted to give my regrets to the architect and tell him that I just don’t do a foundation design without a geotechnical report, period.


FWIW, the Texas Board of Professional Engineers is on record as stating that “the engineer is ultimately responsible for his design and the basis for it,” warning practicing engineers that they can’t beg off with “the owner wouldn’t pay for the geotech report.” It’s still my look-out, no matter what.


I’m not complaining about the proposed fee on the job, but it would look awfully tiny, indeed, were a foundation failure to result and I get sued. And I’ll guarantee you: If I should come up with a “super-conservative” foundation design, they won’t invite me back next time anyway, as this particular owner depends on this particular contractor for all his construction needs. If the contractor says “sorry, gotta charge you for this ‘humongous’ foundation that the engineer done drawed up,” that would be the end of our brief friendship.


Comments invited.