Material Testing and Site Inspections: The Foundation of Successful Construction
Ensuring a quality project upon completion
30 November 2021
The success of any construction project, especially in terms of safety and integrity, relies heavily on material testing and site inspections. Material testing puts resources like soil, concrete, rebar, structural steel, and masonry through a series of assessments that examine and analyze performance prior to and during construction. It doesn't matter if the project is new construction, additions to existing construction, or renovations and upgrades to older construction. Material testing and site inspections are necessary throughout the construction process to ensure a quality project upon completion.
While not all tests are necessary for every project, there are some key tests that can prove to be vital to most. The required services are determined by the type of project, the land and location being built upon, and the services available for testing.
Types of Construction Material Testing
Construction material testing can be divided into two categories: field testing, which occurs at the project site, and laboratory testing, which involves taking samples from the project site back to an off-site location for further analysis. The outcome of each is to ensure construction materials are safe and reliable, easily maintained and sustainable, do not damage the building or project site, nor endanger anyone or anything within the perimeter of the project. In both instances, repeated testing with inspections is recommended throughout the construction process. These can be done at regular intervals, at any time from beginning to project completion and will help avoid potential risks later on.
Field testing is done at the project site. Certified professionals carry out field testing services for various construction projects that can include roadways, bridges, utility projects, airports, and building developments. Typically, soil sampling is a method of removing sub-surface earth materials. These soil samples can be evaluated in the field or taken back to the lab for further testing. The technicians check for moisture and compaction, which will affect the building's foundation.
It seems obvious, but it is critical to have a strong foundation, without issues, before construction begins. This includes the ground to be built upon and the materials used to build the structure. Material testing ensures that the project will be successful before the foundation is laid. Without this testing, builders and engineers will not be aware of the quality of the sub-surface and materials and whether they will meet the project's requirements.
Other types of field testing include:
Soil and Aggregate Sampling and Testing
- Compaction and Density
- Bearing Ratio
- Permeability Testing
Concrete Sampling and Testing
- Air Entrainment Testing
- Slump Testing
- Unit Weight
On-site inspections are necessary to ensure compliance with the requirements of the project documents and building code. For example, an inspector can review rebar, structural steel, and the bolts and welding that hold these materials together. Site inspection ensures that any failures are detected and fixed properly prior to project completion.
There are many tests that can be performed prior to, during, or after construction to assist in the conformity of the project. For example, floor moisture analysis and floor flatness testing define the safety and longevity of a concrete slab foundation. Floor moisture analysis detects any wetness or moisture within the concrete slab, eliminating future flooring issues. Floor flatness testing measures how close the concrete slab is to planar, detecting any waves that move across the top.
Lab testing is when material samples are taken back to an off-site location or lab to review and analyze. Don't confuse this with product testing, which is also done in a lab and involves reviewing, testing, and providing reports on finished products, such as doors, windows, curtainwalls, and roofing products. Pre-testing finished products and how they perform in a lab does not guarantee how well they will perform in the field, especially if the construction materials that support the finished products have not been properly tested and inspected.
Lab testing on material samples such as soil, asphalt, aggregate, concrete, and masonry taken from the field site is a reliable method to provide detailed analysis on the materials, ensuring that the materials on a job site will not cause any project-related issues. Lab tests can also be performed if the field testing results prove inconclusive or a more detailed analysis is needed.
Other examples of lab testing include:
- Moisture Content
- Specific Gravity Test
- Dry Density Test
- Atterberg Limits Test
- Sieve Analysis
- Modified/Standard Proctor
- Bearing Ratios
- Chloride/Sulfide Testing
- pH Testing
- Permeability Testing
- Mix Evaluation
- Bulk Specific Gravity
- Flex Strength Testing
- Compression Strength Testing
- Unit Weight, Tensile Testing
- Efflorescence Testing
- Mix Design
- Structural Masonry Testing
Whether field testing or laboratory testing, the key takeaway is that much of the testing is not done prior to construction, but duringand at intervals throughout construction. Both types of testing and regular inspections to monitor the construction progress ensures that quality control is maintained throughout the project.
Regulatory Requirements for Construction Projects
Construction material testing is a regulatory requirement for most large-scale building projects. Specific building material codes and regulations may vary from state to state, but there are common oversight organizations, including ASTM International, U.S. Army Core of Engineers (USACE), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). To gain approval for a project, contractors must work with licensed and accredited construction material testing professionals before breaking ground.
Regulatory requirements are in place to ensure compliance industry safety practices. Following regulatory requirements presents a number of key benefits and can help you to:
Ensure the Use of the Right Materials — Building codes, location, and the land being built upon can impact the quality of materials needed. To reiterate, product testing is completed on finished products prior to being shipped to a construction site. Material testing is done on the construction materials from the jobsite, then tested and inspected periodically throughout the process for quality control.
Highlight Risks — Material testing highlights risks that occur as a project is proceeding. By testing the materials and the foundation in the field, project managers can be immediately notified of any problems. They can then divert the construction course in a different direction. Problem solved; risk diverted.
If material testing and inspections are not done during construction, any problems or failures that occur long after construction is completed could result in litigation. Potential problems include non-compliance with building codes, mold, rust that could lead to material deterioration, and moisture, compaction, or air content in the material that causes serious structural failures, even building collapse.
Avoid Costly Mistakes — Think of material testing and inspections during the construction process as an "ounce of prevention." The efficacy of repeated testing throughout the building process, such as at the beginning, middle, end, or anywhere in between is worth the upfront costs. Such precautions will save the time and expense of redoing any work, avoid litigation, and worst-case scenario, building malfunction or collapse.
Increase Safety — Think of material testing and inspections as extensions of safety gear. Like helmets, goggles, vests, and so on, they are designed for protection. While the results may not seem immediate, ensuring that the materials are structurally safe through testing and inspections throughout the construction process increases the structure's overall safety and integrity.
Material Testing Professionals
Now with a better understanding of the importance of material testing and inspections during construction, it's time to find a certified testing company. Material testing companies such as Intertek provide a range of field and lab testing services and knowledgeable technicians who will work with you to ensure that your project meets building codes with the right construction materials for the land and location being built upon.
Regional Operational Sales Manager
Heather Stahl-Figueroa is Regional Operational Sales Manager for Intertek's Northeast region. With nearly 20 years of experience in the construction industry, she has been with Intertek for nearly six years supporting customers in assessing products used in the building and construction industry. Her background includes fenestration product testing, as well as geotechnical services for concrete, asphalt and soils.