If you are an owner, contractor or engineer associated with the design and construction of earthwork and foundations, you want to verify that the soil is adequate to support your structure and complies with the project specifications. To verify today’s buildings and infrastructure perform adequately over a long period of time, proper selection, quality and workmanship of materials is vital. You need SME.

SME has been providing full service construction materials testing and inspection services for soil and foundation projects for over 50 years. We specialize in providing timely, practical and cost-effective testing solutions for foundation, engineered fill and earth retention projects for a wide range of private, commercial, public and industrial clients. These solutions enhance the construction process and verify construction quality to ensure projects are completed on time and within budget. Our engineers, field technicians and laboratory personnel are certified and experienced with the tools and methodology necessary to provide the professional material testing services we offer.

SME conducts tests to evaluate the suitability of subgrade soils and monitors fill placement and compaction procedures, including performing in-place density and moisture content testing of fill materials to verify proper compaction. We monitor the installation of deep foundations to verify proper construction/installation procedures and evaluate load tests performed on installed piles and drilled shafts to verify their load carrying capacity. During construction of shallow foundations, we test and evaluate the suitability of the bearing soils to confirm they support the design loadings.

We provide consultation and construction monitoring related to special soil improvement procedures including surcharges, soil grouting, deep compaction, vibro-densification, etc.  During construction of foundations, our field representatives verify the proper placement of reinforcing steel and test and observe placement of concrete for the structural foundation elements such as footings, grade beams, structural mats, slabs, etc.

Foundation Inspection


SME’s construction monitoring and testing services include overseeing the construction of shallow and deep foundations, as well as underpinning. A thorough understanding of geotechnical engineering and knowledge of ground conditions is a pre-requisite for construction of a successful foundation. To confirm foundation load bearing, SME's Construction Materials services range from sampling and basic soil classification tests to advanced geotechnical engineering and specifications to earthwork monitoring and testing. For foundations, structural integrity is only as dependable as the soils supporting them and the materials used in the construction process. SME’s team of professionals observe and test the foundation bearing soil for shallow foundations, along with monitoring of structural fill placement and compaction procedures for foundations supported on engineered fill.

Shallow Foundations

  • Spread footing
  • Neat trench foundations
  • Raft or mat Foundations
  • Stepped foundations

Services for monitoring deep foundations include overseeing installation: drilling and pile driving procedures, recording blow counts, documenting depths/lengths, verifying proper support, and vibration monitoring.

Deep Foundations

  • Caissons (straight shaft or belled)
  • Piles
  • Driven Pile Types
    • Timber
    • Steel
    • Prestressed concrete
    • Composite
  • Drilled deep foundations
    • Auger cast-in-place piles
    • Rammed aggregate piers
  • Specialty Piles
    • Micropiles
    • Helical piers

Pile Driving Analyzer (PDA)

SME’s foundation experience also includes using our own Pile Driving Analyzer (PDA). The PDA is the most widely employed system for dynamic load testing, pile driving monitoring, and assessing the capacity of driven piles. PDA systems also evaluate shaft integrity, driving stresses and hammer energy when monitoring pile installation. Additionally, PDA tests can be used to evaluate the load capacity of existing piles.

Pile Load Tests

SME draws upon its team of experts to provide independent, third-party load testing and installation monitoring services for piles to verify adequate support. SME’s services include:

  • O-cell load testing
  • Lateral load testing
  • Pile drivability testing
  • Instrumentation and monitoring
  • Wave equation analysis
  • Material and weld testing


In construction or renovation projects, underpinning may be required for temporary or permanent support to an existing foundation by providing additional foundation depth and grouting. Underpinning services include:

  • Mass concrete underpinning
  • Screw piles and brackets
  • Micro-piles
  • Grout (compaction or intrusion)

Engineered Fill

Engineered Fill

Ground improvement techniques are increasingly used for new projects on sites previously considered as economically unjustifiable or technically not feasible. These sites can now be developed by removing the unsuitable soils and replacing them with engineered fill. Successful placement of engineered fill requires proper equipment and techniques, suitable materials, and testing to verify proper compaction.

By understanding the principles of soil mechanics, SME’s CMS experts evaluate not only the engineered fill itself, but subsurface conditions at project sites to determine proper placement, as well as layer thickness and compaction levels. In addition, we provide laboratory testing and settlement monitoring of engineered fill or the underlying soils; recommendations for soil stabilization in areas to support buildings, pavements, and engineered fill; observation of proof-rolling of the exposed soils after the topsoil is removed to locate areas which may require additional excavation or rework; and monitoring of excavating operations to determine when specified materials have been exposed.

SME performs additional engineered fill services including:

  • Soil type identification
  • Compaction level specification
  • Field density testing
  • Surcharge/preload monitoring
  • Moisture/density relationship (Proctor)
  • Proof-roll evaluations
  • Excavation and subgrade preparation
  • Fill placement observation
  • Foundation material verification
  • Dewatering
  • Quality control construction monitoring and testing
  • Instrumentation and settlement monitoring

Field Density Testing

Field density tests are used to measure the moisture content and the percent compaction of the engineered fill material placed during backfill or grading operations. Density tests are obtained to confirm that the soil is adequately moisture conditioned and compacted in compliance with the project recommendations. Poorly compacted material below footing or slab areas can lead to settlement and building distress issues including wall and ceiling cracks, differential settlement of floors; or windows or doors not opening or sliding properly.


Construction projects are using sites which were considered unsuitable in the past. Soft soils have a low bearing capacity and/or are susceptible to consolidation resulting in large settlements when subjected to building loads. One method to successfully build on soft soil deposits is to use surcharge/preloading to pre-treat the soil prior to building construction to prevent large or differential settlements and potential damage to structures.

SME’s Geotechnical engineers use surcharge/preloading to improve weak, compressible soil by subjecting the site to a load (generally in the form of added fill or surcharge) that exceeds the loading to be applied by the finished construction. We monitor the rate and magnitude of the settlement using settlement plates to determine the amount of time the surcharge needs to remain in place to achieve the required level of settlement. Once the desired settlement is achieved, the surcharge is removed and construction can begin. The duration of the loading depends on the amount of surcharge/preloading, soil compressibility, layer thickness and drainage characteristics of the subsurface soils. Sometimes a system of vertical sand or wick drains is employed in conjunction with the preloading to reduce the consolidation time and allow for earlier use of the site.

SME has experience with the following services:

  • Surcharge plans and specifications
  • Surcharge/preload monitoring
  • Embankment preloading
  • Vertical drains
  • Oversee removal and disposal of surcharge material


Proof-rolling is used in earthwork and pavement construction to verify uniform behavior and stability of the subgrade before placement of fill. If fill is placed over unsuitable soil, the subgrade may not provide proper support and may hinder proper compaction of the fill.  Additionally, a poor subgrade may consolidate under the weight of the earth fill, causing settlement and cracks in structures supported by the fill. To determine if the subgrade is adequate, SME proof-rolls the soil using heavy construction equipment to roll across the ground surface while monitoring the reaction of the surface, watching for deflections (development of rutting, pumping, or ground weaving).

SME has considerable experience with proof-roll investigation, testing, and monitoring. Our services include:

  • Proof-roll monitoring and testing    
  • Subgrade investigation
  • Material verification
  • Electric cone penetrometer testing
  • Flat plate dilatometer testing
  • Pressuremeter testing

Material Verification

Both natural and manmade fill materials are used for a variety of construction purposes. Because fill material may come from different or multiple sources, it is important to verify  that any material brought onto a site meets engineering specifications for its particular use.

SME provides a wide range material verification services including determining soil characteristics and verifying the materials will be acceptable for use as fill; investigating the proposed borrow source; verifying that materials below footings are adequate to achieve desired bearing capacity; verifying excavations are extended to proper depth and have reached proper material level; classifying and testing controlled fill materials; verifying use of proper materials, proper compaction, and lift thicknesses during placement and compaction; observing subgrade and verifying that the site has been prepared properly prior to placement of controlled fill; and providing solutions to treat, modify, or stabilize materials to permit their re-use within a development.

Other SME material verification services include:

  • Subgrade material verification
  • Native-fill material verification
  • Imported material verification
  • Site soil classification and characterization
  • Additive material verification (lime, cement, sand, pozzolan, etc.)
  • In-house laboratory testing
  • In-field sampling and testing

Earth Retention Inspection

Earth retention systems are used for a variety of construction projects. They may be temporary during an excavation, or  more permanent construction, such as basement walls. Earth retention systems may be used to stabilize or support a slope or an existing wall; create highway bridge abutments, wing walls, and approach embankments; or support an adjacent structure prior to performing an excavation. No matter the application, earth retention systems protect nearby foundations from settlement, stabilizing lateral earth pressures, controlling movement, and draining potential ground water.

SME has extensive experience with a wide range of earth retention systems and has performed testing, monitoring and construction administration services to suit a variety of site and ground conditions. Our engineers and field technicians consider constructability, site constraints, reliability and risks, and soil conditions in providing the most effective solution.

Typical earth retention systems we work with include:

  • Sheet piling
  • Soldier beams and lagging
  • Soil nails
  • External bracing - soil anchors or tie backs
  • Internal bracing - struts, diagonals, and rakers
  • Auger-cast piles
  • Secant pile walls


Tiebacks are installed behind retaining walls to provide lateral support. A rod, wire, or tendon (cable) is anchored into the ground at one end and to the wall at the other. Anchoring in the ground is typically achieved by boring a hole in the soil or rock and encasing a portion of the wire or rod in a grout mixture. The grout forms a bond with the surrounding soil and the tieback to secure the anchor. The tiebacks are tensioned, which in essence, pulls the wall toward the retained soil. SME’s tieback services during construction typically include:

  • Monitor installation to verify proper tieback length
  • Monitor load testing

Sheet Piles

Sheet piling is an earth retention support technology consisting of interlocked sections that form a wall for temporary or permanent lateral earth support with reduced groundwater inflow. Sheet piles are driven into the ground using impact hammers or vibratory hammers. At certain sites where vibrations are a concern, the sheets can be hydraulically pushed into the ground. The sheeting can be cantilevered (no lateral support) or anchored (lateral support such as tiebacks or deadman). Sheet piling can come in a variety of materials including:

  • Steel
  • Timber
  • Vinyl
  • Concrete
  • Light-gauge aluminum
  • Fiberglass

SME’s sheet pile services during construction typically include:

  • Monitoring installation to verify proper sheeting sizes and depths
  • Load testing
  • Vibration monitoring
  • Lateral pressure testing
  • Joint testing

Augered Cast-in-Place (ACIP) Secant Walls

ACIP secant walls are structural walls composed of reinforced, interlocking, concrete piles that are cast in place on site. They resist lateral pressures and groundwater inflow for earth retention, groundwater control, slope stability, or bulkhead support.

SME’s engineers have used ACIP secant walls for rigid support during excavation or to form permanent earth retention systems. Our services during construction typically include:

  • Documentation of conditions prior to construction
  • Monitoring of installation to document proper installation
  • Testing of the grout
  • Construction and production oversight
  • Load testing

Mechanically Stabilized Earth (MSE) Walls

MSE walls can be used to stabilize unstable slopes, to retain soil on steep slopes or in place of rigid retaining walls. The wall face is often constructed of precast segmental blocks, panels or geocells that can tolerate some differential movement. The walls are typically backfilled with clean granular soil. Reinforcement members are installed within the backfill, using metal strips or horizontal layers of geogrids. The reinforced soil mass, along with the facing, forms the wall. During construction, SME can:

  • Monitor the installation to verify proper installation
  • Test the backfill material to verify it meets project specifications
  • Perform soil corrosivity testing of the backfill material
  • Perform compaction testing on the backfill
  • Monitor the production of the precast panels for the facing

Construction Administration

The construction oversight and management SME provides our clients is as important as the upfront work, and is key to keeping a project on track. Our field engineers combine technical expertise, quality control, and project understanding to confirm that the job is done right. We work as our client’s eyes and ears on the site, monitoring construction for conformance with project specifications and providing immediate engineering input when design or field conditions change. Our goal is to address issues before they turn into problems.


Instrumentation is a natural complement to SME’s geotechnical services and enables us to monitor and evaluate the performance of the substructures throughout a project’s entire lifecycle from inception to completion.

SME use special monitoring instruments to measure load, deflections, and pressures in the earth. Instrumentation can be provided for a wide range of geotechnical applications including retaining walls, foundations, temporary earth retention, earth embankments, levees, dikes, dams, landfills, mechanically stabilized earthen (MSE) berms, wharves and ports, and tunnels. Instrumentation can be used in all stages of a project, from site investigation and design verification to construction surveillance, quality checks and security.

Our projects may include manually monitored instruments as well as automated systems with web-based interfaces. SME’s extensive field capabilities are supplemented by our predictive modeling, data management, theoretical analysis, design and report preparation strengths.

Instrumentation used by SME includes:

  • Slope indicators
  • Piezometers
  • Load cells
  • Crack monitors
  • Settlement monitors
  • Strain gauges and thermometers
  • Pendulums
  • Accelerometers
  • Extensometers
  • Seismographs

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Service Experts

Louis J. Northouse, PE

Vice President/Regional Office Manager

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Paul C. Larsen, PE

Vice President, Corporate Client Relationships

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