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Soil Testing at Big Mama's

It has been a while since I have updated you all on both the journey of rebuilding my Big Mama’s House as well as the process. I’ll quickly give you a recap and then we can get into where I am now.

Basically, I bought the home, my husband and I met with an architect about redesigning and building it out. Then, I had to part with the home I had so many dreams for when I had to tear it down. Unexpectedly, my husband decided he wanted no parts of the partnership and abandoned it. I was hurt and distraught but determined to build so I asked for help.

I started a GoFund Me campaign and was able to raise money to meet with my architect again to design a home of my dreams for my family’s use or community use. Now that I have an extensive draft for the floor plan options, I have moved into the preconstruction phase.

I thought that you could just get a home designed and go. No, no, no there are so many things you have to get approved before you get your plans approved by the city. First things first, I learned that I must get a soil test done before the house plan is decided on and approved.

Many of us are buying vacant lots on the mission to “buy and own the block”. I want to suggest that before you make any plans or developments that you get a soil test done. In the North Memphis and South Memphis neighborhoods, we have historically dealt with heavy pollution due to chemical plants operating in our neighborhoods for decades. It has been a long drawn out battle to rectify the damage done in our communities by these superfund sites.

I think this is so important so I want to take a moment to talk about what soil testing is, why it is important in the building phase of Big Mama’s house, and the organization you can work with if you are in Memphis to have a soil test performed.

Soil testing takes place in the first stage of building a new house, where a series of soil samples are taken from your block of land. The soil profile of each home site varies from place to place, so it is very important to have a soil report, even before your house plans or any land development is decided on. I learned that before my plans are approved I had to get a soil sample done.

The main reason is to understand the condition of the soil. There are two things you must take into consideration the reactivity of your soil and its soil bearing capacity. I sound so knowledgeable lol.

The soil reactivity ensures that there aren’t any chemical or physical conditions on the site that might damage your house. Soil reactivity refers to the amount soil expands or contracts in response to moisture content. This needs to be taken into account, as a different type of foundational slab may need to be used. Wet soil can put pressure on the slab, causing it to crack and damage your house along with it. Dry soil can contract, causing the slab to buckle or sink.

And, this was the contributing factor that was critical in both the construction plans and the budget of Big Mama’s House. The type of foundation slab can drastically change every detail about your plans. The type of slab needs to be identified prior to the architectural plans and construction. If you have to build with a concrete slab, you must begin with plumbing first. Crawlspace doesn’t necessarily need to start with plumbing. But the condition of the soil will make or break your plans.

The soil bearing capacity tells us the weight the soil can support per unit area and determines the type of footings or slab subfloor that can be built on your site. If the soil is unstable, then the footings may be to be placed deeper into the ground, or a different type of foundation may need to be used.

A difficult site basically one where there is expected to be higher than average surface movement will cost considerably more to build on. These costs can sometimes be significant, so best to be well prepared before you start building.

I had to decide a few months ago to slow down and take care of the priorities first- that being the soil- so I don’t spend money that I don’t have and learn some very hard lessons.

At this moment, I have decided while waiting on permits and more money to build a home on Big Mama’s lot, I would test the soil to activate her lot as a space for community use. I got the soil tested on her lot to ensure there were no contaminants like lead that would harm kids or anyone for that matter. I will make this lot as well as the one I own across the street - a pocket park or community space to use for small outdoor gatherings.

The amazing team from Memphis Tilth came over to Big Mama’s as a part of a community program with the Center for Transforming Communities to reimagine and activate vacant lots in North Memphis neighborhoods. The idea is to transform many of these lots into beautiful and sustainable gathering places that illustrate how important green spaces are to our communities.

I didn’t think about the importance of healthy soil going into this journey of rebuilding Big Mama’s house. But now, I have gained a much deeper understanding of construction, land development, and sustainability in not only Big Mama’s land but the land in the community. Healthy soil is the foundation of this home and everything that may be birthed and grow from it for generations to come. Managing the health and condition of it now determines all that is to come from this beautiful land.

I have learned just how essential it is to build on a solid foundation. I say all of the time that this journey I am on to rebuild my Big Mama’s house is not just about the construction of a home but in the making and erection of a spiritual home. I came across this biblical story that gave me a deeper insight into the importance of soil in the homes and our lives.

It is the story of the Sinking Sand or Solid Rock and the wise man and the foolish man!

Let's ask ourselves the question. What's the foundation of our life? Are we like the foolish man, are our lives built on sand?

The story is from the Matthew 7:24-27 where the Bible says:

Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
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