Builders in Yavapai County know that soil properties vary from location to location - even from one bore hole test to another on the same parcel. Beginning Jan. 1, the county will require geotechnical engineering reports early in the construction process - when builders apply for a permit in unincorporated areas of the county to build a new
dwelling or for an addition more than 400 sq. ft.
One good reason for the change, said Steve Mauk, county director of development services, is so builders aren't faced with issues at the time of inspection that must be resolved before they can move forward. Also, builders need to know the estimated cost of soil mitigation, if needed - such as ground stabilization or using more expensive structural systems - that could add to the cost of building the home. Some poor soil conditions can cost up to $15,000 to mitigate, he said.
Mauk spoke to a large group of Prescott Area Association of Realtors (PAAR) at La Quinta Inn & Suites on Oct. 30 on updates that may affect the real estate business. He mentioned that state statutes still require an Affidavit of Disclosure, but the county has removed that requirement. He also told Realtors to watch for upcoming changes in the signage code.
Prior to the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors' recent decision to adopt Section R401.4 of the 2012 International Residential Code, it was up to the building official to require a soils testing report if he or she noticed "expansive, compressible, shifting or other questionable soil characteristics are likely to be present."
Mauk said he has seen complete failures of buildings that are uninhabitable; some costing five times the cost of construction to mitigate soil issues. He believes even earlier soil testing is warranted, and advised property buyers to request a geotechnical report before making a decision to purchase the property.
"My fear is that if it's not discussed before the building permit application and there are problems, then the buyer can come back and say, 'Why didn't you say so?'" Mauk said.
He recommends both a soils analysis test and percolation testing for septic systems prior to buying land on which to build. Yavapai County is extremely diverse and core test results can vary 10 feet between samples, he said, so relying on tests from the parcel next door is not a good idea.
Asked about the cost of testing, Mauk said depending on location, it could run between $600 and $1,500, although someone wanting to build near Granite Creek recently paid $3,000.
"We don't take these things lightly," he said, adding that his department has been looking at building codes to make them more consistent between jurisdictions, more user-friendly, and to catch up with building technologies. "We've been struggling with this for five years and it hasn't worked - people's houses are falling down."
Asked if Prescott and Prescott Valley will embrace the requirement change, Mauk said Prescott Valley has clay soil conditions and they build accordingly; Prescott builders do some testing when a developer subdivides property.
At one point he showed a photo slide of a home with a 2-foot gap between the bottom of a door and the ground.
"You can't mitigate this. You can only tear the house down," he said. "Problems are becoming more and more prevalent with the land left in Yavapai County to build on."
The county can't make recommendations for geotech engineers, but it does provide a list of
licensed engineers on its website.
The buyer and seller can negotiate who pays for the testing. Typically a buyer wants to know soil conditions. But it could benefit the seller to have the information ahead of time to present to potential buyers.
Mauk said test results have no expiration date unless conditions change. A perc test can indicate some soil conditions, but it cannot supersede the geotechnical engineering report.
Follow Sue Tone on Twitter @ToneNotes. Reach her at 928-445-3333 x2043 or 928-642-7867.