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Soil Test Cost

Soil Test Cost

National average
$1,200
(basic report on multiple soil samples including the type of soil, chemicals, contaminants and nutrient levels)
Low: $400

(testing a small soil sample for pH levels)

High: $5,000

(in-depth testing including moisture content, structure and organic makeup)

Cost to test a soil varies greatly by region (and even by zip code).
Get free estimates from landscapers in your city.

The average cost to test a soil is around $1,200.

In this guide

Why test soil?
Pros and cons
Testing areas
The report
Types of tests
Labor
Enhancement and improvement costs
Additional considerations and costs
FAQ

How much does it cost to test a soil?

Knowing what is in the soil around your home and garden can have a big impact on both your family’s health and your landscaping efforts. Whether you’re considering a renovation project, digging for a well, or simply adding new plantings around your home, having the soil tested 1 can alert you to possible problems. Considering the costs of dealing with problems (like an infected water supply) if soil issues go untreated, it is well worth the cost of these basic tests.

For about $1,200, you can do a basic level of testing that will tell you what kind of soil you are dealing with, what chemicals and minerals are found there, if there is any type of nutrient depletion, and what level of contamination (if any) is present.

Why test soil?

Soil testing isn’t something most homeowners give much thought to. But it is an essential step before commencing any major project that requires digging. Here are just a few examples of when soil testing is necessary:

  • Drilling a well. Any chemicals, minerals, or pesticides found in the soil can leach into well water, making your family sick. Even nearby runoff filled with E. coli that doesn’t directly enter the well area can be a danger. Information gathered during the testing process can also help you find the best location for your well (and septic system), as well as help identify drainage issues.
  • Construction. Any time a foundation is laid, the soil should be tested for contaminants and to see if the ground is sturdy enough to withstand the weight of the project. A quality analysis will tell your engineer what type of soil he is dealing with, whether it is strong enough to support the proposed construction, its density, compaction, and possible contamination. This can help them figure out the best kind of foundation to build.
  • Adding an inground swimming pool. Testing the soil before digging for that new pool is essential to ensure that the ground is sturdy enough and that no bad elements will find their way into the family swimming hole. The cost of testing for new pool construction is about $1,000.
  • Heavy metals. The ground is full of natural minerals and heavy metals. But sometimes, the levels of certain heavy metals can be dangerous to humans–especially if they were left behind by manufacturing or farming. Lead and mercury are two heavy metals that have been linked to developmental problems in children, making it very important to find out if levels are too high before you build. Other metals which may be present in your soil include arsenic (common in old orchards), zinc, copper, and even vehicle exhaust (if your property is close to a major roadway). The good news is that most heavy metals are only present in the first two inches of soil, so it is often relatively easy to fix the problem.
  • Gardening. It does not matter whether you are planning a family garden or adding an orchard to your property, it is always a good idea to test the soil for possible chemicals (pesticides), heavy metals, bacteria (like E. coli), and more. In addition, soil testing can alert you to problems in the soil which may make it difficult to grow the plants you want. Once you know what is in your soil, you, and your landscaper, can make the necessary adjustments to make sure that it is ready for your favorite plants.

Pros and cons

There are a lot of good reasons to have the soil tested on your property before taking the time and money to start a construction project or even plant a garden. Depending on the size of the construction project, the local municipality may require soil testing before any permits or licenses are approved.

Soil testing will help you keep your family safe. If you have a well, it is vital that you have your soil tested at least once a year to ensure that the water is safe, and remains that way. All kinds of nasty things can leach into the groundwater and contaminate your well. This includes dangerous chemicals, pesticides, heavy metals, and bacteria. Finding problems before you start any type of construction project will ultimately save you money. Trying to install an inground pool or build a two-story deck on soil that can not sustain it will only end up with you needing to redo (or even scrap entirely) parts of the project, and paying big bucks for it.

Finding the best place to drill a well or install a sewer system takes a certain amount of knowledge. So does installing an inground pool or building an addition onto your home. Understanding the makeup of the soil on the property can help to find the best locations for any addition.

Testing your soil can also help you choose the best garden plants. Different kinds of plants thrive in different environments. The same is true for the soil it is planted in. Trying to grow some flowers, bushes, or trees in certain kinds of soil will result in failure. Once you know what type of soil you have to work with, your landscape professional can help you choose the perfect plants to adorn your property. Something as simple as a pH level that is off can affect how well your garden grows. Make it thrive by giving your plants the best mix of minerals. This means knowing what is in your soil and finding ways to alter its composition if needed.

While the benefits of soil testing are plentiful, there are some disadvantages to the process that homeowners need to be aware of before starting the process. For one, it can be pricey, depending on what types of tests you run. While the average soil tests run about $1,000, the process can run several thousands if you find yourself in need of more in-depth reports, or if multiple tests need to be run.

More extensive tests can also be confusing and may require an expert to explain the results. Plus, unless you run the right tests, the results could be unclear, or even wrong. For instance, a simple pH test may come back just fine, yet your garden continues to wither. The reasons could be that you tested for the wrong thing. Or you did not test enough things, which could result in a false positive. This is common when testing groundwater. For instance, you may get a positive result for trace minerals in the groundwater simply because you failed to test for nitrates. Depending on the results, it may also be necessary to retest certain areas, which increases the overall cost of the project.

Testing areas

Soil is found in a variety of types. The type of soil you are dealing with can have a big impact on how well plants grow and what type of construction can be safely completed on it. When scientists and engineers test the soil before a project, they are looking for several things:

  • Color: the color of soil can tell you a lot about its makeup, including what’s in it, how well it drains, and even if it is fertile.
  • Compaction: loose soil allows water to drain and oxygen to flow through it, which is good for plants.
  • Moisture content: soil needs just the right amount of moisture. Too little and nothing can grow; too much and the wrong things can grow in it. Checking the moisture content can help you see small problems and deal with them before they become big ones.
  • Organic content: the right mix of organic compounds in the soil is vital to growing just the right plants. Finding out what the soil always has, versus what it may be lacking can go a long way toward growing the types of plants you want.
  • pH Level: the acidity of the soil can greatly influence the growth of plants.
  • Profile: one of the best ways to determine the health of soil is to do a complete workup (or profile) which tests different components of the soil for several inches (or even feet).
  • Structure: testing the structure of the soil will tell you how well roots, water, and air can penetrate it.
  • Temperature: soil temperatures can vary with depth and structure, which can affect how well plants grow in it.
  • Texture: sandy soil cannot retain moisture long, while clay soil has a hard time getting rid of it. This seriously impacts what can be grown in, or built on, each. That is why it is important to test soil texture before any project.

Knowing what your soil expert is looking for (and why) will help you better understand the final report he submits following soil testing.

The report

Reading a scientific soil report isn’t always easy without help. Depending on your reasons for having the tests done (and how many tests were completed), the report can be as short as a single page (for a simple lead 2 test) to dozens of pages (for a complete report that studies every aspect of the soil on your property). Most reports, however, run about 5-12 pages. In most cases, your soil expert will give you a detailed lab report, along with a summary that he creates, outlining problem areas, and giving you the highlights of the report in a more readable (and understandable) manner. This, of course, is included in the price of the testing.

In most cases, the report will be broken down into areas, offering results for individual tests. For instance, if you had an advanced test done, it would include a section outlining the composition of the soil and also a section which lists any contaminants found (and at what levels). Both micro- and macro-nutrients will be listed here, including such important ones as nitrogen, phosphorous, sulfur, zinc, iron, copper, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sodium. There should also be a section which highlights the pH level of the soil since this is very important when it comes to growing plants.

While your soil expert should do his best to make this final report as easy as possible to read, there still may be a lot of scientific lingo in it that you find hard to understand. Be sure to ask plenty of questions and have your soil engineer go over the report in detail with you so you know exactly what it says. Expect to get your results within 5-10 business days of samples being taken.

Types of tests

Checking your soil for contaminants can be as simple as checking the pH levels, or as complicated as determining whether your soil can support your proposed construction project. The degree of testing you administer will depend on the reasons you are doing it, and how much information you need to gather. The more comprehensive the analysis, the more expensive the testing will be.

Basic profile

Used to determine the profile of the soil from the ground to the rock bed beneath. It offers an overview of the organic matter and the presence of substances like nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, sulfur, magnesium, iron or copper. It can cost up to $1,500.

Advanced profile

Determines both the structure of the soil and its components (including fertility). It analyzes a wide variety of soil contaminants such as arsenic, copper, lead, mercury and zinc, as well as soil acidity and other substances tested in basic profile tests. It is a complete look at the makeup of the soil in preparing land for construction and/or farming.

Fertility testing

Very useful for determining the growing capabilities of the soil. The outcome will be a comprehensive report on the chemicals and minerals found within the soil (nitrates, potassium, phosphorus, etc.) Often used by farmers to help them see which plants will prosper. The cost of fertility testing averages $50-$80.

Sulfur and boron test

Used to detect deficits in soil nutrients. The proper amounts of sulfur and boron are needed for crops to grow. Finding deficits allows farmers to correct the problem before plants are impacted. The average cost is $10-$50.

Soil texture test

Determines the type of soil present (sand, clay, etc.). Knowing the kind of soil you are working with allows you to choose the proper (and safest) method of construction. It usually costs about $35-$75 to test the texture of the soil.

Percolation test

Used to determine the best location for a well or septic system, it measures the time it takes for water to penetrate (or percolate) into the soil. It can be as simple and cheap as $100 or cost up to $1,000.

Heavy metal screening

Usually used to find excess levels of heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, copper, zinc, cadmium, chromium, nickel, selenium and more before they affect the health and wellbeing of your family or plants. These tests clearly specify which heavy metals are in the soil so that proper measures can be taken to decrease levels to a safer amount. This usually costs $50-$200.

Gravity testing

Determines the ratio of the unit weight of soil solids to that of water. The results show how much water your soil can hold. The price for this kind of tests averages $50-$80.

A la carte services

To determine specific components found in the soil. These are single tests that look for specific contaminants. It shows contamination of specific components such as lead, pesticides, or E. coli. Often used when a specific contagion is suspected. Its cost averages $10-$30.

Labor

So, what type of soil profesional should you hire to handle testing? That depends on why you are having your soil tested in the first place. If you simply want an overview of the ground where you plan to add a garden or other plantings, a landscaper may be able to handle the job. But, if you are planning a bigger project (like a home addition, well, septic system, etc.), you may need a soil engineer, otherwise known as a geotechnical engineer, to determine the characteristics and mechanics of the soil so you know what type of foundation to build and whether or not soil conditions pose any risks to the building project or the people involved.

Hiring a soil engineer to come out to your site for an inspection can cost $300-$500, in addition to the price of the actual test performed. This fee usually includes the final report, and can vary depending on the location and size of the property being studied.

Enhancement and improvement costs

Fast-tracking

Getting your soil samples evaluated usually takes about two weeks when working through a local college or university. While this is often the cheapest way to get the results you are after, if time is of the essence, you may want to send the samples out to a private laboratory. They can often email you results within 2-5 business days. Of course, this may cost 10-30% more.

Additional considerations and costs

When hiring a soil engineer to test your property, it is important to keep these special considerations in mind:

  • Permits and licenses. If you are doing a simple pH level test for your garden you probably won’t need to worry about obtaining any special permission. But, if you will be drilling holes for a more intensive look into the ground beneath your feet, you may need to obtain a building permit from your local zoning authority. The best way to make sure that you are not breaking any ordinances is to talk with your soil engineer and/or make a quick call to the municipality’s zoning office to ask what permits may be needed. The most important preparatory step before any digging project is to call 811 so that you can be sure not to damage any utility lines.
  • DIY. Basic test kits are available at the local home improvement store. Remember, though, that there are different tests to choose from. One that works for determining the nutrient level in a garden is going to be different than the one meant to help you grow a thicker layer of grass. And, if you are trying to determine the type of soil you have, where to drill for a new well, or the safety of an area in regards to a building project, it is always best to call in a professional.
  • The best times to test soil. Weather conditions really do not impact soil test results, so they can be conducted almost any time. If you are hoping to use the results to improve your gardening area, though, you may want to do the test in the early spring. This will give you time to make the necessary adjustments and improvements to the soil before planting season arrives.
  • Testing analysis centers. Where you send your soil samples for testing can impact the results. For instance, if you are looking for specific nutrients (or lack thereof) on a farm, you may want to consider sending them to an experienced farm extension university lab, rather than a private one. Depending on where the lab is located, the cost of running the test could be higher. Still, having the most experienced scientists review your samples may be worth the added cost, depending on your circumstances.
  • Soil testing after digging the foundation. In most cases, soil testing is done after digging the foundation, but before the footings 3 are formed. This way, you aren’t paying for expensive drilling. The cost of post-digging soil testing averages about $1,100. If more holes need to be bored, the cost may rise to $2,000. Commercial projects can cost more (around $3,000-$5,000) since the tests must usually be done prior to digging. The process costs more because large machines must be brought in to bore multiple holes for the tests.

FAQ

  • How much does a soil boring test cost?

A basic soil test runs about $400, but if you need to bore from the surface to the rock bed beneath, the cost can rise to $2,000 or more.

  • How long does a soil test take?

Most soil tests can be completed in a few hours. If large machinery must be brought in to dig multiple holes throughout the property, the entire process can take 1-2 days.

  • How much does a soil compaction test cost?

A more complicated endeavor, the cost of a soil compaction review costs about $100 per location for the drilling; $50 per lift for the soil sample; and $50 per hour in engineering fees.

  • What type of soil is best to build on?

Loamy soil is a combination of sand and clay, which makes it more preferable for construction projects.

  • How much does a soil investigation cost?

A full-blown soil investigation costs between $2,000 and $5,000. The average soil testing runs around $1,100.

  • What will a soil test tell me?

Soil tests can tell you just about anything you need to know about the ground on your property: what chemicals are found there, nutrient deficiencies, mineral compounds, the type of soil, level of contamination, the ability to build safely, and more.

  • Where can I get a soil test?

Simple garden tests can be purchased at your local home improvement store for about $10-$30 each. More sophisticated tests can be purchased from a soil engineer, local college or university extension service, or private testing company for $50-$300 each.

  • How do you do a soil test?

There are a variety of ways to test the soil around your home. Basic tests explain how to dig up the appropriate soil and mail in the sample, but, for the best results, it is always best to hire a professional to come in and take the samples. This may involve digging small holes in your yard and removing a cup or so of soil, or drilling larger ones using specialty equipment.

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Remodeling Terms Cheat Sheet

Definitions in laymen's terms, cost considerations, pictures and things you need to know.
See full cheat sheet.
glossary term picture Soil Test 1 Soil tested: Chemical analysis kit used to assess soil pH, and sometimes soil nutrients, for the purpose of making fertilizer recommendations (type, quantity, and frequency)
glossary term picture Lead 2 Lead: A naturally occurring heavy metal that is highly toxic to humans, and has been used in paint, gasoline, piping, and other applications
glossary term picture Footing 3 Footings: A support for the foundation of a house that also helps prevent settling. It is typically made of concrete reinforced with rebar, but can also be made of masonry or brick. It is usually built under a heavier part of the house like a wall or column, to distribute the weight of the house over a larger area.

Cost to test a soil varies greatly by region (and even by zip code). To get free estimates from local contractors, please indicate yours.

Geotechnical engineer carrying out a soil test

Labor cost by city and zip code

Compared to national average
Adrian, MI
-21%
Albuquerque, NM
-14%
Anaheim, CA
+21%
Arlington, TX
+6%
Athens, GA
-9%
Auburn, AL
-16%
Aurora, CO
+10%
Austin, TX
+13%
Avon Lake, OH
-21%
Bakersfield, CA
-6%
Berthoud, CO
-6%
Bismarck, ND
-4%
Charlotte, NC
+6%
Chula Vista, CA
+8%
Cincinnati, OH
+6%
Cleveland, OH
+7%
Cleveland, TN
-20%
Colorado Springs, CO
-3%
Dahlonega, GA
-31%
Dallas, TX
+10%
El Paso, TX
-28%
Fort Lauderdale, FL
+2%
Fort Worth, TX
+6%
Fullerton, CA
+22%
Grand Prairie, TX
+6%
Hampton, VA
-18%
Honolulu, HI
+35%
Houston, TX
+24%
Lehi, UT
-25%
Lincoln, NE
-13%
Long Beach, CA
+16%
Los Angeles, CA
+11%
Louisville, KY
-7%
Mesa, AZ
-2%
Miami, FL
+1%
Minneapolis, MN
+25%
Modesto, CA
-12%
New Orleans, LA
+35%
New York, NY
+77%
Oakland, CA
+36%
Oklahoma City, OK
-12%
Orlando, FL
+2%
Philadelphia, PA
+40%
Phoenix, AZ
0%
Portland, OR
+11%
Rock Hill, SC
-24%
Sacramento, CA
+8%
San Antonio, TX
-4%
San Diego, CA
+11%
San Francisco, CA
+53%
Labor cost in your zip code
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Methodology and sources