If you’re planning to build your log home in a rural setting, you’re probably familiar with the perk (or percolation) test required for your septic system. The perk test can determine how slowly or quickly liquids percolate down through the soil in the area where your septic field will be located.

The type of soil—sandy, loamy or clay— will affect the rate of percolation through to lower areas. There are other important reasons to understand your parcel’s soil, as it can provide a preview of steps you may need to include in the design and construction of your foundation, drainage and other infrastructure like driveways or underground utilities.

One great way to get a quick overview of your parcel’s soil composition is through the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Web Soil Survey Site.

When you click through to that page, you’ll find a tremendous resource for identifying soil types on your area.  This mapping program can help you to ensure that you take advantage of areas that have certain types of soils, while being able to avoid other areas that may cause problems. Soil types determine how to design drainage so that it flows away from your home, to understand what kinds of vegetation might thrive in your landscaping, and how runoff might need to be handled.

The first thing you’ll need to do when going to the website it click on the large, green “Start WSS” button. This will take you to a series of “folders” where you narrow down the area you need to analyze. First, you’ll need to identify the Area of Interest (AOI). You can navigate through this part using the desired state and county. In the screen area, a satellite photograph appears with overlays of towns, roads and cities to orient your search.  By clicking on the magnifying glass at the top of the interactive map, you can zoom further down into the level of detail you’ll need.

Once you’ve reached the view you want, click on one of the two AOI buttons in the center of the viewing area and you can outline with your cursor the area you’d like to analyze. Then move the cursor to the top of the map screen and click on the “Soil Map” tab, and the program will identify the types of soils in the Area of Interest, locate them on the map, and quantify what percentage of the area has that type of soil. When the map is printed, a legible map along with a detailed description of the soil symbols on the map, the soil types and their qualities is included.

If you use the Shopping Cart option, the map can be saved, and downloaded immediately or at a later time.  The survey is free of charge to use.

Other functions of the Web Survey include selections for housing with basements, steel or concrete structures, farmland or other uses for which the soils might be best suited.