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# Bearing capacity of soil is the value of the average contact pressure between the

foundation and the soil which will produce shear failure in the soil. Ultimate bearing
capacity is the theoretical maximum pressure which can be supported without
failure. Allowable bearing capacity is what is used in geotechnical design, and is the
ultimate bearing capacity divided by a factor of safety.

Theoretical (Ultimate) and allowable bearing capacity can be assessed for the following:

Shallow Foundations
o

strip footings

square footings

circular footings

Deep foundations
o

end bearing

skin friction

Qa = Qu
(lb/ft2)
F.S.

## Qa = Allowable bearing capacity (kN/m2) or

Where:
Qu = ultimate bearing capacity (kN/m2) or (lb/ft2)
*See below for theory
F.S. = Factor of Safety
*See information on factor of safety

## Ultimate Bearing Capacity for Shallow

Foundations
Terzaghi Ultimate Bearing Capacity Theory

Qu = c Nc + D Nq + 0.5 B N
= Ultimate bearing capacity equation for shallow strip footings, (kN/m2)
(lb/ft2)
Qu = 1.3 c Nc + D Nq + 0.4 B N
= Ultimate bearing capacity equation for shallow square footings, (kN/m2)
(lb/ft2)
Qu = 1.3 c Nc + D Nq + 0.3 B N
= Ultimate bearing capacity equation for shallow circular footings, (kN/m2)
(lb/ft2)
Where:
c = Cohesion of soil (kN/m2) (lb/ft2),
= effective unit weight of soil (kN/m3) (lb/ft3), *see note below
D = depth of footing (m) (ft),
B = width of footing (m) (ft),
Nc=cot(Nq 1),
*see typical bearing
capacity factors
Nq=e2(3/4-/2)tan / [2 cos2(45+/2)],
*see typical bearing
capacity factors
N =(1/2) tan(kp /cos2 - 1),
*see typical bearing
capacity factors
e = Napier's constant = 2.718...,
kp = passive pressure coefficient, and
= angle of internal friction (degrees).
Notes:
Effective unit weight, , is the unit weight of the soil for soils above the water
table and capillary rise. For saturated soils, the effective unit weight is the unit
weight of water, w, 9.81 kN/m3 (62.4 lb/ft3), subtracted from the saturated unit

## Meyerhof Bearing Capacity Theory Based on Standard Penetration Test

Values
Qu = 31.417(NB + ND)

(kN/m2)

(metric)

Qu = NB
10

(tons/ft2)

(standard)

+ ND
10

Qa = 11,970N

(kN/m2)

(metric)

Qa = 1.25N
10

(tons/ft2)

(standard)

## For footing widths of 3 meters (10 feet) or more

Qa = 9,576N

(kN/m2)

(metric)

Qa = N
10

(tons/ft2)

(standard)

Where:
N = N value derived from Standard Penetration Test (SPT)
D = depth of footing (m) (ft), and
B = width of footing (m) (ft).
Note: All Meyerhof equations are for foundations bearing on clean sands. The
first equation is for ultimate bearing capacity, while the second two are factored
within the equation in order to provide an allowable bearing capacity. Linear
interpolation can be performed for footing widths between 1.2 meters (4 feet) and
3 meters (10 feet). Meyerhof equations are based on limiting total settlement to
25 cm (1 inch), and differential settlement to 19 cm (3/4 inch).

## Ultimate Bearing Capacity for Deep Foundations

(Pile)
Qult = Qp + Qf
Where:
Qult = Ultimate bearing capacity of pile, kN (lb)
Qp = Theoretical bearing capacity for tip of foundation, or end bearing, kN (lb)
Qf = Theoretical bearing capacity due to shaft friction, or adhesion between
foundation shaft and soil, kN (lb)

## End Bearing (Tip) Capacity of Pile Foundation

Qp = Apqp
Where:
Qp = Theoretical bearing capacity for tip of foundation, or end bearing, kN (lb)
Ap = Effective area of the tip of the pile, m2 (ft2)
For a circular closed end pile or circular plugged pile; Ap = (B/2)2 m2 (ft2)
qp = DNq
= Theoretical unit tip-bearing capacity for cohesionless and silt soils,
kN/m2 (lb/ft2)
qp = 9c
= Theoretical unit tip-bearing capacity for cohesive soils, kN/m2 (lb/ft2)
= effective unit weight of soil, kN/m3 (lb/ft3),
*See notes
below
D = Effective depth of pile, m (ft), where D < Dc,
Nq = Bearing capacity factor for piles,
c = cohesion of soil, kN/m2 (lb/ft2),
B = diameter of pile, m (ft), and
Dc = critical depth for piles in loose silts or sands m (ft).
Dc = 10B, for loose silts and sands
Dc = 15B, for medium dense silts and sands
Dc = 20B, for dense silts and sands

Qf = Afqf

Qf = pqfL

## for multi-layers of soil

Where:
Qf = Theoretical bearing capacity due to shaft friction, or adhesion between
foundation shaft and soil, kN (lb)
Af = pL; Effective surface area of the pile shaft, m2 (ft2)
qf = k tan = Theoretical unit friction capacity for cohesionless soils,
kN/m2 (lb/ft2)
qf = cA + k tan = Theoretical unit friction capacity for silts, kN/m2 (lb/ft2)
qf = Su = Theoretical unit friction capacity for cohesive soils, kN/m2 (lb/ft2)
p = perimeter of pile cross-section, m (ft)
for a circular pile; p = (B/2)
for a square pile; p = 4B
L = Effective length of pile, m (ft)
*See Notes below
2
2
= 1 - 0.1(Suc) = adhesion factor, kN/m (ksf), where Suc < 48 kN/m2 (1 ksf)
= 1 [0.9 + 0.3(Suc - 1)] kN/m2, (ksf) where Suc > 48 kN/m2, (1 ksf)
Suc
Suc = 2c = Unconfined compressive strength , kN/m2 (lb/ft2)
= c for rough concrete, rusty steel, corrugated metal
0.8c < cA < c for smooth concrete
0.5c < cA < 0.9c for clean steel
c = cohesion of soil, kN/m2 (lb/ft2)
= external friction angle of soil and wall contact (deg)
= angle of internal friction (deg)
= D = effective overburden pressure, kN/m2, (lb/ft2)
k = lateral earth pressure coefficient for piles
= effective unit weight of soil, kN/m3 (lb/ft3)
*See notes below
B = diameter or width of pile, m (ft)
D = Effective depth of pile, m (ft), where D < Dc
Dc = critical depth for piles in loose silts or sands m (ft).
Dc = 10B, for loose silts and sands
Dc = 15B, for medium dense silts and sands
Dc = 20B, for dense silts and sands
= summation of differing soil layers (i.e. a1 + a2 + .... + an)
Notes: Determining effective length requires engineering judgment. The effective
length can be the pile depth minus any disturbed surface soils, soft/ loose soils, or
seasonal variation. The effective length may also be the length of a pile segment

within a single soil layer of a multi layered soil. Effective unit weight,, is the
unit weight of the soil for soils above the water table and capillary rise. For
saturated soils, the effective unit weight is the unit weight of water, w, 9.81
kN/m3 (62.4 lb/ft3), subtracted from the saturated unit weight of soil.
************
Meyerhof Method for Determining qp and qf in Sand
Theoretical unit tip-bearing capacity for driven piles in sand, when D > 10:
B
qp = 4Nc tons/ft2
standard
Theoretical unit tip-bearing capacity for drilled piles in sand:
qp = 1.2Nc tons/ft2

standard

qf = N tons/ft2
50

standard

## Theoretical unit friction-bearing capacity for drilled piles in sand:

qf = N tons/ft2
100

standard

Where:
D = pile embedment depth, ft
B = pile diameter, ft
Nc = Cn(N)
Cn = 0.77 log 20

## N = N-Value from SPT test

= D = effective overburden stress at pile embedment depth, tons/ft2
= ( - w)D = effective stress if below water table, tons/ft2
= effective unit weight of soil, tons/ft3
w = 0.0312 tons/ft3 = unit weight of water

## Examples for determining allowable bearing capacity

Example #1: Determine allowable bearing capacity and width for a shallow strip
footing on cohesionless silty sand and gravel soil. Loose soils were encountered in
the upper 0.6 m (2 feet) of building subgrade. Footing must withstand a 144
kN/m2 (3000 lb/ft2) building pressure.
Given

## bearing pressure from building = 144 kN/m2 (3000 lbs/ft2)

unit weight of soil, = 21 kN/m3 (132 lbs/ft3) *from soil testing, see
typical values

Cohesion, c = 0
typical cvalues

typical values

strata

## *from soil testing, see

Solution
Try a minimal footing width, B = 0.3 m (B = 1 foot).
Use a factor of safety, F.S = 3. Three is typical for this type of application. See factor of
Determine bearing capacity factors N, Nc and Nq. See typical bearing
capacity factors relating to the soils' angle of internal friction.

N = 22

Nc = 35.5

Nq = 23.2

## Solve for ultimate bearing capacity,

Qu = c Nc + D Nq + 0.5 B N

Qu = 362 kN/m2

metric

## Qu = 0(35.5) + 132lbs/ft3(2ft)(23.2) + 0.5(132lbs/ft3)(1ft)(22)

Qu = 7577 lbs/ft2

standard

## Solve for allowable bearing capacity,

Qa = Qu
F.S.
Qa = 362 kN/m2 = 121 kN/m2
3
Qa = 7577lbs/ft2 = 2526 lbs/ft2
3

not o.k.
not o.k.

metric
standard

Since Qa < required 144 kN/m2 (3000 lbs/ft2) bearing pressure, increase footing width, B
or foundation depth, D to increase bearing capacity.
Try footing width, B = 0.61 m (B = 2 ft).
Qu = 0 + 21 kN/m3(0.61 m)(23.2) + 0.5(21 kN/m3)(0.61 m)(22)
Qu = 438 kN/m2

metric

## Qu = 0 + 132 lbs/ft3(2 ft)(23.2) + 0.5(132 lbs/ft3)(2 ft)(22)

Qu = 9029 lbs/ft2

standard

3

3

## Qa > 3000 lbs/ft2

o.k.
o.k.

metric
standard

Conclusion
Footing shall be 0.61 meters (2 feet) wide at a depth of 0.61 meters (2 feet) below
ground surface. Many engineers neglect the depth factor (i.e. D Nq = 0) for shallow
foundations. This inherently increases the factor of safety. Some site conditions that may
negatively effect the depth factor are foundations established at depths equal to or less

than 0.3 meters (1 feet) below the ground surface, placement of foundations on fill, and
disturbed/ fill soils located above or to the sides of foundations.
********************************

Example #2: Determine allowable bearing capacity of a shallow, 0.3 meter (12inch) square isolated footing bearing on saturated cohesive soil. The frost
penetration depth is 0.61 meter (2 feet). Structural parameters require the
foundation to withstand 4.4 kN (1000 lbs) of force on a 0.3 meter (12-inch) square
column.
Given

bearing pressure from building column = 4.4 kN/ (0.3 m x 0.3 m) = 48.9 kN/m2

bearing pressure from building column = 1000 lbs/ (1 ft x 1 ft) = 1000 lbs/ft2

typical values

*see

*constant

typical cvalues

typical values

## *from soil testing, see

Solution
Try a footing depth, D = 0.61 meters (2 feet), because foundation should be below frost
depth.
Use a factor of safety, F.S = 3. See factor of safety for more information.
Determine bearing capacity factors N, Nc and Nq. See typical bearing

N = 0

Nc = 5.7

Nq = 1

## Solve for ultimate bearing capacity,

Qu = 1.3c Nc + D Nq + 0.4 B N

## *square footing eq.

Qu =1.3(21.1kN/m2)5.7+(20.3kN/m3-9.81kN/m3)(0.61m)1+0.4(20.3kN/m3-9.81kN/m3)
(0.3m)0
Qu = 163 kN/m2
metric
Qu = 1.3(440lbs/ft2)(5.7) + (129lbs/ft3 - 62.4lbs/ft3)(2ft)(1) + 0.4(129lbs/ft3 - 62.4lbs/ft3)
(1ft)(0)
Qu = 3394 lbs/ft2
standard
Solve for allowable bearing capacity,
Qa = Qu
F.S.
Qa = 163 kN/m2 = 54 kN/m2
3
Qa = 3394lbs/ft2 = 1130 lbs/ft2
3

## Qa > 48.9 kN/m2

Qa > 1000 lbs/ft2

o.k.
o.k.

metric
standard

Conclusion
The 0.3 meter (12-inch) isolated square footing shall be 0.61 meters (2 feet) below the
ground surface. Other considerations may be required for foundations bearing on
moisture sensitive clays, especially for lightly loaded structures such as in this example.
Sensitive clays could expand and contract, which could cause structural damage. Clay
used as bearing soils may require mitigation such as heavier loads, subgrade removal and
replacement below the foundation, or moisture control within the subgrade.
********************************

Example #3: Determine allowable bearing capacity and width for a foundation
using the Meyerhof Method. Soils consist of poorly graded sand. Footing must
withstand a 144 kN/m2 (1.5 tons/ft2) building pressure.
Given

## *from SPT soil testing

Solution
Try a minimal footing width, B = 0.3 m (B = 1 foot) at a depth, D = 0.61 meter (2 feet).
Footings for single family residences are typically 0.3m (1 ft) to 0.61m (2ft) wide. This
depth was selected because soil density greatly increases (i.e. higher N-value) at a depth
of 0.61 m (2 ft).
Use a factor of safety, F.S = 3. Three is typical for this type of application. See factor of
Solve for ultimate bearing capacity
Qu = 31.417(NB + ND)

(kN/m2)

(metric)

Qu = NB
10

(tons/ft2)

(standard)

+ ND
10

(metric)

10
10

(standard)

## Solve for allowable bearing capacity,

Qa = Qu
F.S.
Qa = 1029 kN/m2 = 343 kN/m2 Qa > 144 kN/m2
3
Qa = 10.8 tons/ft2 = 3.6 tons/ft2 Qa > 1.5 tons/ft2

o.k.
o.k.

(metric)
(standard)

3
Conclusion
Footing shall be 0.3 meters (1 feet) wide at a depth of 0.61 meters (2 feet) below the
ground surface. A footing width of only 0.3 m (1 ft) is most likely insufficient for the
structural engineer when designing the footing with the building pressure in this
problem.
********************************

## Example #4: Determine allowable bearing capacity and diameter of a single

driven pile. Pile must withstand a 66.7 kN (15 kips) vertical load.
Given

## homogeneous soils in upper 15.2 m (50 ft); silty soil

unit weight, = 19.6 kN/m3 (125 lbs/ft3) *from soil testing, see
typical values

typical cvalues

## angle of internal friction, = 30 degrees *from soil testing, see

typical values

Pile Information
o

driven

steel

plugged end

Solution
Try a pile depth, D = 1.5 meters (5 feet)
Try pile diameter, B = 0.61 m (2 ft)
Use a factor of safety, F.S = 3. Smaller factors of safety are sometimes used if piles are
load tested, or the engineer has sufficient experience with the regional soils.
Determine ultimate end bearing of pile,
Qp = Apqp
Ap = (B/2)2(0.61m/2)2 = 0.292 m2
Ap (B/2)2(2ft/2)2 = 3.14 ft2

metric
standard

qp = DNq
= 19.6 kN/m3 (125 lbs/ft3); given soil unit weight
= 30 degrees; given soil angle of internal friction
B = 0.61 m (2 ft); trial pile width
D = 1.5 m (5 ft); trial depth, may need to increase or decrease depending on capacity
check to see if D < Dc
Dc = 15B = 9.2 m (30 ft); critical depth for medium dense silts.
If D > Dc, then use Dc
Nq = 25; Meyerhof bearing capacity factor for driven piles, based on
qp = 19.6 kN/m3(1.5 m)25 = 735 kN/m2
qp = 125 lb/ft3(5 ft)25 = 15,625 lb/ft2
Qp = Apqp = (0.292 m2)(735 kN/m2) = 214.6 kN
Qp = Apqp = (3.14 ft2)(15,625 lb/ft2) = 49,063 lb

metric
standard
metric
standard

## Determine ultimate friction capacity of pile,

Qf = Afqf
Af = pL
p = 2(0.61m/2) = 1.92 m
p = 2(2 ft/2) = 6.28 ft

metric
standard

## L = D = 1.5 m (5 ft); length and depth used interchangeably. check Dc as above

Af = 1.92 m(1.5 m) = 2.88 m2
Af = 6.28 ft(5 ft) = 31.4 ft2

metric
standard

qf = cA + k tan = cA + kD tan
k = 0.5; lateral earth pressure coefficient for piles, value chosen from Broms low density
steel
= 19.6 kN/m3 (125 lb/ft3); given effective soil unit weight. If water table, then - w
D = L = 1.5 m (5 ft); pile length. Check to see if D < Dc
Dc = 15B = 9.2 m (30 ft); critical depth for medium dense silts. If D > Dc, then use Dc
= 20 deg; external friction angle, equation chosen from Broms steel piles
B = 0.61 m (2 ft); selected pile diameter
cA = 0.5c; for clean steel. See adhesion in pile theories above.
= 24 kN/m2 (500 lb/ft2)
qf = 24 kN/m2 + 0.5(19.6 kN/m3)(1.5m)tan 20 = 29.4 kN/m2
qf = 500 lb/ft2 + 0.5(125 lb/ft3)(5ft)tan 20 = 614 lb/ft2
Qf = Afqf = 2.88 m2(29.4 kN/m2) = 84.7 kN
Qf = Afqf = 31.4 ft2(614 lb/ft2) = 19,280 lb

metric
standard
metric
standard

## Determine ultimate pile capacity,

Qult = Qp + Qf
Qult = 214.6 kN + 84.7 kN = 299.3 kN
Qult = 49,063 lb + 19,280 lb = 68,343 lb

metric
standard

## Solve for allowable bearing capacity,

Qa = Qult
F.S.
Qa =
Qa =

299.3 kN = 99.8 kN; Qa > applied load (66.7 kN) o.k. metric
3
68,343 lbs = 22,781 lbs Qa > applied load (15 kips) o.k. standard
3

Conclusion
A 0.61 m (2 ft) steel pile shall be plugged and driven 1.5 m (5 feet) below the ground
surface. Many engineers neglect the skin friction within the upper 1 to 5 feet of subgrade
due to seasonal variations or soil disturbance. Seasonal variations may include freeze/
thaw or effects from water. The end bearing alone (neglect skin friction) is sufficient for
this case. Typical methods for increasing the pile capacity are increasing the pile
diameter or increasing the embedment depth of the pile.
********************************

## Example #5: Determine allowable bearing capacity and diameter of a single

driven pile. Pile must withstand a 66.7 kN (15 kips) vertical load.
Given

## upper 1.5 m (5 ft) of soil is a medium dense gravelly sand

unit weight, = 19.6 kN/m3 (125 lbs/ft3) *from soil testing, see
typical values

cohesion, c = 0
typical cvalues

typical values

o

## angle of internal friction, = 0 degrees

Pile Information

driven

wood

closed end

Solution
Try a pile depth, D = 2.4 meters (8 feet)
Try pile diameter, B = 0.61 m (2 ft)
Use a factor of safety, F.S = 3. Smaller factors of safety are sometimes used if piles are
load tested, or the engineer has sufficient experience with the regional soils.
Determine ultimate end bearing of pile,
Qp = Apqp
Ap = (B/2)2(0.61m/2)2 = 0.292 m2
Ap (B/2)2(2ft/2)2 = 3.14 ft2
qp = 9c = 9(47.9 kN/m2) = 431.1 kN/m2
qp = 9c = 9(1000 lb/ft2) = 9000 lb/ft2
Qp = Apqp = (0.292 m2)(431.1 kN/m2) = 125.9 kN
Qp = Apqp = (3.14 ft2)(9000 lb/ft2) = 28,260 lb

metric
standard
metric
standard
metric
standard

## Determine ultimate friction capacity of pile,

Qf = pqfL
p = 2(0.61m/2) = 1.92 m
p = 2(2 ft/2) = 6.28 ft

metric
standard

## upper 1.5 m (5 ft) of soil

qfL = [k tan ]L = [kD tan ]L
k = 1.5; lateral earth pressure coefficient for piles, value chosen from Broms low density
timber
= 19.6 kN/m3 (125 lb/ft3); given effective soil unit weight. If water table, then - w
D = L = 1.5 m (5 ft); segment of pile within this soil strata. Check to see if D < Dc
Dc = 15B = 9.2 m (30 ft); critical depth for medium dense sands. This assumption is
conservative, because the soil is gravelly, and this much soil unit weight for a sand
would indicate dense soils. If D > Dc, then use Dc
= (2/3) = 20 deg; external friction angle, equation chosen from Broms timber piles
B = 0.61 m (2 ft); selected pile diameter
= 30 deg; given soil angle of internal friction
qfL = [1.5(19.6 kN/m3)(1.5m)tan (20)]1.5 m = 24.1 kN/m
qfL = [1.5(125 lb/ft3)(5ft)tan (20)]5 ft = 1706 lb/ft

metric
standard

## soils below 1.5 m (5 ft) of subgrade

qfL = Su
Suc = 2c = 95.8 kN/m2 (2000 lb/ft2); unconfined compressive strength
c = 47.9 kN/m2 (1000 lb/ft2); cohesion from soil testing (given)
= 1 [0.9 + 0.3(Suc - 1)] = 0.3; because Suc > 48 kN/m2, (1 ksf)
Suc
L = 0.91 m (3 ft); segment of pile within this soil strata
qfL = [0.3(95.8 kN/m2)]0.91 m = 26.2 kN/m
qfL = [0.3(2000 lb/ft2)]3 ft = 1800 lb/ft

metric
standard

## ultimate friction capacity of combined soil layers

Qf = pqfL
Qf = 1.92 m(24.1 kN/m + 26.2 kN/m) = 96.6 kN
Qf = 6.28 ft(1706 lb/ft + 1800 lb/ft) = 22,018 lb

metric
standard

## Determine ultimate pile capacity,

Qult = Qp + Qf
Qult = 125.9 kN + 96.6 kN = 222.5 kN
Qult = 28,260 lb + 22,018 lb = 50,278 lb

metric
standard

## Solve for allowable bearing capacity,

Qa = Qult
F.S.
Qa =
Qa =

222.5 kN = 74.2 kN; Qa > applied load (66.7 kN) o.k. metric
3
50,275 lbs = 16,758 lbs Qa > applied load (15 kips) o.k. standard
3

Conclusion
Wood pile shall be driven 8 feet below the ground surface. Many engineers neglect the
skin friction within the upper 1 to 5 feet of subgrade due to seasonal variations or soil
disturbance. Seasonal variations may include freeze/ thaw or effects from water. Notice
how the soil properties within the pile tip location is used in the end bearing calculations.
End bearing should also consider the soil layer(s) directly beneath this layer. Engineering
judgment or a change in design is warranted if subsequent soil layers are weaker than the
soils within the vicinity of the pile tip. Typical methods for increasing the pile capacity
are increasing the pile diameter or increasing the embedment depth of the pile.
********************************