Difference between compaction and consolidation

Saad Iqbal | 🗓️Modified: July 5, 2021 | ⏳Time to read:5 min

So, you’re confused about difference between compaction and consolidation. Well, civil Engineers deal with these processes in geotechnical engineering and soil mechanics.

Both consolidation and compaction is a way to reduce the volume of the soil but are quite different in some ways. Though both processes tend to improve the engineering properties of soil but they differ in one way or the other.

Compaction and Consolidation are essential for soil reliability.  Every project has unique requirement and so is the support you get from the soil. The shearing strength, geology, and bearing capacity of soil differ greatly from one part of the planet to the other.

That’s where you need artificial means of improvement mechanical properties of soil. Compaction and consolidation are two of such artificial methods of improving mechanics of soils.

So, here’s our take on differences between compaction and Consolidation:

Difference between compaction and consolidation
Difference between compaction and consolidation

What is compaction?

Compaction is a process of increasing field density of soil mechanically. Such process involves dynamic load that is applied rapidly on a layer of soil. Compaction involves applying short-term loading to enhance the quality of soil.

The common example of compaction is using steel drum roller while preparing subgrade or sub-base of a road. Civil engineers do the same while compacting soil for foundation using a tamper or a roller. When you compact the soil, it removes air and voids. It brings the soil solids closes thereby increasing the weight and reducing the volume.

What is consolidation?

In comparison to compaction, consolidation involves long-term compression of soil. It includes steady and static load that goes on for long interval of time.

An example of consolidation is the soil underneath a tall building. As a result of the load, the pore water of the saturated soil is expelled removing voids in it.

The Difference between compaction and Consolidation

Here’re some differences between compaction and consolidation of soil:

Sr. No. Compaction Consolidation
1. Compaction compiles the soil to evacuate the air from the soil particles to improve the soil’s condition. Consolidation is a process of compression of the ground by expulsion of the water from the soil particles.
2. It is a rapid process and can be used in all types of soil. The method of Consolidation is slow and only used at the clayey kind of soil.
3. This process is artificially run by using some techniques to reduce the soil volume. Like use of rollers, vibratory compactors, tampers, and loaders. Consolidation is a natural process, and it takes much time to reduce the magnitude of the soil by evacuating water from the soil particles.
4. The primary approach is compaction, and we can control it. Consolidation is a secondary process, and it is natural, so we can’t handle it.
5. Compaction is a primary mechanism to reduce the volume of the soil. Consolidation is done after the compaction.
6. In compaction, short-term loading is needed, and it can be done by rolling, tamping, and vibrations applied in a short span. In Consolidation, long-term loading is required. The process of loading is consistent and static for the long term.
7. In compaction volume of the soil is reduced by the exclusion of the air rapidly. In Consolidation, the volume of the soil is reduced by the exclusion of the water slowly.
8. Engineers mainly do compaction to improve the soil possessions and also increase the weight of the soil. Consolidation is a natural process and occurs in the soil under the buildings, and it can be done very slowly and reduce the volume of the ground.
9. In compaction reduction of the volume of the soil is not at its optimum level, so it should not be 100 %. In this process soil compression rate is 100 %, so we can say that compression of the soil is at its peak or the optimum level.
10. Compaction can be applied to any soil, whether it is cohesion or cohesionless ground. Consolidation is natural, and it can’t be applied to any soil. It can only be applied to the cohesion soil. Or this process is used on the clayey soil.
11. The consolidation process is done manually by engineers to maximize the soil’s dry volume or dry density. Consolidation is a natural process, and it is done due to high or large structural loads. High structural loads will lead to Consolidation, and soil emits the water and start compressing.
12. Compaction is done before starting the construction work to improve the quality and weight of the soil. Consolidation starts automatically just after the construction or sometimes along with the construction work.
13. Compaction is helpful before the construction of roads, barriers, etc. Consolidation is done automatically, but it can improve the quality and weight of the soil. Or it will make the foundation of a building firm.
14. It is the immediate process done artificially by engineers. It is a moderate process that occurs naturally.


Saad Iqbal is a professional civil engineering and freelance write. He's passionate about structures, construction management, and home improvement topics. He's been working as a Senior Engineer in a consultant firm for over 8 years. Besides he loves writing informative and in-depth content focused on construction and home-related topics. You can catch him at his linkedin page or reach out via our contact us page.

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