Whether you’re working in residential or commercial sectors, we all know how much time, effort, and money it takes to build a new structure from the ground up. You may be used to operating in the suburbs or city, where much of the land is already developed. If so, you’ve likely worked on lots that are already cleared, graded, and ready for breaking ground. What if you’re dealing with an untouched stretch of land? Here’s how to get it ready for a construction project and build your construction site.
Property lines aren’t always clearly marked — even in well-developed areas. The last thing anyone wants to do is start laying out a foundation only to find you’re a few inches — or a few feet — off your target and stretched into the next lot. Surveys are essential before you begin work on a new project. You need this, especially if you’re working in an area surrounded by other people’s property lines.
You may have a good idea of where the property lines are, but if you’re working in the United States or many other countries worldwide, having a survey completed before you break ground isn’t optional. In many places, you need this before you can even obtain the necessary permits for clearing and construction. It’s also a good idea to conduct a second survey after clearing the site. This ensures you that all your property lines are straight.
If the soil under your prospective construction site isn’t suitable, you may need to hunt for a new place to build. Keep a geotechnical engineer on staff or bring in a third-party testing company to determine if your chosen site will support the planned structure. There are various preconstruction soil tests, ranging from moisture content — which determines how much ambient moisture is in the soil — to specific gravity, dry density, and compaction.
Ideally, you will build on a site where the soil doesn’t get waterlogged or shift quickly. If you’re working in a flood plain, you’ll want earth that drains easily but isn’t likely to move dramatically when exposed to water. There are different classes of soil, which your engineer will identify to make it easier to determine where to build.
Geotechnical Site Investigation
Once the soil testing is complete, you can move on to a geotechnical site investigation. This needs the information you collected during soil testing to the next level. Collecting data assists you in designing the structure’s foundation. In addition to a geotechnical engineer, you will also need the services of a groundwater expert.
These reports usually appear in three phases. First, the property owner works with the architect to create the project definition. Then, the geotechnical engineer carries out the initial reviews and soil testing. Finally, the geotechnical engineer and groundwater expert can conduct a preliminary site visit to help design the building foundations.
With a few rare exceptions, preparing a new construction site work will start with clearing the property of anything that calls it home. That means tearing down old buildings and removing trees and plant life. You will need heavy equipment designed for cutting down trees, removing stumps, and dragging often extensive root systems out of the ground.
That last step is crucial. Leaving roots in the ground after removing the trees can lead to foundation problems in the future. The dead root systems will rot, leaving cavities in the soil below the foundation, allowing it to settle and eventually crack.
You may find that you only need to remove the trees and brush necessary for home construction for residential properties. The reason is that people prefer to have some trees on their lot. Leaving the existing ones is more cost-effective than replanting when you finish building.
Be mindful of your area and any endangered or threatened plant and animal species that might call your targeted lot home. These could throw a wrench in your plans and delay or even cancel a clearing, causing you to have to search for new ground to complete the project.
Leveling and Grading
The ground might look flat to the naked eye, but it may not be level enough to build on. Break out the surveying equipment again, and bring out your grader. This can be a tedious step. You’ll need to move back and forth with the grader, then wait for someone to check the grade before continuing. An automatic level can remove some of the tedium, allowing you to monitor the grade automatically without the need for any additional crew members.
Don’t rush through this step. It’s easy to make a mistake that requires filling in and packing before you can continue with the leveling and grading. Like the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady is what you need to win this race.
Once you have dotted all the I’s and crossed all the T’s, it’s time to start breaking ground. However, don’t bring in the concrete trucks just yet. Infrastructure installation comes next, and that will be the last step before you begin pouring the foundation and moving upward.
The exact details of this step will depend on the location and requirements of the project. You may need to install sewer lines or a septic tank and drain field. Electricity and water will often run underground as well. In areas with a shallow water table, digging too deeply is impossible without every hole and trench filling up. In such cases, you may need to run them overhead instead.
Get the infrastructure in place, and your site is finally ready for construction. It seems like an extensive process. However, you can complete these steps in one to two months with a good team.
Ready to Build Your Construction Site
While things would be a lot easier if we could snap our fingers and make new houses pop up without all the extra effort, the world doesn’t work that way. It takes a lot of work to turn a stretch of untouched land into a safe site ready for construction, but once you make it through those steps, the rest of the project should run smoothly.
Rose Morrison is a freelance writer working on the construction, home improvement, and contract topics. She is also the editor-in-chief of Renovated.com, a site dedicated to the latest trends in the housing industry. She is passionate about innovative technologies that make the home industry sustainable and efficient. Checking out Renovated.com to see more of her work.