OK Owner Builder. Finally time to "break ground! The first step in the actual construction of your new home in site preparation. You have carefully selected your lot, taking into consideration all of the Lot Selection Criteria covered in our pages of finding and selecting your lot. And you have prepared your site plan as part of your plans and specifications. Now it's time to do it!
Site preparation consists of clearing away the trees from your building site, doing whatever rough grading that is necessary, and staking the house location in preparation for installation of the footings and foundation.
Before you begin, go over again the things that will affect or be affected by the placement of your home on this lot:
Setbacks and Easements
The Sun's Exposure
Trees you want to keep
Well and Septic Tank Location
Your Relationship to other houses in the area/neighborhood
Distances you'll have to run utility lines to hook up with municipal services
OK, you already took all these things into consideration before you did your site plan. Do yourself a favor. Check them all again - before you begin your site preparation. It's much easier to make changes now . . . BEFORE the concrete if poured!
Rough Staking The Home
Here is where to start laying out the home. The reasons for doing this are twofold: economics and esthetics. It costs money (usually hourly) to clear the construction site. If you know in advance what needs to be done, you can save some time and money.
Also, you probably don't want to remove any more trees than necessary. Knowing where the home will be built will allow you to save the trees that don't really need to come down.
If there if to be any grading or excavation at the actual building site before the footings are dug, you may want to get the house rough-staked to determine its approximate location. This will help in determining which trees are to be removed.
Note that if you discover that your home site is going to require the removal of one or more trees that you really want to keep, you can make modifications to the home's location at this time.
Just be sure to check the new location against setbacks and easements and the required distance to your septic tank drain field. Also be sure to advise your building department and get their OK before going forth with your new location.
You can do the rough staking yourself if you feel confident in locating your property lines and measuring from them to the corners of your new home. If you don't have a comfort level here of if you will be coming close to easements of setbacks, you would be safer to spend a few extra bucks and get a professional to do it for you.
You can use the same surveyor who prepared the original survey when you bought the lot. Or you can ask your building official or foundation subcontractor for the name of a surveyor who specializes in laying out new homes.
You'll sleep better knowing it's been done accurately. If you're financing your home, the bank will want a "Foundation Survey" after the foundation is in. The same guy can come back to do it. It'll be a piece of cake for him, since he's already familiar with the lot.
This involves the removal of trees, roots, and other vegetation from the building sit. One decision that you will have to make is what to do with the debris. You may have to have it hauled away - the most expensive alternative.
If you are on a large rural property, you may be able to bury the rubbish on site. You may even be able to burn it. Check the local fire department before you decide to burn it. If you elect to bury the trash, make sure you choose a location that is well away from the home.
A trash hole will settle as the limbs decay and the soil becomes more compacted. This will result in a surface depression. At best this can be an eyesore if it is visible from the home.
At worst, it could cause drainage problems or damage to drives, walks, decks, etc. Of course, you may want to have the logs cut into fireplace length and stacked for winter use.
If your home will have a basement, it'll need to be dug - excavated. Again, the potential problem of excess dirt must be addressed.
Perhaps you have areas on your property that can be "filled." Plan ahead so that you are not faced with expensive hauling charges to get rid of it.
Excavating the basement is done by a guy on a dozer. He'll create a ramp to get into and out of the hole as he digs. You'll want to have someone there who knows how to use a transit so that the hole is dug to the proper depth.
You may find that you need to move some dirt around to get to the desired grade level for the home - taking into consideration drainage around the home. Remember that hauling dirt is expensive.
In grading terminology, you want to balance your "cut and fill" - "cut" being the ground that's dug up and "fill" being the dirt that's added. If you can use the dirt that has been dug up somewhere else on the property, you'll save the expense of hauling it away.
Topsoil is a valuable commodity. It's the good stuff you'll want to have around later in construction and when your home is finished. When the topsoil is removed, it is piled up to be used to backfill the foundation and for landscaping.
Get As Close To Finish Grade As Possible
It's good to go ahead and get as much of the grading done as possible at this point. This will make it easier to get around the site, and you will not run the risk of any bad surprises when it comes time to doing the finish grading (when the home is completed).
Also, some builders like to pour the concrete for their driveway at the same time they pour their slab. This makes it a lot easier to build the home, since you can get out of the mud early. If you're going to do this, you'll have to tie down your elevations pretty closely during the rough grading.
. . . Since there is "Rough" grading, there must also be "Finish" grading! This will be done when the construction on the home is completed and you are ready to tackle the exterior stuff. It's the fine tuning of the drainage patterns around your home and the set up for your landscaping.
"Erosion control" is really a bit of a misnomer. You won't really control erosion, but you may be required to take special precautions to prevent the runoff from your cleared land from carrying mud to adjacent roads and property. Check with your building department to see what may be required.
There are a number of materials/systems around to minimize the problem. They allow water to pass through but screens out fine particles. They can be as simple as bales of hay. Of course there are those specifically designed for the task. Ask your building official which he prefers.
For additional information on Footings,
see Lesson Fourteen of our online course
Successful Home Contracting.
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