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Chapter 7: Breaking Ground
You've bought your land and secured your loans. You have a great house design, and have hired a contractor. Your plans have been approved and you have your permits in place. Let the fun begin!
It's time to break ground. What is the first step? Preparing your site.
Preparing Your Site
Definitely not for the do-it-yourselfer, this part of the process requires experience, not to mention some pretty heavy equipment.
Of course, before you bring in the bulldozers you are going to have to have the land surveyed. During this part of the process, a professional land surveyor will mark the property boundaries, setbacks, and underground utility lines. At this point you'll also want to call the local authorities in charge of protecting accidental damage to underground utilities. This step saves lives and money. If you hit a line during the construction process, the fines can be huge!
Your lot will most likely need to be cleared of brush and shrubs, and you'll also want to decide which trees to save and which to remove. You'll need a subcontractor with a bulldozer to remove stumps of large trees. Don't forget to talk to your contractor about how to protect the trees you want to keep during the building process.
After the lot has been cleared, the next step is grading. Rough grading moves the earth around to create level ground, while finish grading goes one step further by contouring the yard so that it is nice to look at, while also ensuring that water drains away from the house.
During the site preparation your contractor will also want to mark where and how your utility connections-water, gas, electricity., cable, sewer, and telephone-will come and go from the house. The utilities should be in place before you begin breaking ground.
Dealing with Sloping Lots
If your lot is on a hill, you'll probably have to do some more serious grading and create a building pad. This flat building pad is where your foundation will lay. In some cases a retaining wall will have to be build to prevent the land, and your house, from sliding downhill. A three-foot high retaining wall can be built without cement, while those standing higher require cement.
Did you know? For every one foot of retaining wall above ground, there must be two feet below. Make sure your contractor knows too!
Good drainage is very important. It is what keeps your basement dry, and your foundation in good shape for years to come! To that end, your contractor will follow the guidelines set forth by engineer regarding drainage. In a nutshell, your property will be graded with a slight slope away from your home, so that water runs off the property.
In houses with basements sometimes a French drain system is installed. This is a series of trenches at a slight downhill angle are dug around the house's foundation, designed to move water away from the foundation. Pipe with holes in the top is put in the trenches and covered with gravel and dirt. Water is carried through the pipes and away from the house. Voila-dry basement!
The foundation represents your house's strength, so get it right! Just think about the job you ask your foundation to do-support all the walls, floors, roof, and the people who live in it.
Your contractor will know how much dirt to remove based on your engineering plans. There are several different foundation types-perimeter footing foundation, concrete slab foundation, and pier-and-grade beam foundation-and the type you choose will depend a lot on where you are building, as well as the kind of home you are building. In most cases, the type of foundation you will build will be decided upon in the planning and design phase of the home building process.
Once the hole is dug and your foundation is poured you'll have a good idea of what your house is going to look like on your lot. But before you move on to building make sure the foundation is correct. If there are any problems, you will want to fix them now. The concrete should be hard and secure, and there should be few cracks. Any hardware should be in place without being broken or bent. Any utility pipes that are protruding should be clearly marked, and should have protective collars. Finally, use a level and a square to determine that all corners are square or at the right angles according to the plan.