Prepare Your Land For Building a Foundation

Your home design will largely be shaped by your land, so before you even bring in an architect to plan your house, you'll need to take into account the shape, size and slope of your grounds and figure out how all that will affect your project. This article will take you through the fundamental steps of preparing land for building a foundation.

Site Planning

Any significant construction project will involve contractors, architects and engineers at various stages, all working together through you to create an overall site plan. Even before you get to that stage, you should assess and analyze your site.

Among the things you'll need are a land survey to determine your site's geographical data, and soil tests to determine what type of materials to use and the ideal depth of your foundation. This information will inform the next step—the drafting of construction blueprints.

hands touching a site planning map and a laptop

In addition to the technical information, you also need an idea of how you want the building to look at after completion. For instance, do you want it to be surrounded by trees? Which direction should the windows face? Do you need a water and or septic tank? These are some of the key questions you need to ask yourself even before you consult your architect.

Check the Legal Requirements and Permits You Need to Obtain

Once your foundation is laid, it becomes very expensive to change the design, so make sure all the legal details are covered before you lay the first stone. Building permits are a must in most municipalities, and it's a good idea to look into any necessary environmental impact assessments and approvals, and to search the property records for any setbacks and easements. Setbacks typically define property lines and restrict putting up structures in certain areas, while easements define whether, and how, access to third parties (utility workers, pedestrians, etc.) must be allowed.

If you're ready to dig up your sleeves and get into the paperwork, you can do this yourself, but it wouldn't hurt to have a lawyer with land experience help you finalize the details. Either way, get all your legal ducks in a row before you start pouring concrete or you could end up counting massive losses.

Clearing Land

Once you have a building plan, site design ready, and relevant permits and approvals submitted, you can get down to the dirty work. How long this takes and how much it costs depends on your site's layout and the size of your design. If your land is topographically complex and has large trees, rocks and unbalanced slopes, this will be an expensive process, so brace yourself for an upfront investment Employing the services of a surveyor before buying land can help you get a sense of how much this will cost ahead of time.

If you already bought the land, and you have the time, you may want to rent some equipment and do the clearing yourself, or with the help of your family and friends. If you hire professionals, you can expect to pay between $1,500 and $3,000 per acre to clear lightly covered land, and more than double that for a heavily wooded area.

small bulldozer flattening dirt

Removing and Reusing or Disposing Debris

After clearing land and excavating the ground, your site will naturally be full of debris and soil that will need to be moved out to create space for the structure. This includes trees, broken rocks, vegetation and dirt. Some things, like wood from trees, and topsoil may be reusable and can actually save you a lot of cash if you incorporate them cleverly.

Create A Budget and Stay on Schedule

Build in some extra funds for overflows—almost every project will cost more than it initially seems. The more you plan ahead, the less things will cost. Once you have building materials on site, stoppages are costly, so avoid them as much as possible with solid preparation.

Depending on the scale of your proposed structure, you may need to hire an experienced contractor, an architect, legal adviser, financial consultant and engineer before you even lay the first stone. Shop around at different firms for the most reasonable quotes or ask your close friends for referrals. All these details mean you have to start planning for your foundation—let alone the actual building—months before you break ground.

concrete foundation with metal rods

Monitoring and Evaluation

You might recruit the services of a project manager to pull all these threads together. If not, expect to spend a significant amount of time coordinating the efforts of all your various professionals—they won't communicate automatically, and missed connections can cost you time and money.

As the foundation takes shape, visit the site frequently so you can compare it with your original plans as it takes shape. Expect some degree of variation, but keep an eye out for any significant deviations from the plan and correct them if possible. It's much cheaper and easier to make corrections at this stage than once your home is literally set in stone.