Site Work 101
- By texcon
- 6 Feb 2018
If you’ve been inquiring about estimates for your construction project, you may have read or heard the term “site work.” But what is site work, and why is it necessary? Site work encompasses a broad spectrum of services that, in short, do not involve constructing an actual building.
All of the preparation that must be done before construction can begin falls under the umbrella of site work, and the quality of the site work directly affects the quality of the building itself. Some site work also takes place after the building is complete, such as landscaping and putting in walkways, driveways and parking lots.
To give you a clear idea of what site work entails, we’ve created a guide below. Any construction company worth its salt will outline these specific services on an estimate so that you know exactly what you’re paying for. Don’t see them on your estimate? Be sure to ask! The last thing you want to do is scramble to hire another team at the last minute because the original construction crew does not have the equipment or knowledge to perform all the site work you need.
And if you’re in the Houston area, give us a call. The Tex Con Construction team is happy to discuss our services and help you understand how quality site work makes a difference in a building’s durability.
Demolition and Deconstruction
If there is an existing structure, site work begins with demolition and deconstruction. Although it sounds like a quick and messy job, great care is taken at this stage to salvage any and all recyclable materials.
Deconstruction refers to the removal, often by hand, of delicate features that can often be reused or sold. Light fixtures, decorative molding, faucets, sinks, bricks, tiles and stones are some of the most common items removed during deconstruction. But things that are often out of sight are also worth recycling, such as pipes and wires.
It’s worth taking the time for deconstruction because of the potential resale value of some of the materials. Once all of these things have been stripped from the building, demolition can begin. A wrecking ball, bulldozer or even explosives may be used to raze the building. Most of the debris can still be recycled from this point. For example, concrete can be ground down into aggregate for new concrete. The grinding may take place on site, or the debris might be hauled away to be processed; it just depends on the equipment available to the demolition team.
Because a building used to stand on the site, it’s possible that some site work, such as land clearing, subsoil stabilization, excavation or land grading, won’t be necessary, or at least not to the same degree as barren plots of land. At most, some “touch ups” might be required.
When there is no pre-existing building that needs to be demolished, the first course of action is to clear the building site of all vegetation. The topsoil, which contains most of the roots and plant matter, is often removed completely. This provides access to the subsoil for stabilization and excavation.
On a grass lot, a bulldozer is enough to scrape away the vegetation. The topsoil, which is anywhere from 2 to 8 inches deep, can be piled up for later use or removed from the construction site completely. Just as building materials can be resold after demolition or deconstruction, one way to reduce the overall cost of a building project is to sell the topsoil. However, if you plan to do a significant amount of landscaping after the building is complete, saving the topsoil for that purpose is a wise decision.
On wooded lots, land clearing takes a little more time. However, thanks to the use of specialized equipment such as a hydro-ax, small- to medium-sized trees can be removed and mulched on the spot in a matter of minutes. From there, the stumps are also mulched or removed, and then the topsoil and vegetation can be removed.
Sometimes the existing topography is not suitable for construction. In other words, it might have rolling hills or a steep incline. An intervention is required in order to create a flat area for the building.
During excavation, dirt or rock is removed in order to facilitate the building process on hilly terrain. Think of a home that is located on a hill and has a walk-out basement. The hill had to be excavated in order to carve out the area for that basement. Office buildings and other commercial structures have similar needs.
Removing materials to create a stable foundation is often a better bet than trying to add materials to create a flat building pad. Even on flat, level land, excavation equipment is useful for digging an area for the basement or foundation.
Excavation can also occur if a retention or detention pond is needed. As with land clearing, what to do with the leftover dirt and rock can be a concern. If there are low-lying areas that tend to flood, it may be worthwhile to put the dirt there. Otherwise, it can be hauled off site.
After the topsoil is removed, the remaining dirt is called subsoil. In normal (and dry) circumstances, this subsoil seems very strong. However, it is typically not capable of supporting heavy loads (such as the heavy machinery used during construction, not to mention the weight of the building itself) without some amendments.
Textile or fiber stabilizers are a popular option for laying on top of the areas frequented by heavy machinery. These help distribute the weight of the vehicles so that the soil underneath is less likely to sink or crumble. These mesh stabilizers are also perfect for erosion control. Vegetation normally provides erosion control. The roots form a stabilizing network, preventing the soil from collapsing or “sliding” during rainfall. Because land clearing removes this protective layer of vegetation, it is important to add an artificial stabilizer until grass and other plants can be added after construction.
Other stabilizers include special enzymes or chemicals that help add tensile strength to the soil, thereby increasing its load-bearing ability.
Land Grading and Water Control
One of the important considerations for every building site is how water interacts with the topography. Where does the water naturally flow? Does it collect or flood in certain areas? Is erosion a threat?
Land grading is the process of creating a slope away from the building site. “Rough grading” refers to the initial movement of dirt to create that slope, whereas “final grading” occurs later and smooths out the slope so that it is gentle and gradual. Land grading is an important step to protect the building not only from flooding, but from water damage that can occur if rainwater pools around the foundation and causes moisture or cracking problems in the concrete.
The water has to go somewhere, and in some circumstances a pond may be warranted to catch large amounts of rainwater runoff. This pond can either slow down the flow of water into the sewer system, or it can hold the water indefinitely until it evaporates. These are called detention and retention ponds.
Construction Entrances and Thoroughfares
As we mentioned earlier, the subsoil needs to be stabilized in order to protect the longevity of the building’s foundation, as well as to adequately support all of the heavy machinery that must maneuver around the construction site. Think about all of the delivery trucks that need to drop off supplies and materials to the site, and how much these weigh.
A special construction entrance and thoroughfares for the machinery are built early on in the process to facilitate this heavy traffic. Not only is the ground underneath stabilized, but a temporary driveway is laid down with either gravel or pavement.
When the construction is complete, the construction entrance will either be removed or converted into part of the site’s normal entrance.
Before construction can get underway, the underground utilities must be installed first. Trenches will be dug for gas lines, sanitary sewers, potable water and possibly electric wires and even high-speed Internet cables.
These trenches are dug before construction so that utilities can easily be integrated into the building via the basement or foundation.
Landscaping and Hardscaping
Once all of the above has been completed, the actual construction is ready to begin. And once that is finalized, the baton is once again handed over to site work. This time, instead of preparation, the team focuses on putting the finishing touches on the site, so that it no longer gives off an appearance of “in progress,” but rather “done.”
This is accomplished through landscaping and hardscaping. Parking lots and walkways are installed at this time. Trees, shrubs and flowers are planted. Grass seed can be sown or, for a more immediately pleasing look, turf can be laid out.
If necessary, the construction entrance is removed at this time and covered with grass seed or turf, or paved over to become part of the parking lot.
Site Clean Up
The last thing for a site work crew to take care of is the disposal of any remaining construction materials, debris or trash. The goal is to remove all indications of the construction process. When the business owner moves in, everything should be in working order, and the business owner should feel ready to receive customers and clients as soon as possible. The construction process should never drag out after the owner has already moved in.
Now that you know more about what site work entails, be sure to get all of the details in writing before signing a contract. If the building company you’ve hired doesn’t do excavation and other site preparation, you need to know that ahead of time so you can search for additional contractors to get the job done right. Get all of these expectations hammered out in order to enjoy a smooth process from start to finish.
We invite you to contact Tex Con Construction to discuss your building project! We are a turn-key construction company, offering a complete package of site work and construction to the greater Houston area.