When it comes to building homes, land grading refers to reshaping the surface of the ground in order to prep the site for the build. Also known as home, architectural, or yard grading or leveling, this process involves moving dirt and soil to ensure proper drainage, prepare for foundations, and remove undesirable elevations. Read on for the dirt on this crucial part of the site prep process.

READ: Land Prep 101: How to Prepare Land for New Construction

Why is land grading important?

A house requires a solid foundation. To maintain its integrity over time, a builder must protect it from water damage by leveling the ground under and around the structure so water flows away from the home, eventually exiting into an approved storm drain system.  
If water flows toward the home, it can pool around the foundation. If the soil around the foundation becomes saturated, hydrostatic pressure against the walls can build, causing cracks in the foundation. 

Not only can improper drainage damage a home’s foundation, it can also cause erosion and flooding in neighboring lots. If surrounding homes experience problems due to faulty grading, the homeowner and builder causing the issues may be liable for damages.

What does land grading involve? 

After measuring a property to find its highest point, a team—typically a civil engineer and builder—plans a slope that drops at least two feet for every ten feet, with the maximum slope not exceeding 12 inches. If it’s more than 12 inches, the home will most likely need a retaining wall. Considering the lot’s topography, soil composition, and underground utilities, they’ll then create a three-dimensional grading plan. 

The builder will follow this plan to grade the site. Specifically, they will dig, remove dirt, level slopes, fill low spots, compact soil, re-level, and haul dirt in to fill a hole or out to level a slope with the help of equipment like an excavator, skid steer loader, or backhoe. If a property features rocky soil or impediments like a fence, trees, or boulders, this process will be more difficult. 

What are some land grading best practices?

There are several things you can do and questions to ask your contractors to ensure your land grading is properly done: 

  • Make sure leveling bids include hauling in fill dirt, clearing the land, and pulling permits, if necessary.

  • Grade during the dry season to help prevent soil erosion during construction.

  • Follow local regulations. Many municipalities require approved grading plans and inspections before allowing construction. This is especially the case in areas with unique environmental factors, like earthquakes or wetlands.

  • If you’re leveling a slope, leave a buffer zone of vegetation to guard against soil erosion. 

  • Expose six to eight inches of the foundation wall to protect the base of the home from moisture and termites.

  • Reuse excavated soil. Before re-allocating the soil, cover it with extra soil, plastic, or spray it with hydraulic mulch to protect it from erosion. This will also save money. 

Find land for your dream home today. We'll take care of the rest.

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