Friday, August 3, 2012

The Importance of Site Grading

     Yesterday I made a site visit to a project site that has been under construction since last fall.  The buildings were complete and really looked great.  Unfortunately, I could not say the same thing for the site.
     The contractor had made a real effort at the beginning of the project to set the correct grades around the corners of each new building and to meet the correct finished floor elevations specified, and he had placed the various elements like the buildings, drive, parking and walks in the correct places.  This means that the basic structure of the site was correct.  Where he missed the mark was on the site grading - most especially on the finish grading.  One building that was placed at the top of a hill was already having water problems because he graded the area around the building such that he created an artificial dam that prevented the water running off the roof from going on down the hill.  Another had areas where water was already undermining the foundation and the retaining wall near it's entrance because he had piled soil in the area that should have been formed into a swale.  A third had water flooding their heating and cooling units because he had failed to provide the swale that would have allowed the water to get out of the area around them.
     People often ignore site grading or assume that they cannot change what they already have.  They don't begin to worry about it in many cases until it begins to create a water problem during rains and then they figure a quick fix with a shovel will do the trick - maybe add a little rock for good measure.  In the above case, the contractor had a set of plans designed by a Landscape Architect that showed him precisely how to grade this site and he completely ignored it.  Often that is not the case with a family home.  It is not unusual for the same problems to be created by a contractor on a house site and the owner then not know how to solve the issues that arise.
     If you have water problems or places that are being washed away in each rain, please consider what you have to lose.  Hire a licensed design consultant to help you solve them before they become a serious property value issue.  The cost of a  Landscape Architect is not nearly as expensive as the cost of repairs.
     In the case of my project site, the contractor and the owner will get a report on the things that were not constructed correctly and the contractor will fix the problem.  I can guarantee that the cost of fixing the problem will cost him more than I will have earned in design fees.  In the case of a home, once the contractor has walked away those repair costs are on the owner.  The owner can end up spending a great deal less by simply hiring a licensed Landscape Architect to prepare the plan so that a contractor hired to fix the issues has some direction. Once the contractor is finished, it is well worth the small extra fee of having the Landscape Architect do a final inspection and ensure that the plan has been completed as designed.  Without that, once the contractor leaves the job the mistakes made are on the owner.

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