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Land Clearing / Forestry Mulching 

Land Clearing and Site Preparation

Commonly referred to as Strip and Clear, is a must do requirement for any property where a future structure/building will be located. Structure being defined as: Any building requiring concrete or base rock to make up its foundation. This process is about; Clearing Off unwanted vegetation, Water Flow corrections through drainage design, Elevating the construction pad areas where structures will be built. While compacting the ground properly so no sinking or shifting occurs in the soil at a future point. And Preserving Natural Assets of the land to create the very best finished product.

 

Known as “Strip and Clear” operations. Land Clearing and Site Preparation is the very first step in any property development project. Whether the size and scope of the project is a small residential backyard addition or a large-scale commercial municipality, both of the considerations are exactly the same.

Projects requiring land clearing are; roadways, neighborhoods, driveways; parking lots; sidewalks; housing pads; workshops; pole barns; commercial facilities; bridge foundations; playgrounds; apartment complexes, condos, etc.

 

Building Equity through Land Development

Start with the end in mind. What is the current designation of the parcel of land? Is the property zoned correctly for your end use? Correct site preparation can influence the outcome of a Land Use Change. Potentially  increasing the value of the property.

As a property owner we’re trying to determine three things.

  1. Development potential of the property?

  2. Cost to Improve the Property? Clearing, Survey, Permits etc.

  3. Future value of the property after improvement.

Equity created is determined by how the land clearing contractor and property owner approach the development process. Land Clearing is only the beginning. If planned well, the land clearing and site preparation phase can create Great Efficiencies for all subcontractors, during the construction process.  Translating into measurable reductions in building cost’s, ultimately reducing the time and expense to build and develop your project.

 

Planning for Land Clearing

Much can be learned from observing Land in its Natural State. Vegetation found naturally growing on the property can tell us a lot about the current state of the property. Evaluation, water flow, soil type, all can be determined by observing the property without the need for any equipment.

Determining the natural vegetation and wildlife currently supported there. Tells us if the Property Elevation is low or high. Some varies of vegetation show us Water Flow and Drainage. 

For example, Pine’s only grow in dry sandy soil. So, the assumption can be made -where pines are, the land is at a higher elevation, thus drier because of this higher elevation.

So, we can be confident that areas high in Pine Trees do not have standing water. Because Pine Trees will not live and thrive in standing water. Soil found here will be drier, there will be no “Muck” found in the topsoil layer surrounding pine trees. Meaning less organics will be found naturally occurring in this topsoil layer. Making these soil types better suited for building. Because of this the cost and time to prepare said "pine flats" for building. Will likely be quicker and cheaper relative to other areas.

Land heavy in Oak trees or “oak hammocks”, can commonly thrive in standing water for long periods of time.

Property with a higher concentration of oak trees, we can assume will be very likely at a lower natural elevation level than areas high in pine tree growth. We also know oak trees drop their leaves annually. Over time these leaves, along with wet conditions decompose creating a topsoil layer, rich in organics or “muck”. This soil may be wonderful for growing plant material, but not so ideal for building structures on top of. Because of this, land heavy in large oak tree growth likely will have to be stripped down past the topsoil layer. Fill dirt will then be brought in to raise the property to required elevations. This adds to add to the cost of site preparation after the land has been cleared of trees.

A melaleuca or cypress tree almost always needs year-round standing water to survive. So, land with large populations of melaleuca and cypress can be assumed to be in the lowest elevation areas. This makes removing them more difficult and costly, by potentially requiring water to be pumped out. Drying these areas before equipment and machinery can access the property may be required. Low wet land may increase Regulatory requirements, potentially increasing improvement costs.

 

Land Clearing, It’s Profitable to Preserve Natural Assets 

Land Clearing Contractors and developers that account for natural assets found on the land; Will reap lower total project costs, shorter build times and higher margins of equity created from the process. Preserving natural assets saves costs and creates high value later for subcontractors down the line. The best plan for site development is the one that accounts for all costs, time and subcontractors down the line. Scheduling the work on a pace that will complete on time and on budget.

It’s common in this industry to see land clearing contractors bulldoze down beautiful trees. Only later, to cost the property owner thousands when they repurchase plant material for their final landscaping. Mature trees, palms, and plants can all be saved. Simply by incorporating these existing and mature natural assets into the current design or, transplanting so they can be used in other parts of the future landscape design. It smart, practical, and reduces projects costs.

Rocks and Stone are wise to preserve. Likely rocks and boulders found during the excavation process hold a lot of value. Landscape Suppliers in many cases are willing to purchase these rocks, stones and boulders. However, you may want to save rocks and boulders for when the construction completes. They too can add an excellent aesthetic to the final landscaping and contribute to lower projects costs.

Certain soil types like Topsoil and nutrient rich Muck, are critical to sort and save before heavy excavation occurs. It's very common to see property owners pay to have these soils hauled away! Only to find years later, nothing will grow in the fill dirt left behind after excavation completes. Hardpan fill dirt found deep below the surface is excellent to constructing structures on top of. It is a terrible for growing plants and trees. Many property owners find themselves with unhealthy lawns and landscapes post construction, because nutrient rich soil has been stripped away. A better approach is to save this topsoil layer for landscaping purposes. Virgin Topsoil and Muck are rich in organics and make for perfect landscape beds as well as soil for lush green lawns. Using this nutrient rich material will save tons of money and environmental harm, simply by requiring less fertilizer and pesticides for many years to come.

 

Is a Tree Permit or Clearing Permit Needed Before Land Clearing? 

Yes, almost always! Typically, most counties and cities will specify particular species of trees and correlating sizes of trees that may, be exempt from the need for a clearing or removal permit. Vegetation that is traditionally exempt from the need for permits is invasive to the region. Because invasive vegetation is non-native its likely local authorities support its removal, most often not requiring permits for the removal of invasive plants and tree’s. This is the exact reason we recommend property owners first start with Forestry Mulching. Clearing out all invasive and underbrush with a forestry mulcher before applying for clearing permits helps in several ways:

Forestry Mulching allows quick access for trucks and larger equipment to be delivered to the site.

Survey crews can then survey the property with more precision.

Animal Habitat is not harmed.  The machine make lots of noise and moves slow.

Strip and Clear Land Clearing, Removes the entire Root System. Whereas Forestry Mulching removes only the tree/vegetation above the root system, leaving the roots fully intact. Undisrupted root systems are great for preventing soil erosion, and even better for insuring keeper trees remain unharmed. Giving keeper trees a high probability of survival post clearing. While forestry mulching is awesome for light clearing around keeper trees, it’s not suitable for anywhere structures are to be built. Over time stumps and roots left in the soil will decompose. Decomposition will cause the soil to shift, this shifting will cause the top layer to lose its compaction. Whatever is built on top of this layer will lose its structural integrity; Resulting in cracks to the foundation or all out structure failure.

Rule of thumb in Land Clearing. Leave nothing larger than a human sized finger in the fill dirt; Anything exceeding the size of a human finger will cause shifting during the decomposition process. Watch carefully that the contractor you hire does not cut corners by burying anything that's organic into the subsoils.

“Quality of work always reveals itself in the fullness of time”-OnSiteTrav

 

 

Beneath the Surface, De-Mucking Land Clearing for the Average, "see JOE"

Once the raw land is stripped of its vegetation complete with root systems, De-Mucking can occur. Muck, Loam or Topsoil is the very top layer of the natural soil. This layer has formed over many years because of natural composting occurring over time. Falling leaves, dead trees and vegetation are broken down by microbes in the soil, if a structure is to be built on top of this area. It’s critical the muck and topsoil be stripped and pushed aside. We recommend saving this material for the final phases of excavation to be placed in “green areas” where landscape beds and grass will be planted.

Exposing the first fill dirt layer to the surface. Additional fill dirt can then be placed on top of this layer. Either from a pond that is dug OnSite or fill that is brought in. So long as the fill dirt meets compaction requirements for your local area.

What happens to stripped MUCK? 

Muck or Topsoil removed in the Clearing process is excellent growing material. This product can be organized into piles onsite. Suitable for use at the end of the project in landscaping or green areas. This is not always possible due to space requirements to hold the extra material. There may also be a lack of future landscape areas available on the property to use the Muck Soil. In that case Muck will need to be hauled off site and used elsewhere. A few quick calls are often all that it takes to have this product removed for free, or a discounted rate. Many local landscape suppliers and landscapers can find this extra organic material useful. Local Organic farms may also be potentially interested parties for this material rich in organics.

On some sites Excavators will discover rock deposits. Rocks have different densities depending on what type of rock it is. Sometimes building on top of these rock layers is ok, while other times it must be removed. Always check with a civil engineering firm, if large rock deposits are found OnSite.  Such as topsoil, muck, loam and rock has a high value most cases for repurposed landscape use. If the site has some available space to store the material, It can be saved for after the project has completed and used at a later time in the landscape design phase. It can also be sold to landscape suppliers, landscapers and gravel yards. The cost to excavate and transport will determine how viable an option storing and transporting the discovered rock will be.

Clearing Land with Heavy Machinery 

After all permits have been pulled, Forestry Mulching (if needed) has been completed, and any keeper trees/areas have been clearly tapped off to alert machine operators to leave these areas alone. Your site is then ready for the big toys to be delivered and It is critical these large trucks have room to maneuver safely. You and your contractor will want to take precautions if your location is difficult for off load equipment operation. Land clearing equipment is very heavy and in many cases having a few loads of extra fill dirt delivered and spread over pipes, sidewalks, and roadways will help ensure these items don’t break or crack under the heavy weight of machinery.

Once heavy equipment is OnSite the clearing process can begin. A well-run jobsite will have a flow chart. This chart can be very simple, but the important takeaway is that all equipment operators, hauling truck drivers, and personnel know the game plan and plan for safe operating. (insert flow chart)

Preparing access roads into and out of the site is a vital first step when the machines begin to work. Failure to do so will most certainly result in a mess and an unsafe, inefficient jobsite. Property owners need to be certain that emergency Fire and EMT vehicles have adequate access to the property in the event of an emergency. Likewise, for equipment service, repair and towing vehicles in the event one of the machines suffers a breakdown. Emergencies and breakdowns will occur in the business of land clearing, planning for them is the best prevention.

Strategy for Strip and Clear Land Clearing

Great clearing companies will work in a systematic manner to complete the clearing process as effectively as possible. Wasting very little machine movement is the key to fast and professional clearing. These machines are expensive to operate and fuel. Having a flow chart of the work process, along with a timeline, keeps operators focused on priorities and subcontractors on schedule. The best flow charts use the grid system. Effectively, chopping the layout of the land into smaller portions or grids. Using the grid system is the fastest and most organized way to clear land. This allows for specific and detailed work, with no wasted time or resources.

Underbrush and lighter material are generally best to target first.  First, making room around larger trees for machines to push and uproot them safely. Then removing lighter smaller material first to help prevent smaller vegetation from becoming entangled in the soil layer. This is important, because as the machines work, ruts will occur. Small vegetation falling into these ruts is often difficult to remove once it has become accidentally buried.

After small and light material has been uprooted and pushed into organized piles; The contractor should rough grade the site. This will fill in any holes and smooth out the site. Allowing increased access to the land for additional machines, trucks and personnel.  Rough grading should be done as soon as possible. This is to make sure that any rain events will not turn the job site into a messy mud pit. The rough grade smooths out holes left behind by uprooting vegetation and prevents rainwater from soil saturation. Over saturated ungraded soil takes much longer to dry out. Causing delays and increasing costs on the job site for all parties.

Once small vegetation has been uprooted, it's important to shake the material and free up any soil attached to the root systems. Once clean the vegetation is pushed into an organized waste pile it can either be hauled off site or disposed on site.

The process begins again with the larger trees and vegetation. Now having improved space around each large tree that was created during the small vegetation removal. Along with having smoothed out the soil via a rough grade; Machines can move in to uproot each large tree one by one. If the contractor is using large machinery it is likely each tree will come out fully intact, trunk, branches and root ball. If using smaller machinery, it's common practice to cut down each tree and remove the stump through excavation. We recommend the contractor use a machine large enough for the project at hand.  Be mindful, that having extra personnel on the ground outside of the safety of an enclosed cab adds risk. If cutting down the trees is absolutely necessary, hard hats and proper personal protection gear are a mandatory. Like the smaller material, soil should be shaken off the root systems before being placed in the debris pile.

Handling Debris Created from Land Clearing

Hauling and "disposing of waste makes up a disproportionate cost of the entire land clearing project."-OnSiteTrav

Because of this, it is common for customers to ask if the waste material can be burned OnSite or Grinded OnSite.

 

Can You Burn off Land Clearing Debris? 

In some cases, yes. The property’s location must meet setback requirements relative to other structures, properties, and roadways. Water and fire suppressant equipment is required to be available, for your property to be considered eligible. Burn permits are issued by your state’s department of forestry as well as some local counties may also require a secondary permit to burn debris in addition to local and state forestry laws. The Environmental Protection Agency may also insist on regulating burning activity, depending on the size and scale of the burn.

Typically, the jobsite will undergo an inspection before burning is approved. This ensures all requirements are met, and the site is safe for a burn operation. Normally requirements will state that burning can take place 1 hour after sunrise and must be extinguished 1 hour before sunset. Burning produces a byproduct of coal and ash which will have to be used by mixing into compost piles. Compost that can later be used for green spaces on the site, post construction or this byproduct can be properly disposed of by hauling off site.

Weather conditions may or may not allow for burning. Excessive wind or rain will shut a burning operation down. Machinery and manpower will need to be present throughout the entire burn. The added compliance costs to receive the proper permits with state forestry, local fire, and the EPA can offset the cost savings. Generally, the larger the site is, the more likely burning is going to be workable option. Burning can take a long time and also be upsetting to neighboring property owners. With each passing year, burning waste debris is becoming less and less of an available option for cost savings on a project.

OnSite Grinding 

If the site is large enough to justify a grinder. Grinding can be a fabulous option and alternative to burning or hauling waste off site. By grinding the land clearing debris no resources are lost in the process. The mulch resulting from a grinding operation can be used in the completed landscape, composted into rich soil or sold to local landscape suppliers. Whenever possible we highly recommend you grind debris from land clearing OnSite. Unfortunately, the cost associated to do so rarely makes financial sense on smaller sites. Though forestry mulching (insert link to mulching hub) is an excellent method to get the partial benefits of a larger grinding operation. Mulch from Forestry Mulching is not as clean as mulch processed from a grinder. But it can be pushed into piles and made into compost for future landscaping or hauled off site. Reducing the total necessary trips made by a debris hauler. Often this saves more money and time than it costs.

Hauling off Debris Created from Land Clearing 

“Customers almost always overpay for Debris Haul Off Services” - OnSiteTrav

If burning or grinding are not economical options. Hauling off the debris is the only other option. Most often the landowner is overpaying for waste and debris removal. There are two common methods of measurement in vegetation debris removal. Waste debris removal charges are computed based on one of these two factors.

  1. Space Measurements 

  2. Weight Measurements

Most often the land owner is overpaying for waste and debris removal. Forestry Mulching requires no debris haul off. Removing the expensive variable of land clearing, debris haul off. Entirely from the equation. Traditional land clearing methods require haul off of waste vegetation and debris generated from the project. This comes at an enormous unknown cost. The hauling contractor often will NOT know upfront the EXACT amount of waste generated from the project. The land clearing contractor will provide the property owner a quote based on a “range” of potential waste loads. Each load of debris is typically quoted on a per load cost to remove. Loads are estimated using one of two methods.  Ton’s or Yards.

Tons: straightforward weight measurements. It is only possible to know the exact tonnage when the truck is weighed before entering a dump site while loaded. Then again weighed when leaving the dumpsite empty. Total Tons are calculated by subjecting loaded total weight from empty total weight. The hauling contractor will be charged at the dumpsite for the total ton’s dumped.

Yards: “space measurements” are subjective and often inconsistent comparisons. A Yard is a squared area taking up a 3ft x 3ft x 3ft area, or 27ft squared. The average waste and debris haul truck is capable of moving 12 to 40 yards of waste in one load. Yards are most common in debris hauling because the facility the debris is dumped at does not need a truck scale to measure weight. This saves cost and drop off time. Each hauling truck is measured for yard size. The truck is then charged for each waste load based on the trucks total yard capacity. Discounted dump fees for half or partial loads are not common practice. Rather most waste recycling centers will charge full load price on each load.

Yard calculations are subjective. Loading method will determine how dense each load is. How much waste material will fit into the same amount of yard space varies largely amongst contractors the machine and strategy the contractor uses to load and pack the waste truck, makes all the difference. Packing the load more densely will result in less loads but a heavier load. Heavier waste loads place more wear and tear on the debris hauling truck. If the customer is paying per load it is likely the debris hauler is packing lighter loads. In hopes of creating additional revenue from extra loads.

Waste and Debris Removal Charges 

Incentives Matter in Debris Hauling. How a contractor is incentivized will make a big difference in project haul off costs. At best the contractor is guessing at the total quantity of material to be hauled off site. The actual amount is unknown until the job is completed. The phrase “it is what it is” is the motto of the Land Clearing Business. This creates two scenarios to structure the bid;

• Flat Fixed Rate Haul off charge. In which the contractor is incentivized to over bid the waste amount and run a densely packed loads, reducing dump trips.

• Variable Haul Off Estimate by the Load. Which will hedge the risk to the contractor of under bidding the haul off. This also creates an incentive for the contractor to run lighter, less dense loads to create “more” loads they can charge for. Doing so will result in more revenue for the contractor.  A “range” of total potential loads is common for a land clearing contractor to provide the property owner beforehand. Unfortunately for the landowner, this is not a rock-solid estimation and thus doesn’t help budget the exact cost of completing the land clearing project.

A landowner has to be aware of these variables. Don’t get overpriced for your debris haul off. Carefully compare your quotes based on debris estimates. Being sure to structure your contract with your land clearing service accordingly.

Land Clearing Can Cause Damage to Roadways and Property

Haul trucks are very large and heavy. In many undeveloped areas these trucks do not maneuver well. Resulting in damage to roadways and neighboring properties. It is likely the roadways used by trucks transporting waste off site, will be covered in dirt. Be sure the written contract and estimate your land clearing contractor has provided you with, specifically addresses how these access roadways will be cleaned at job completion.

Overloading the trucks is dangerous to other vehicles on the roadways. They burn up more fuel, cost more in repairs and go through brake pads quicker. Overweight trucks are subject to inspections and fees by DOT.  If a contractor is caught being overloaded any cost savings, they may have gained will quickly disappear with DOT fees and suspensions. Underloaded debris trucks will result in more trips to the dumpsite and thus more dump fees and transportation costs.

 

Back Filling and Rough Grades

After trees and vegetation have been removed and stripped of the land, rough grading is next. A rough grade is just a simple quick grade intended to smooth out the surface layer of the soil. Helping slope the land in a manner consistent with shedding water to drainage areas. Rough grades enable work vehicles and other contractors to maneuver around the property without getting stuck. The purpose of a rough grade is to allow the soil layers to settle and compact. Rain and traffic that occurs on the rough grade will help in the compaction process.

Silt fences, which are temporary fences designed to prevent erosion and runoff into nearby streams, rivers, drainage systems and neighboring properties. Should be installed immediately after the first rough grade has happened.

Holes created by removing trees and brush during land clearing, will need to be backfilled with good compactable fill dirt. This dirt is either trucked in or provided by digging a pond OnSite. Any dirt used as backfill should be low in organics and excavated from deep beneath the surface. It's important that topsoil not be used for backfilling as it will break down over time, causing sinkholes that destroy the final grade layer. A property will need to be rough graded occasionally during the construction process, especially after heavy use or heavy rains.

 

Raising and Filling for Elevation Lifts 

Sites plans have specific requirements for certain levels of elevation. Grade level requirements are usually measured against a stationary pin found in the street. From this street pin grades are shot with a laser. Each part of the site will have an elevation number relative to this street pin. Grade stakes are placed around the site to provide reference points for equipment operators. Fill dirt is then brought in to fill the site to each grade stick. It is important to know that as fill dirt is brought in, it MUST be compacted. Each level of compaction is called a “lift”. A lift should be done 6-18 inches at a time. Compacting before and after each lift.

 

Final Grades

Final Grades occur last. Final grades are the completed grades at the correct elevation levels, based on the design plan. When construction is nearing an end, and the site has been properly compacted during each elevation lift. The final grade can occur, this is the most important and critical grade to get right.

A laser is used to measure slope, drainage, and all elevations. A final compaction using a plate compactor ensures these grades are properly compacted. Lastly all final grade surfaces are covered with either grass, pavers, pavement, or some sort or gravel. These materials hold the grade by preventing wear and erosion from destroying the grade. Typically, a grade tractor using a laser guided box blade, is the best and most accurate method to use for a quality final grade.

Drainage and Water Run Off

After the grading process has been completed, ensure all water has a place to flow and exit the property. Excess water build up can destroy property and structures fast. Drainage systems should be designed and installed to alleviate the potential for damage. Drainage systems that are designed correctly and installed properly should provide the property owner with many years of trouble-free service. It's important to gain an understanding of where the water is flowing and direct that water to an appropriate outlet. Be conscientious of where water ends up, and work to prevent non-point source pollution from infecting waterways. Rain gardens and retention ponds can be great assets to help prevent harm to surrounding water systems.

 

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