Maybe you’ve purchased some land in the boonies for a summer home, or maybe you want to build a koi pond in your back yard. In any case, some land clearing and/or excavation is required. It sounds simple, but there are some pitfalls and missteps to watch for. We spoke with Jason who does land clearing in Houston for residential as well as commercial clients. He provided us with some insights into what to be careful of when preparing your land for construction of any kind. Let’s ‘dig’ right in (I couldn’t resist the pun).
First and foremost, safety is always a concern. You may be using some heavy equipment to mow down or clear brush, thick weeds or saplings. You might have to dig out roots of trees that have been cut down. Even if you are just using a lawnmower, safety has to be at the forefront of everything you do. Your fingers will come in handy someday, so keep them attached.
Unless you are an experienced heavy equipment operator, Jason recommends that you hire a professional to handle that part of the job for you. It may look easy, but it can be tricky, and an inexperienced operator is a safety hazard to himself and anyone around.
Another important item to consider is what is under the ground where you will be digging. Be sure to call out your local utilities to mark off any underground pipes, conduits, wiring etc. In the Houston area, dialing 811 will connect you with an operator that will schedule underground utilities to be marked off at your dig site, free of charge.
Hazards don’t just come from under the ground. Be extremely aware of electric lines above you. If you will be working with a ladder or even excavation equipment, you run the risk of reaching wires overhead. The results can be deadly, so mark off the land below the wires so you’ll better remember to be careful around those areas.
Utilize other safety gear as a matter of course. Hard hats are recommended if you are working around tree that will be cut down, or if you have heavy equipment that could potentially hit you in the head. Steel toed boots can prevent serious damage to your feet, especially if you are mowing, digging or excavating. Of course, keep your fingers and hands away from any moving blades. We know plenty of otherwise intelligent folks who have parts of their fingers missing because they though they were smart enough not to get hurt. It happens to the best of us, so the best remedy is always abstinence – you can’t get a finger cut off if you never put it near the blade!
One of the Boy Scouts’ mottos is ‘Leave no trace’, meaning after a camp out, the campgrounds should be in the same shape as before you got there. The same should apply to your land clearing jobs. Take precautions to protect the areas on your property that aren’t being worked. This applies even to the areas you are working. For instance, if you are clearing some land for a pond, but want to leave some of the trees, then care should be taken to avoid bumping and scraping those trees with your equipment or upsetting the root system of the trees you want to keep.
Heavy equipment can easily destroy parts of your property that you want left intact, so plan a path for your heavy equipment to the work area so that it leaves the least impact possible. Although Jason and his team take pains to protect the site’s environment as they work, you may find that your heavy equipment operators are quite careless about the carnage they leave behind. Make sure your equipment operators are aware of your ‘protected areas’ and know how and where you want them to enter and exit the work site.
Before you start to clear your land, be sure you have a written plan that details what you want cleared/excavated and areas you want protected from damage. Your plan should include at least a rough description of why you are working your land, and what that land will be used for. Knowing that will help your hired help to understand what needs to be done. In fact, they will likely have a better idea of how to proceed than you will.
If you are hiring a company to do the land clearing for you, be sure that they come out to the land for an inspection first. If they want to come out directly with their equipment without seeing the area first, then you can bet they won’t have your best interest in mind. They probably want to be in and out as fast as they can – not the right mindset for a land clearing job. Preparation is half the job, and if they want to show up without any preparation or expectation, then you should expect reckless results.
Even though the workers will be under supervision of a foreman, it’s best for you, the property owner, to be there as well in a supervisory role. Ultimately, you are the boss, so your presence will keep the team (and even the foreman) on their toes. So plan a day to be there as your land is worked, make your presence known, put on a hard hat and get involved.
The land working jobs that finish with the best results are ones that are planned meticulously. When the hired workers understand the plan and the expected result, and adhere to the plan, then you can expect to be pleased with the work once it’s done.