Construction site preparation is a necessary step to having a smooth-running project. There are 12 important “rules” you need to follow.
Before we start, what is construction site preparation?
In construction, site prep is getting a construction site ready for building and development. This includes ongoing prep to maintain the workability of a project site.
Now, these tips, which I’m calling rules may seem overwhelming and like extra work. They may even seem unnecessary. Because you may view them as the boring part of the construction process.
But having managed many engineering projects myself, I find these 12 rules critical. They tremendously help everyone involved in any size construction project. This includes the construction team, engineers, and even the public.
The preparation benefits include the following:
- Remain on schedule
- Remain within budget
- Limit future conflicts
- Uncover hidden and potential problems
- Limit fines and citations
In the end, follow these 12 rules whether they’re written in your contract or not. Even more, follow these rules for construction projects in your own home. As the best of the best say in construction,
“Do it right or don’t do it at all.”
Important Note: construction site preparation is unique to each project. The equipment you’ll need may vary from site to site.
But the general approach to projects is the same for every project.
#1 Engineering design plan
This seems like a no-brainer, but you need a design in hand before you pick up a shovel.
You want all design elements of a project properly mapped out. This way, you have an idea of what your end product will look like.
Equally important, you’ll know how to prepare your site for construction. This then sets the stage for all the other rules we’ll cover.
Important Note: this phase includes a geotechnical report with a survey plan. This is necessary for any engineering project. In fact, the surveying process is a requirement for most project permits.
With this work, you’ll understand the properties and condition of the soil at a project site. You’ll also learn about the various elevations and obstructions in your construction site. Only then, you can properly layout and execute a design.
#2 Local construction restrictions
Learn about all local restrictions in your construction area. This includes the following:
- The amount of noise you can produce and at what times
- Environmental standards for pollution control you need to follow
- Times of the day when you can work
- Mandated safety precautions you need to follow
You don’t ever want to blindly start a construction project. Because restrictions can add hidden costs while increasing your project timeline.
What’s more, you can get hit with large fines or citations by not following local restrictions.
Important Note: contact your local building department. Check local construction codes online as well. You can gather a lot of valuable information this way.
#3 Take pictures of all work areas
Before you disturb any parts of a project site, take pictures and video footage. You want to document all pre-construction conditions.
For starters, pictures and videos can quickly help resolve any construction disputes. Imagine a customer saying you damaged a sidewalk in your construction work. In response, you can quickly point to your pre-construction sidewalk pictures.
Just as important, your captured content will help you troubleshoot problems. I compare it to opening up an electronic device.
Everything looks straightforward inside your device when you first open it. But once you start rearranging parts, everything all of a sudden looks so different. You then forget how to put everything back together again. If you had pictures though, the reassembly would be a cinch.
So in pre-construction, document the following with pictures and video capture:
- Landscaped areas
- Trees and plants
- Existing electrical, gas, and water infrastructure
#4 Temporary facilities
A lot of times, a construction site will need temporary facilities. This includes water, electricity, and sewage.
These are basic services that working crews need to do their work. This is especially important with isolated project sites.
Thus, plan ahead to have all temporary facilities ready to go for your project site. Because some temporary facilities like electrical, have a long setup lead time. It can sometimes take 6 months or even longer.
Other temporary facilities to consider include the following:
- Potable water
- Water tower for construction use
- Construction trailer
- Sewer for a construction trailer
#5 Project site protection
In preparing a project site, don’t damage any of the following next to your site:
- Natural habitats
At the same time, you want to minimize the amount of dust you generate.
I typically have contractors submit dust control plans to limit visible dust emissions.
The plans vary as there are many ways to control dust. But the most common approach is to simply use water. Water is cheap and it simply works.
Just don’t use water if it’ll create mud or flooding on public streets. You don’t want to create safety hazards for others.
Another example is when you’re doing open-cut excavation work near a public street. This could be for conduit installations.
At the end of each work shift, thoroughly clean your work area. Be sure rocks, pieces of dirt, and mud don’t find their way on public roads.
#6 Clearing and grubbing
The ideal project work area is clear of all unnecessary obstructions.
Yes, the obvious is to remove obstructions in the location of where you’re building.
But also, remove obstructions that limit mobility, and that are safety risks. Unless of course, you’re explicitly told not to remove certain things.
I’ve been a part of construction projects that were indefinitely put on hold. One reason was that an eagle nest was on a tree, which interfered with construction. Thus, we couldn’t cut down the tree and we weren’t allowed to move the nest.
Then another time, we switched project locations because we found a butterfly nest. These are common occurrences in California.
All that said, the possible obstructions you need to watch out for include the following:
- Heavy sod
- Surface soil made of decaying materials
- Stones larger than 6 inches in any dimension
- Broken or old concrete and pavement
Also, the depth you strip obstructions should be no greater than 4 to 6 inches. Except, if you’re digging to install underground facilities.
Finally, any obstructions you remove you need to dispose of off-site. We’ll discuss this in a later section.
Important Note: site access is critical for any construction site. You need to clear the way to your project zone for builders and heavy equipment.
This includes an access way near the incoming road with a large turn radius. The larger the trucks that’ll visit your project, the larger the turn radius you’ll need.
#7 Leveling and smoothing
After you complete all the clearing and grubbing, level out and smooth your work area. Your work area shouldn’t have any obvious holes.
For example, you don’t want holes from removed trees.
But also, watch for any ridges or mounds you may have created in the grading process. Try to limit slopped areas to mounds or depressions no greater than 1 foot.
Just as important, watch for any graded areas with exposed materials that can cause harm. Sometimes while grading, you may find a piece of rebar sticking out from the ground.
A truck can then drive over the rebar and someone can get hurt. The point is, keep your eyes peeled even after grading.
#8 Demolition and removal
In construction, you won’t always have a clean slate of land to work on. Sometimes, you’ll need to work around existing infrastructure.
In these cases, consider the following:
#1 Pavement: keep new pavement work uniform with the existing pavement. Let’s say you remove portions of asphalt pavement to run underground pipes.
You want the remaining asphalt pavement to remain flawless.
So, saw-cut pavement edges on neat lines and at right angles to curb the face. Then when you later connect the new pavement, it should look the same or better than before.
#2 Salvage: your customer more times than not has rights to the removed site material. So, let your customer know several weeks before any demo work. See if they want to salvage any materials.
#Disposal: find where you can dispose of different materials. For example, if you’re retrofitting a substation, you can’t throw old batteries in any trash.
Find out where and how to safely dispose of construction materials. Because it’s illegal to dispose of hazardous waste in the local garbage or down storm drains.
#9 Public safety
Every construction site is a potential safety hazard. People or animals can get hurt.
For this reason, you need to provide the following at your construction site:
- Warning signs
Your goal is to always maintain a safe project area to the best of your ability.
And I know, big huge warning signs that read the following should be enough for the public,
“DANGER. CONSTRUCTION AREA. KEEP OUT.”
But unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.
I’ve seen cases where a contractor didn’t take full safety precautions. They dug a ditch and didn’t place barricades around it with their warning signs. BUT, they did have an exterior fence around their project site with large warning signs.
Still, a homeless man strolled into the project site and fell inside the ditch breaking a bunch of bones.
In this day and age, you need to go above and beyond with safety precautions. Because we live in a litigation nation.
Important Note: any builder needs to meet certain criteria. The following are markers your builder should meet:
- Insurance: protection from any damages, theft, or natural disasters.
- Warranty: in case anything goes wrong after construction.
- Project manager: someone with experience to manage and oversee projects.
- Safety: a protocol to address safety issues in real-time.
Dispose of materials safely.
This means carefully removing and transporting rubbish and excess material. You don’t want to overfill a hauling truck, where materials fly or roll off onto the street.
Also, comply with all Federal, State, and local hauling disposal regulations. In California, the Department of Industrial Relations offers vehicle haulage requirements.
Finally, cleanup should be an ongoing activity throughout a project period. You don’t want your waste to pile up. Then at the end of your project, you scramble to haul everything off-site.
For one, it’s a huge mental strain to scramble at the last minute. Plus, you’ll find many disposal sites that have daily or weekly limits.
#11 Ownership of demolition waste
All material you remove from clearing and grubbing becomes your property. Unless you’re told otherwise.
Thus, you need to make your own arrangements for disposing of waste outside of your project site. This includes paying all disposal costs.
But before you look to dispose of anything, look to recycle.
With some waste material, you can even donate them. As they say,
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
#12 Underground facilities
Like an iceberg, you’ll find there’s A LOT underground that you can’t see until you start digging.
So, call 8-1-1 before any excavation work to have underground utilities marked. Because you don’t want to dig into and damage an underground gas line for example.
Common underground obstructions you need to consider include the following:
- A shallow layer of rocks
- Tree roots
- Existing gas, water, and electrical lines
- Drainage tiles
- Structural footings
Taking the time to locate underground facilities will save you a lot of money and time. Plus, it’s a necessary safety step to keep everyone safe.
Important Note: use Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). You can locate buried utility lines, foundations, storage tanks, and anything else.
Construction site preparation wrap up
A lot of effort goes into construction site preparation. It’s why you need to have a clear plan of action before you start any project.
And I know, a lot of this can seem like a huge pain in the ass.
But by following these construction site preparation rules, your work will go smoother. I guarantee it!
What’s more, when contractors overlook these rules, I find problems always follow.
The good thing is, these rules are easy to follow once they become a part of your construction protocol. So start every project the right way, to have a high-quality end product.
Do you think any of these construction site preparation rules are unnecessary? What construction site preparation rules do you follow?
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Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2020 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering-related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over 15 years now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, our history and future, sports, and fitness.