There are 12 rules to follow for construction site preparation. In return, you’ll have a safe project, with costs not ballooning up.
To get started, we’ll define construction site preparation as the following:
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 12 tips, which I’m calling rules may seem overwhelming and unnecessary. But having managed many engineering projects myself, I find them to be invaluable. They’ll benefit the construction team, engineers, and even the public. And like 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. But the general approach remains the same.
#1 Use final engineering design plans
This seems like a no-brainer, but you need a design in hand before you pick up a shovel. You want all project design elements finalized, so you can visualize your end product. Also, this allows you to prepare your site for construction, which leads us to the next 11 rules.
Important Note: this stage includes completing a geotechnical report with a survey plan. This provides the following project site information:
- Properties and conditions of soils
- Elevations and obstructions
This is necessary for every engineering project. Even more, surveying is a requirement for most project permitting.
#2 Local construction restrictions
Learn about all local and state restrictions in your construction area. This includes the following:
- Noise regulations
- Environmental standards for pollution control
- Allowable work hours
- Mandated safety precautions
You don’t ever want to blindly start a construction project. Because restrictions can add hidden costs while increasing your project timeline. Even more, you can get hit with large fines.
Important Note: contact your local building department. Check local construction codes online as well. You can gather a lot of valuable information on what you can and cannot do.
#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, such as the following:
- Landscaped areas
- Trees and plants
- Existing electric, gas, and water infrastructure
- Structures and foundations
This will help resolve future construction disputes. Imagine a customer says you damaged a sidewalk in your construction work. In response, you quickly point to your pre-construction sidewalk pictures. Problem solved!
Just as important, your captured media will help you troubleshoot problems. I compare it to opening up an electronic device. Inside a device, everything looks straightforward when you first open it. But once you start rearranging parts, everything all of a sudden looks so different. You then forget how to reassemble the device, but with photos, it’d be a cinch.
#4 Temporary facilities
A lot of times, construction sites need temporary facilities. This includes water, electricity, and sewage. These are basic services construction workers need, especially in isolated project sites.
So, plan ahead to have all temporary facilities ready for the start of construction. Because some temporary facilities like electrical, have a long lead time to setup. It can sometimes take 6 months or even longer.
Other temporary facilities you should consider include the following:
- Potable water
- Water tower for construction use
- Construction trailers
- Sewer for construction trailers
#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 use water. Water is cheap and it simply works.
BUT, don’t use water if it’ll create mud or flooding on public streets. You don’t want to create safety hazards for others.
Along the same vein, the same applies 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. This includes mobility limiting and safety hazard obstructions. Unless of course, you’re explicitly told not to remove certain things.
This is easier said than done though. I’ve been a part of construction projects placed indefinitely on hold. One time, we found an eagle’s nest on a tree, interfering with our construction. But, we couldn’t cut down the tree because of the nest. Then another time, we switched project locations because we found a butterfly nest. These are both common yet surprising environmental construction limits in California.
For typical obstructions, I suggest watching out for the following:
- Heavy sod
- Surface soil made of decaying materials
- Stones larger than 6 inches in any dimension
- Broken or old concrete and pavement
To point out, the depth you strip obstructions should be no greater than 4 to 6 inches. Except, if you’re digging to install underground facilities. Also, any obstructions you remove you need to dispose of off-site. We’ll discuss this in greater detail in later sections.
Important Note: point of egress is critical for every construction site. You need to maintain clear space for builders and heavy equipment to travel. This includes sizing accessways near incoming roads. Because the larger the trucks at your project site, 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. You want to remove any obvious holes, like holes from removed trees.
But also, watch for any ridges or mounds you may have created in the grading process. You want to limit slopped areas to mounds or depressions no greater than 1 foot.
Just as important, graded areas with exposed materials can be harmful. 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 badly hurt. So, keep your eyes peeled for safety hazards, 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:
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.
Your customer more times than not has rights to the removed site material. So, let your customer know several weeks before any demo work if they want to salvage any materials.
Find where you can safely dispose of different construction materials. For example, if you’re retrofitting a substation, you can’t throw old batteries in any trash. 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 and/or animals can get hurt. For this reason alone, you need to provide the following at your construction sites:
- Warning signs
Your goal is to always maintain a safe project site to the best of your ability. And I know, big huge warning signs reading the following should be enough for the public:
“DANGER. CONSTRUCTION AREA. KEEP OUT.”
But unfortunately, these warning signs don’t always work. I saw a case where a contractor 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 today’s litigation age, you need to go above and beyond with safety precautions.
Important Note: every contractor needs to have the following:
- Insurance: protection from any damages, theft, or natural disasters.
- Warranty: defined liability limits for any and all construction work.
- Project manager: someone with experience to manage and oversee projects.
- Safety plan: a protocol to address safety issues in real-time.
Properly and safely dispose of materials. For example in transport, you don’t want to overfill a hauling truck with materials flying off.
So, comply with all Federal, State, and local hauling disposal regulations. In California, the Department of Industrial Relations has vehicle haulage requirements.
Also, cleanup should be an ongoing activity throughout a project. 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. But also, many disposal sites have daily or weekly limits.
#11 Ownership of demolition waste
All material you remove from clearing and grubbing becomes your property. Unless of course, you’re told otherwise. So, make pre-arrangements for disposing of waste outside of your project site. This includes paying all disposal fees.
But, before you look to dispose of anything, look to recycle. Even more, 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 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 electric 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 quickly 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 every project.
If you overlook these rules, problems will follow. The good thing is though, these rules are easy to follow once they become a part of your construction protocol. So start every project the right way, and you’ll end up with a high-quality end product every time.
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.