Successful construction site preparation requires proper planning. Otherwise, costs can balloon and site conditions can become unsafe.
To set the stage, we’ll define construction site preparation as the following:
Readying and maintaining a construction site for building and development.
In our discussion, the 12 tips we go over, may seem overwhelming and unnecessary. But having managed many engineering projects, I find them to be invaluable. They’ll benefit the construction team, engineers, and the public. It’s why in construction, they say,
“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 have 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, to know how to prepare your site for construction, which leads us to the next 11 tips.
Important Note: complete a geotechnical report and survey plan, to get the following site information:
- Properties and conditions of soils
- Elevations and obstructions
This is a design and permitting requirement for almost every engineering project.
#2 Local construction restrictions
Learn all local and state restrictions in your construction area, including the following:
- Noise regulations
- Environmental standards for pollution control
- Allowable work hours
- Safety precautions
Never blindly start a construction project. Because restrictions can add hidden costs, increase timelines, and lead to fines.
Important Note: contact your local building department. Then check local construction codes online.
#3 Take pictures of all work areas
Before you disturb your project site, take pictures and video footage. Document all pre-construction conditions, such as the following:
- Trees and plants
- 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 photos. Problem solved!
Just as important, your captured media will help you troubleshoot problems. I compare it to opening up an electronic device. Inside the 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
Many times, construction sites need temporary facilities for the workers. This includes potable and construction water, electricity, sewage, toilets, and trailers.
So plan ahead, because some temporary facilities like electrical, have a long setup lead time. Sometimes, it can take 6 months or even longer.
#5 Project site protection
In preparing a project site, don’t damage any of the following next to your site:
- Natural habitats
Also, minimize the amount of dust you generate. I typically have contractors submit dust control plans to limit visible dust emissions. The most common approach is to use water. It’s cheap and works great, as long as you avoid flooding and safety hazards.
Along the same vein, take measures to protect open-cut excavation work near public streets. After each work shift, thoroughly clean your work area. Ensure rocks, 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 interferences. 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. We couldn’t cut down the tree though, because of the nest. Then another time, we switched project locations because we found a large butterfly nest. These are both common yet surprising environmental construction limits in California.
For typical obstructions, I suggest removing the following as necessary:
- 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 tips.
Important Note: point of egress is critical for every construction site. Always 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 required.
#7 Leveling and smoothing
After you complete clearing and grubbing, level out and smooth your work area. Remove any obvious holes, from say a removed tree.
But also, watch for any ridges or mounds you may have created in the grading process. Limit slopped areas to mounds or depressions no greater than 1 foot.
Equally 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 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, so consider the following:
Keep new pavement uniform with the existing pavement. Say you remove portions of asphalt pavement to run underground pipes. The surrounding untouched pavement should remain in pristine condition.
Also, saw-cut pavement edges on neat lines and at right angles, to curb the face. Then, when you 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 your construction materials. For example, if you’re retrofitting a substation, you can’t throw old batteries in any trash. 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. So, provide the following at your construction site, to maintain continuous safety:
- Warning signs
And I know, big huge warning signs reading the following should be enough for the public:
“DANGER. CONSTRUCTION AREA. KEEP OUT.”
Unfortunately, though, 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 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 lists vehicle haulage requirements.
Equally important, cleanup should be an ongoing project activity. Don’t allow your waste to pile up, and then scramble at the end of the project. It’s a mental strain scrambling last minute, and 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 disposing look to recycle. With some waste material, you can even donate. 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) to 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 the start of every project. In doing so, you’ll end up with a high-quality product every time.
Do you think any of these construction site preparation tips are unnecessary? What construction site preparation measures do you take?
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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.