Houston is a huge city that is always growing, which means there’s always dirt work to be done in the Bayou City. What essentially amounts to moving dirt from one spot to another is much more complex than it seems, especially along the Gulf Coast, where weather and soil conditions frequently team up to complicate site development projects.
Commercial site development, given its expanded scale and complexity, can be particularly challenging in Houston. That’s why experienced Houston site development contractors invest heavily in the planning phase. By heading off issues with soil, water, vegetation, utilities, and existing structures, site development can move ahead unimpeded.
As for what dirt work includes and why you need a reputable Houston contractor for effective commercial development, read on.
What is Included with Houston Dirt Work Services?
Dirt work, site development, site preparation, excavation – these terms are all used to generally describe the same processes, which are essential for establishing a stable build pad for new construction, starting with the foundation.
Note that no two commercial development projects are the same. It’s important to work with a contractor that has tallied enough projects to know that generalities don’t work in construction, and dirt work is no different, so the process described below is meant as a high-level guide. That said, here’s what commercial site development may include during a project:
- Site planning – Site planning isn’t dirt work, exactly, but it’s a necessary step to keep dirt work on target. During planning, the project is visualized and mapped out using drawings for reference. Drawings point out elevation changes, the presence of trees and other obstructions, where proposed buildings and other site changes will go, and the location of utility lines and nearby roads.This reference is necessary for the development team and for any permitting institution. As for those permits, they’re pulled as soon as the project is approved and ready to move forward. Or, they should be to prevent delays and potential liability down the road.This is a big reason why commercial property owners are better off working with a reputable developer. If it’s ever necessary to verify project details with officials, a reputable team will have the requisite documentation on hand. As you might expect, a less reputable crew may bottleneck this process or expose their client to severe liability.
- Soil analysis – Soil analysis (“geotechnical survey”) may not be handled during the project’s early stages, but if there are any concerns about the soil’s fitness for building, it should be. During soil analysis, samples are taken from the build site and sent to a lab for chemical and physical study.Following analysis, it’ll be clear whether the proposed build plans can move forward without load bearing concerns.
- Land clearing and grubbing – If everything is ready to move forward, dirt work can truly begin. And for most projects, that means clearing the area and removing anything that may interfere with construction.This mostly means rocks, trees, and other vegetation. It may also include remnants of prior construction and dilapidated buildings. If this is the case, demolition services will be necessary to safely remove the material. An experienced Houston site developer will often double as a capable demolition team.Thorough land clearing may involve grubbing as well, which is the process of ripping out roots and ensuring no vegetation will threaten the site build in the future.
- Grading and erosion control – During the grading stage, the site is shaped and sloped to the project’s details. Dirt may be moved from one part of the dev site to another to make this happen – a process known as cutting and filling. The goal is to shape the site so that it drains away from build areas efficiently and safely.
- Excavation and site preparation – Once the site is sloped within acceptable tolerances, the excavators can come in and make more precise cuts. These cuts may be used to carve out space for basements, foundation elements (such as concrete beams), or utility trenches.
- Topsoil replacement – Depending on the plan’s details, it may be necessary to replace the topsoil for landscaping purposes. The site developer can provide surface materials for replacement and install them to a specified depth.As this replacement soil is placed, it’s compacted to depth to ensure it’s appropriate for facilitating the right kind of plant growth.
Once the build pads are in place, construction can proceed with foundation installation. If site development has been expertly handled to this point, there should be a seamless transition from development to construction.
How Site Development Contractors Tackle Houston’s Dirt Work Difficulties
Moving tons of earth, literally, is hard work even when conditions are ideal. However, site development conditions aren’t always ideal, especially in Houston. Challenges include Houston’s high-volume traffic patterns, its punishing climate, and its clay-rich “gumbo” soils. All three may complicate commercial development, in the following ways:
- Houston’s traffic – The Bayou City isn’t as dense as some other urban areas, but traffic and tight confines can still impact access to the site. It can also pose additional safety or noise ordinance obstacles. Vibration may need to be monitored and additional site access may need to be partitioned out to ensure work crews can get in and out without causing a problem.Experienced Houston site developers can forecast these potential issues and ensure they get the attention they require during the planning stage.
- Houston’s climate – H-town is also known for high heat and humidity, and both put additional stress on work crews. Aside from their potential to cause worker injuries, excess heat and humidity can also affect how pavement cures, and many site development projects eventually lead into pavement installation.Perhaps the biggest weather-related concern for Houston site developers, though, is the city’s legendary rainstorms. An extended deluge can cause significant delays during development and overwhelm drainage structures if they aren’t built to accommodate major rain events. That means contractors must design drainage elements with engineering expertise on hand.Since Houston soils have a tendency to become sludgy following heavy rains, it can make site access extra difficult and gum up machinery if care isn’t taken during work.
- Houston’s soils – Large plots of Houston sit on clay-heavy soils that are also rich in organic material. Termed gumbo soils, this particular dirt mix is challenging to build on. That’s because gumbo soils soak up a lot of water when exposed to heavy rains, and they hold on to that water for a long time due to minimal permeability.When it comes to water exposure, soils act like a sponge. They swell when they’re wet and they shrink when they dry out. Gumbo soils, by virtue of their composition, exacerbate this swell/shrink cycle, placing severe stresses on anything built on top of them. Throw in the occasional drought that Houston is also known for, and foundation damage will rapidly set in.The best way to deal with gumbo soil is to identify it early on so it can be augmented. There are a few natural additives, like lime, that can be added to such soils to enhance their stability. Experienced contractors make frequent use of additives like these prior to laying down foundations or other large stretches of pavement.
The Best Houston Site Developers Know Dirt Work
Dirt work sounds simple enough, but in fact, it’s rather complex, with many variables to consider. That’s why more property owners choose to bring in a reputable Houston contractor. With an experienced team on the job, companies know they can build with confidence once the dirt work is done.