What is the Process of Clearing Land?

Before your site can be developed and construction can begin, the land that new construction is sitting on must first be cleared. For most commercial projects, the process of clearing land looks like this:

  • Initial site survey and planning
  • Site and project prep
  • Demolition
  • Removing trees, shrubs and other vegetation
  • Grubbing (removing vegetation roots)
  • Grading

The land clearing process leaves property owners with a blank slate to build on, ensuring any new construction is placed on stable ground free of vegetation and debris.

Here are the details for each step of the process and the role it plays in clearing land.

1) Site Survey and Planning

Land clearing professionals know that the key to any site development project is planning. Before any machinery is mobilized to the project site, the land clearing crew will first survey the site and assess the project’s scope. During this survey, land clearing companies take note of existing structures, landscaping, utility lines and nearby roads/buildings. At this point, the goal is to determine what land clearing services are needed, such as demolition or grubbing. It is during this stage that soil samples may be taken and sent to a lab for analysis, which will determine if the soil needs stabilization.

If the site survey doesn’t reveal any significant complications, the land clearing company will attain the necessary work permits. In Houston, land clearing companies don’t require licensing to operate, but the city does require permits. These permits are an extremely important protective measure for commercial property owners and cannot be neglected. Failing to acquire the necessary permits will expose property owners to expensive fines and potential work stoppages.

2) Establish the Project Area

Once the planning and permitting phase is complete, it’s time to prepare the project site for work crews. This includes creating access to the site, which often involves building temporary roads and staging areas for heavy equipment – like bulldozers, skid steer loaders, excavators, cranes and hammers. In addition to establishing site access, the land clearing crew will mark off any trees or existing structures that are not part of the land clearing process. For example, the property owner may want to preserve vegetation or trees that add to the property’s appearance, and land clearing professionals will take steps to ensure those assets are protected from the land clearing process.

3) Demolition

With the work area prepped, it’s time for proper land clearing to begin. If there are existing buildings on the property, they may need to be removed first. Dilapidated buildings are a safety hazard and must be carefully removed, as there are major risks involved in tearing down old buildings. There are also several demolition methods that land clearing professionals may deploy, depending on the situation. Those techniques include:

  • Dismantling – Dismantling involves breaking the structure down section by section, usually by demo crews using handheld equipment like saws, thermal lances or powered water jets. Dismantling is preferred for high-risk projects or for projects in close proximity to other buildings. This is also recommended when the goal is to preserve materials for recycling or reuse.
  • Mechanical demolition – Mechanical demolition involves the use of heavy equipment to tear or smash down a building. It’s a noisy, dusty process that is nonetheless effective at quickly destroying large, heavy structures.

    Wrecking balls, high reach arms, hammers and hydraulic breakers are all types of equipment deployed during mechanical demolition projects.

  • Explosives – Some demolition crews can work with explosives, though this is typically reserved for larger commercial buildings located in urban areas. Explosive demolition – typically implosion – requires precision, as the explosives must knock out load-bearing structures with perfect timing and without damaging anything else.

The vast majority of demolition projects in Houston use a combination of mechanical demo techniques to clear the land.

4) Tree, Shrub and Vegetation Removal

Once all existing structures are removed – or if demolition isn’t necessary – the next step is removing trees, brush and other vegetation. There are several land clearing techniques that can be used for this purpose, including:

  • Bulldozing – Bulldozing is the most cost and time-efficient approach to tree and brush removal, but it does have a larger impact on the project site. This land clearing technique is extremely straightforward as a bulldozer is used to push trees over and separate them from the ground. While quick, this process can damage the topsoil and leave intact root systems under the ground – which will require additional grubbing to remove entirely.

  • Pulling over – Pulling over is like the opposite of bulldozing. Instead of pushing the trees over using a bulldozer blade, vegetation is pulled out of the ground – typically using chains attached to heavy machinery. Although pulling takes longer, it does a better job of removing the entire stump and root structure out of the ground, minimizing the likelihood of the vegetation growing back.

  • Cutting and grinding – Cutting and grinding is another time-intensive method of removing trees, brush and stumps, but it also removes more of the root structure. During cutting and grinding, rotary cutters, stump grinders and skid steers are used to remove the trees.

    This land clearing technique has minimal impact on the topsoil, which is ideal for erosion control and better drainage.

5) Grubbing

Depending on how trees and other vegetation are removed from the property, an additional grubbing step may be needed to pull the roots out of the ground. This ensures vegetation does not grow back and cause issues for any structures built over the recently removed vegetation.

Grubbing can be performed with many types of land clearing equipment, including bulldozers, excavators and skid steers. Mulchers may be used to quickly process any bulk vegetation matter, including roots, grass, branches, logs and other vegetation-based debris.

6) Grading

Although not technically part of the land clearing process, grading immediately follows land clearing and is often handled by the same professionals.

Grading refers to shaping, leveling and preparing the property for construction. It is during this step that the land is sloped for proper drainage and erosion control. During this step, the topsoil is replaced with soil appropriate for landscaping purposes.

Grading is managed using the same machinery necessary for land clearing. Bulldozers are the most important piece of equipment, but excavators and skid steers may be necessary to make precise alterations to the site.

Choose a Reputable Contractor for Land Clearing

The land clearing process requires extensive training, equipment, manpower and planning. Your land clearing company should be able to provide all of the above – in addition to an impressive project portfolio.

If your land is raw and in need of development, contact an expert contractor for land clearing to set up a consultation and survey.