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DIY grading


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By Tim in Purcellville, VA on 3/26/2006


Has anyone any experience doing their own grading? On the surface (no pun intended), it seems intimidating, and an exacting science. However, the bids I have received were thousands above my budget, and I'm wondering if I should rent the equipment and go at it myself. I need to create the pad for the house, which means removing about 6" of topsoil. I also do the grading for the driveway while at it, prepping for delivery of stone and gravel.

Any advice, warnings, etc. will be appreciated. Thanks.

Tim

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By Tom in Stroudsburg, PA on 3/26/2006


Tim, you need more information. What is the elevation difference on your property? Are you clearing top soil to build a ranch or are you excavating for basement or crawl space? Is rock prominent in you area? Is all the subsurface work included in their bid... electric, phone, water lines? How about excavation for sewer line connection or if you have to build you own septic system? It is normal for the dirt guys to bid everything inclusive right up to backfill and finish grading. What were the terms that they were bidding under? There are steep insurance requirements for heavy equipment also how far it would have to be hauled will play into rental costs. Lastly, what kind of bids are you getting and what did you budget? If you only budgeted $1K, I would expect their numbers are way over your budget.
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By Michael in Cave Creek, AZ on 3/26/2006


Be careful with do-it-yourself grading. You can probably rent a skip loader and do some finish grading.  If you need many types of equipment to do the job right, the professional contractor who owns the equipment will be cheaper than renting the equipment and doing it yourself, even if your labor is free.

The contractor does grading every day and is efficient at running equipment. A part time weekend equipment operator is much slower.

You will need to call your local utility locating service to mark any utilities before digging.  If you don't you will pay to fix any utilities you hit. You also get to pay for any marked utilities you dig up.

To build a moderately high pad, you may need to dump trucks to bring in fill. Water trucks to water the fill to achieve compaction. A 3-yd loader or Dozer to move the fill around, and a medium-size tractor with a gannon or box grader on it.  If you need a lot of equipment and run  it for quite a few hours, how will you transport diesel fuel? Five-gallon jugs get old quick.

You will need a rod and level to determine your cuts and fills and skill in the use of this equipment.

For engineered fill you may need to involve a construction materials testing company, with a nuclear density gauge.   If you do not compact a house pad adequately your house could have some major problems.

For trenching, a backhoe usually does the trick.  If you encounter rock, you may need to get a hammer attachment.

Assess your site conditions (rock, water, utilities, etc), quantity of work, (how many yards are you moving?) personal skill and the availability of the right rental equipment at a reasonable price, before treading down this path. Remember rental equipment costs at least 30% more than the amount quoted due to delivery fees, pickup fees, tax and damage waiver fees.

I am not trying to discourage you from cutting or filling a foot or two; but beyond that, know what you are getting into.

 


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By Aaron in Spanaway, WA on 3/27/2006


If your have some experience with the equipment and know how to shoot grades and calc cut and fill, go for it.  I worked as an ironworker/ form setter for six years and the difference between a journeyman level, crusty old Jerry Garcia type vs. the first period apprentice on a track hoe, back hoe, dozer, etc. is night and day, and the quality and speed of work affects shows and affects the trades that follow (form setters and framers).  I'll tackle anything, but dirt work.
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By Claudia in Glendale, AZ on 4/18/2006


What does grading run? I am on a slight slope on Gaviland Peak in New River, AZ. I'm meeting with someone next week and I want to be prepared to hear what they will tell me.

We have thought of buying/renting the equipment if it is too expensive, but it looks like a lot of work.


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By Tom in Stroudsburg, PA on 4/18/2006


Claudia, it depends what you are trying to accomplish. If you're just cutting in a small driveway or plan to make a small area for a home or move that pimple of a hill into the prairie. How smooth of a grading job are you looking for? See other needed information in my above post. Generally a day's work can run from $800 to $1,500 on average but conditions vary greatly.

If you plan to rent heavy equipment most will want you to have a 1/2 million general liability policy and an Inland Marine policy to cover equipment loss. Total insurance cost is $4,000 to $6,000 and I don't know about there but here you can't get it by the day so the cost above is what you pay to use it for a day or a week but you're paying for the year. Add to that rental, hauling, fuel and if you break it and it's not normal wear and tear you're paying. If you have a lot of rock and plan to do a large area, look for someone with large equipment; you will pay more daily but will more than make up for it in length of the job.
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By Claudia in Glendale, AZ on 4/19/2006


Thanks for the info. We'll have to avoid renting the equipment. I budgeted $18,000 for this task, we need a building pad, and a driveway. The spot my husband chose to build is much higher than the rest of the lot, and a wash separates it from the flatter land. My husband is really handy, but this seems like a tough job. I'd much prefer an experienced person handle it, but I don't think we can afford it. Can anyone give me a range? Tom, do you mean it will cost me an average of $800 to $1500 a day for a pro?
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By Claudia in Glendale, AZ on 4/19/2006


First estimate given today. Between $7K and $8K.
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By Tom in Stroudsburg, PA on 4/19/2006


Claudia, That price would be per day per manned machine. If you try to piecemeal the job into clearing, foundation, backfill, etc. you will be charged excessively more than if you had bid it out "all dirt work inclusive". One note on the wash, if you don't build a bridge, be sure to put the largest pipe you can in it or you will pay for it many times over. They don't see a large volume of storm water often but when they do, you will lose anything that is built too small.
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By Claudia in Glendale, AZ on 4/20/2006


Thanks for the advice, Tom. My engineer designed the lot with a culvert, but I am not too excited about that. The wash seems too deep, and there is a steep incline on the other side. Reason why she did this? She keeps telling me that if we put the pipe in, it will cost us $10K alone.

The design was already submitted to P&D, I'm just waiting to hear back from them.


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By Tom in Stroudsburg, PA on 4/21/2006


Claudia, I am not familiar with what is available for product in your area but here they do sell some pre-cast culverts that are pretty large. I'm talking 12' x 12' I've seen these set into streams and they do a great job.  I have seen round concrete pipe used for drainage (over 10' in diameter) as well and it bears traffic well. Plastic pipe is limited by extrusion capabilities. They make a sectional galvanized steel pipe that arrives in small quarter moon pieces that can be fabricated on site to almost any size. My choice would be concrete. If you had an engineer design it for expected flow I would trust her knowledge on local availability and cost.
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