Best Practices for Site Preparation

By Kathy Jonas for Frame Building News – The sale is complete. Your customer has been dreaming for most of his adult life about having a place to store his collection of antique cars. He has finally moved ahead with his plans and can’t wait to get his post-frame structure built on his property.

It’s hard to slow down an eager customer, but that’s exactly what needs to happen to make sure that the project is a successful one, according to Chris Brinkmann, construction supervisor in Minnesota for Lester Building Systems.

“You don’t go to a lot and buy a car without opening the hood, just because you like the way it looks,” says Brinkmann. “Likewise, you have to do research about how the building process works, know who you need to call, know what an excavator does and learn about inspections and permits.”

In some cases, he says, customers are unaware of their responsibilities in the construction process. It is up to the contractors to make sure they understand what is expected of them before building begins. Preparation is not the fun part, but it is critical. “An unprepared or cheaply prepared site will result in a poor final product,” says Brinkmann. “A storybook build is one in which everything has been prepared thoroughly, has been done professionally, and is ready to go.”

We talked with Brinkmann to find out the best ways to approach site preparation. Brinkmann, who owned his own post-frame business for 15 years before coming to Lester Building Systems, has to evaluate customers when meeting with them to determine the construction knowledge base they may or may not have. Those who are erecting agricultural buildings or commercial structures probably (but not always) have more experience with the building process than a residential customer who is building that storage facility for his antique cars. Education is necessary from the time the salesperson first meets with the customer right through to the completion of the project, Brinkmann says. “We want a smooth process. That is our goal and, of course, to have a happy customer in the end.”

Once the sale is complete, what happens next?
We work with the customers, advising them on site preparation and giving them a handout on dos and don’ts. Sometimes they do not have an exact location, but they know they want the building, and they know the size they want. We describe what’s desirable in terms of location, grade and so on. We may need to tell them that the spot they have picked is not the best location. They may want the  ew building at a lower elevation, and we have to tell them it’s a bad idea because of the location of other buildings (a house or garage, for example) and the danger that water coming off those buildings will be pushing into a certain area. Often people don’t think about changes to the landscaping that may be needed or the fact that the construction of the building may push water into the driveway of their house.

What other factors related to site location need to be considered?
Usually, we need 10 feet around the structure in order to erect a building. The house—or trees, power lines, utilities or electric stations—might be in that 10-foot area. We run into this a lot with tight spaces. We need to figure out whether it is going to take extra time to build around these things. We also look at where we are going to locate materials during the build, what happens to the materials if it rains, and so on. Do we need to bring certain materials in before others because we do not have room for them all at once?

How important is it to hire a surveyor?
Many times a customer tries to save money on the front end by not hiring a surveyor as part of the site preparation process. I have seen sites where new buildings were built too close to a setback or property lines, which can vary tremendously depending on the particular type of setback and government entity involved. Moving your building site due to setbacks can be very expensive. Calculating the setback is also an area where mistakes are easily made but can be easily avoided.

How much time will site preparation take?
The weather plays a huge role in site prep. Snow and rain can affect the process. You might get 6 inches of rain during the build, and if the site wasn’t prepared correctly,you might have to wait for it to dry out before you can continue construction. Excavation can be done in a day or two on a small building and possibly in one to two weeks on a larger one. The time required depends on the size and location of the site.

When is the ideal time of year for site preparation?
Late spring to early fall is ideal. The site  cannot be prepped properly in winter conditions without a lot of extra costs. Sites should be completed before weather conditions get cold. We offer a discount for the customer who wants to build in the winter and has a site ready. But you can build only when weather conditions allow, and the customer needs to know that. This must be laid out in plain terms at the time of the sale. Typically, customers want the site prepared quickly in order to bring in materials and do the electrical and concrete work. Many people are excited to have the structure built, so they try to rush the prep work and are unrealistic about how long it takes.

Whom should the customer hire for excavation?
We refer the customer to a good excavator who has been in business a long time. Some think they will save money by hiring someone cheaper. That is the No. 1 mistake they can make. If the site is poorly prepared, we inform the customer and point out any issues that may occur as a result. In our company the customer is responsible for site preparation. We can coordinate this if the customer wants to pay us to do that. Some do, and some don’t.

What other preparation is needed?
Permits must be obtained by the customer before any site work is begun. It could take as little as a day or as long as several weeks, depending on the permit process in that particular area. After the permits are obtained, you need to call your designated state phone number before you begin digging to make sure that there are no buried utilities in the area. That is the first rule: call before you dig. Many people don’t do that. It’s the law, but you need to educate customers about the importance of doing this. I have seen companies get themselves into some sticky situations when this hasn’t been done.

What needs to be done to properly maintain a site during construction?
The biggest help is a customer who understands weather conditions. Next is a crew that takes care of the site during the build process. For example, after footings have been placed and posts have been set, extra fill remains. This needs to be moved off the site or leveled off to prevent a dam or lake effect if it snows.   FN

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