From the front left corner of the lot
From the back of the lot

Excavation

This is a very exciting part of construction. After all the work and research, the project is finally moving! HOORAY!

To keep things moving along, Mark (the builder) decided to have the excavator set the stakes for the lot before we had actually received the building permit. That way, as soon as we received the permit, the excavator could start digging.

Initially I had thought that we would have to hire a surveyor to do this - but that is not the case. The excavator is able to handle this project, and has built it into the excavation bid. A surveyor is only required when staking out the property lines, which the land developer should have already taken care of.

Since we have are doing a daylight basement (meaning the house sits higher with half of the basement walls above grade) part of the excavation digging was rather shallow and moved quickly - the hole was only about four feet in the ground. However, we are putting basement space below the 2 car garage area for a workshop, so there was quite a bit of digging there.

Because of the shape of our lot and the lots next to us, we had to bring in some "fill" dirt to sort-of lift our lot up and fill in the low spots. We brought in a lot of it, 30 dump truck loads in total. Fortunately, the excavator had another job not too far away where he needed to get rid of dirt, so I was able to purchase it for the price of hauling it in.

Although it is not very common to put space below a garage with a "suspended slab" for the garage floor, it is really not too difficult to do, and the price per square foot is actually quite low (assuming that the space is not finished - I will be using the space for a workshop). On our job, it is going to cost us about $8.00 per square foot for the area below the garage. I will put up a separate topic about the suspended slab that will provide more detail for those who are interested when we get to that point of construction.

My wife and I met Mark (the builder) at the lot after it was staked - he walked us around the lot and explained things to us. Although to anyone else this would be rather boring - just a few sticks in the ground - it was a thrill to us to see that something had actually been done on that expensive plot of dirt that we owned!

As soon as we got the permit, the excavator started working. He spent the better part of the first day doing most of the work, and spent another few hours on the second day finishing things up, so it really moved fast.

Because of the shape of the lot, we decided to change the rear elevation of the house. Our plans showed the back of the house with a daylight basement, meaning that about four feet of the basement would actually be in ground, and the rest would be above ground, just like on the front of the house. But, the excavator highly recommended us to not do this - he said that due to the shape of the lot, it would require expensive rock retaining walls and could cause water problems in the future.

Although I am a bit disappointed about this - I really was "married" to the elevations we put together on the plans, I realize that building process is all about trade-offs (i.e. a trade-off between what you want to have and what you want to spend!) I am sure we will have to make other decisions along the way which will go against our ideas, but will ultimately be in our best interests. Also, it won't change the way the house looks from the front, just from the back.

What I Learned

Most cities have minimum "setback" requirements that vary based on the area. For example, in our area, the house must be a minimum of 30 feet from the street, and a minimum of 20 feet on the sides from the property lines. The setbacks are calculated from the edge of the house, not from driveways or walkways. So, for example, we could pour an RV pad on the side of our house that went all the way out to the edge of our property - this is not a problem.

After the stakes are set, it is probably not a bad idea to grab a tape measure and make sure the lines are within the setback requirements (just to double check). If they are not, the city could require you to move things. It is much easier to move a few sticks in the ground than a cement foundation!

As I mentioned above, we were unable to set the back of the house like we had drawn in the plans. Unless you have a flat lot, it is not always possible to know exactly how the house will fit onto the lot until you actually start digging. In our case, the excavator had planned to set the house just as we had in the plans, but once he got digging, he could tell that doing so would cause problems (by creating a low spot where water would pool and cause a huge expense in rock retaining walls).

The way you set the house on the lot makes a big difference in the overall look of the house from the curb, so it is important that you clearly express your thoughts to the excavator about how to work through these types of concerns, otherwise he might make decisions that you are unhappy with. In our case, the excavator called me and the builder and had us meet him at the lot to discuss the issue with him - he purposed other options, and I think we came up with a solution that we will be happy with.

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