Grading Strategies

What If Site Is Low?

In managing a grading design, there will be cases where the site is too low and needs dirt to be imported.  As I have heard a few times, the site is “too flat” meaning it does not have enough slope to allow water to drain off the property.  Or, the property is in a flood zone and needs to be raised a foot or two.  It doesn’t sound like much, but the amount of dirt that needs to be imported can be very costly depending on where it is coming from.  And – timing matters.

If dirt needs to be imported, it will be hauled to the site in trucks.  These trucks may hold 10 – 15 cubic yards (cy) of dirt and if you need 100,000 cy, you have quite a few truck loads.  Developers may budget anywhere from $10 – $15 per cy for importing this dirt, depending on how far away the dirt is located.  Normal grading operations with all the dirt onsite can range from $1.50 to $2.50 per cy.  If you have a flat or low site, you need to pay special attention to the import costs for grading.

Timing can play a big factor in your import expense.  In many cases, other developments may have excess dirt and are looking for a place to export the dirt.  Or, a city or public agency may be installing underground utilities and generating excess dirt.  If your timing is right, these dirt “exporters” will bring the dirt to your site for free.  You will just need to process and compact the dirt, which now means your import costs are $2.00 per cy rather than $15.

But the timing may not work out where you have others wanting to export their dirt at the moment you are grading.  One strategy could be to borrow the dirt from your own site and raise your first development phases.  Your later phases will be “low”, but now you might be able to be patient and accept dirt as it becomes available.  As well, your first phases will generate excess dirt – spoils – from the street cuts, undergrounding of utilities, and foundation trenches.  If you have part of your site low, this excess dirt does not have to be trucked offsite, saving you money in that respect.

If you have questions or comments, we welcome you to share with us below.

John Kaye has over 30 years experience within the land development and homebuilding industries, having held senior management positions with The Irvine Company, Koll Real Estate Group, and Brookfield Homes. As a developer, John has overseen the land acquisition, entitlements, and development of master planned communities, residential tracts, urban infill sites, and land assemblages. His experience and skill sets include land acquisition, land brokerage, project management, market analysis, finance, and strategic planning.

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