excavating contractors Prescott AZ

3 Tips from an Expert Excavating Contractor to Protect Your Home’s Foundation

With an increase in Arizona’s population and the demand for housing rises, there are valuable factors for a property owner to consider while the plans for a new development get underway. Shawn Denny, earthwork contractor and owner of Specialty Grading, shares his knowledge on:

  1. The importance of knowing your soil before you build
  2. The value of applying recommended slopes and grades to the land
  3. Proper drainage on the building structure itself

1. The Soils Report – learn what it is and why it matters to your land excavation project

Effective in Yavapai County as of January 2016, the property owner is must conduct and provide a Geotechnical Engineering Report, or Soils Report, at the time a building permit for any habitable structure is applied for.  

Denny explains that the purpose of the recently mandated soils reports for new site builds is to get a clear illustration of the components of the soil and how natural elements can affect its stability. The report is used to prepare the best plan for the construction of the building and is beneficial for proper residential excavation. The report is designed for long-term protection and longevity of the structure, and liability protection for the engineer and developer. The report helps to ensure that the foundation is built on soil that will not hold moisture, making the foundation vulnerable to movement and shifting. 

Thomas Thurman, Yavapai County District 2 Supervisor elucidates, “We had too many homes being built to substandard footings that within a few years were settling to the point of costing the homeowner and or subsequent buyer major problems.” 

The soil report is performed by a soils engineer, or Geotechnical Engineer, to test the components in the soil and its ability to hold and maintain the foundation of a new building. In Arizona, soil reports tend to show a high amount of clay in its soil. Denny explains that the clay content in soil is detrimental for developers to know because of the amount of moisture it holds.

The characteristics of clay causes havoc for a stable foundation—when moisture is present, such as during monsoon season or even watering the landscape, the clay expands, as it dries the soil shrinks. With these changes to the earthwork under a foundation, the building is at risk for substantial damage. In Denny’s experience, he states that many older homes have been built on clay-containing soil.

What are your options if clay is in your soil?

For new site builds, Denny shares three methods property owners can choose if the soil report states a presence of clay:

  1. The preferred method, and most cost effective, is to have the clay removed from the soil and to pour a conventional foundation
  2. Another option is to build a wood floor with deep footing that reaches more stable soil and remove clay under the garage slab
  3. The less preferred and costlier method is to do a post-tension slab, which can be built on clay soil

Other benefits of a soils report are that is presents to the grading contractor the site grading requirements and the recommended ground slope percentage, as well as the amount of excavating involved for the backfill, among other things.

2. Trust your grading contractor’s advice on the slope grade

After the soils report is complete, the land has been surveyed and the foundation prep is a go, the land excavation company assesses and designs the grade and drainage of the lot that will best protect the home from water damage. Denny stresses the importance of the excavating contractor’s lot prep plans. It incorporates the percent slope to be applied to the land for water to flow away from the house and to prevent water backup in the yard and driveway.

Denny states it is standard per “the UBC [Universal Building Code] to have a 5% slope away from the house with .5% flowlines, and swales for water to run in to, to be directed away from the house”

Denny has seen homeowners smudge on the recommended grading to accommodate flatter landscape designs and more level walkways. It’s advised that the aesthetics come secondary to proper drainage, as this will prevent avoidable money-devouring damage, unnecessary stress, and ensure a more stable foundation for the home.

Issues that can occur with improper drainage:

  • Damage to the foundation, including cracks which need immediate repair
  • Erosion of building materials
  • An environment suitable for mold growth
  • Cozy living for destructive insects and other pests
  • Any wood used in the structure is susceptible to rot and decay

The most important take away is to keep the slope away from the house, even if that means interfering with landscape design plans.  Design your landscape around the advised slope grade to save money and headaches down the road and to ensure a reliable, permanent structure.

3. Proper installation and care of external structural drainage systems

Denny states it is pertinent to “control the water on the roof of the house with drainpipes. It’s common to have a house that takes up the majority of the lot that it sits on, meaning there is less surface area for the water to flow to. There is a risk of having poor drainage with poor gutter placement.”

The grading and the slope of the land also plays a role in the proper drainage of the gutters and pipes that houses are equipped with.  The external drainage system is designed to carry the water away from the foundation and to prevent puddling in the yard and driveway. If one area of the house does not have proper drainage and waterflow is toward the foundation of the home, the soil under this part of the house will get saturated with water, expand and cause the base to be uneven. Uneven soil under the foundation causes shifting and cracks in the slab to occur, which can also cause cracks in ceilings and walls.

The piping for the gutters leads the water away from the house to the swales that are built for the waterflow, or to an underground drainage solution if swales can’t be installed.

A bonus tip – always make sure that gutters and pipes are free of debris that could cause a back flow and an overflow of water. If the water does not have a way out, it will find a way into your home, getting into the attack and walls, creating mold and a place for insects to venture in.

Keep your home safe and sturdy with these tips as you prepare for your new site build and you’ll enjoy a durable home for years to come. If you think you may be experiencing drainage issues on your property, call Specialty Grading to help fix this problem right away, and before monsoon season!

Trusted Excavating Contractor in Arizona

Shawn Denny has been an excavating contractor for 24 years. He’s enjoyed playing with tractors ever since he was a kid, and now gets to work with them everyday as part of his land excavation company.

Tanya, his wife is the office manager at Specialty Grading, and Dylan, his son has been working with his dad since he was 15 years old, having ten years’ experience himself. Denny works a crew of nine skilled workers who make up three specialty crews, trenching and installing primary conduit, grading crew, and a mass excavation crew. Denny attributes extensive experience and diligent reputation for their success, loyal customers and its growing list of clienteles.

Specialty Grading is a family owned-business located in Prescott Valley, Arizona. Established in 1995, the land excavation company has over 20 years of experience providing high-quality services at a great value for money. Exceptional customer care, diligent hard-working professionals, and sensible solutions provide clients with a satisfactory end result by a trusted crew who gets the job done right the first time. Specialty Grading is committed to their clients, taking the time to listen to their needs and to work with them within budget and expected time frames.  Come to Specialty Grading for your Arizona residential excavation needs. We provide solutions specifically for you. Contact us via email or phone today for a free estimate.

About the Author
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Specialty Grading

We are a family-owned and operated business in different areas of Yavapai County such as Prescott, Prescott Valley, Dewey, and Chino Valley for over 20 years since 1995. With the help of our certified and licensed excavating and grading contractors, we take pride in providing our customers with efficient services and excellent value.

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