land excavation

The Complete Guide to Site Prep for a Shed

Sheds are an incredibly handy space for extra storage, especially if a garage isn’t available or there isn’t enough room in the garage for tools, equipment, or other items that need safe keeping. They are also a lot less expensive to build or to have a pre-built shed delivered. They also are smaller than a garage if space on the lot is limited.

Though, before plotting out the space in the yard to build or place the new shed, there are quite a few things to consider. Putting the time, energy and effort into a new shed should not be wasted on poor planning and preparations. In this article we will prepare you for all you need to know to prepare your site for a shed addition, including:

  • 1. Planning Before You Get a Shed
  • 2. How to Determine the Best Location of Your Shed
  • 3. Best Tips for Excavation Services & Effective Ground Prep
  • 4. Land Grading Tips for How to Level the Ground for Stable Placement  
  • 5. Best Foundations for Every Need
  • 6.Foundation Solutions for Severely Sloped Grounds
  • 7. DIY or Call the Pros?

1. Planning Before You Get a Shed

Surprise birthday parties are fun, a surprise visit from the local planning department putting a halt on your project, not so much. First things first, familiarize yourself with all codes, requirements and permits needed before adding a new structure to your property.

Permits:

Every city and state have different regulations for building permits and it can also depend on the size structure that will be added to your property. It is advised to check your local town or city’s government website or to call their office to cover all the bases.

Dig Safe:

Before you begin any type of land excavation it is always best to contact your state’s Dig Safe department for any regulations that need to be adhered by. Dig Safe will inspect the property to mark out where all the utility lines are laid underground to make sure they are not dug up or damaged during the excavation.

Also keep in mind the location of the shed that it isn’t too close to utility lines. Dig Safe should also advise the save distance or clearance that should allow enough space for utility departments to access the lines if need be.

Property Lines:

To keep the neighbors happy and to avoid any potential territory crossing, consult your property’s deed, your property’s survey, or hire a land surveyor to confirm the land that is yours. It is also wise to account for 10 feet distance from the back property line and 15 feet from a side lot.

The clearance around the shed from the adjacent property lines is also referred to as the setback – setting your shed back from the property line a safe distance. Check with your local building department for any other specific regulations.

Protecting the Foundation of Your Shed

Placing a shed on your property will take a little more effort than having the shed company delivering it and placing it where you desire. The ground beneath the shed will also need to be prepped to maintain its longevity and utility.

Just like a house, a shed will need a good, sturdy foundation placed upon a properly prepared excavated site. Land grading is a necessary step in this process to ensure level ground. Compacting the soil to avoid further shifting under the weight of the structure and applying adequate drainage to avoid water damage to the structure and what it stores.

Keep reading to learn more about the steps to take for land grading and leveling, as well as necessary slope for proper drainage. Before we get to those steps, lets take a look at the property and the purpose of the shed to determine the best place for you to put it.

2. How to Determine the Best Location of Your Shed

There are a few things to consider when preparing for the best location of your new shed. Getting to know the lay of the land will be crucial for proper placement. Based on this configuration, placing the shed in most convenient arrangement will be key as well.

Find the most level part of the property.

The easiest way to accomplish this is to eyeball the area and where you think the ground it most level. To test your judgement, place a 2×4 beam or other flat surface area on the ground and set your level upon it to see where the bubble lands.

Now, even what appears to be level may still have some slope to it.  Keep reading, we’ll discuss how to level the land as well as list options for severely sloped land. But, if possible, try to set your shed in an area that is the most level in an attempt to decrease the amount of work needed for land excavation and land grading.  

If there is an area of your property that is prone to collecting water, avoid placing a structure on this part of the land.

Place the shed according to convenience.

When thinking of the location on your property for the shed, also think about where you would like the door to face. Convenience is key when considering gaining access to the items in your shed. Think of all the ways you will be using your shed and what will be stored in it:

  • A ride on lawn mower – easy in and out access without having to make any turns
  • The kids’ yard toys and sports equipment – direct the door to where you want your kids to bring the toys and equipment, for instance away from the flower garden.
  • Gardening tools and supplies – position the shed to face the garden for easy access to its items
  • Maneuvering a wheelbarrow – face the door in a manner that allows wide clearance for easy in and out
  • Extra accessories to work on the car – point the door in the direction of the driveway to eliminate extra steps while handling an oil pan, a car jack, the car detailing kit, etc.

We work and play hard, make access to the inside of your shed quick, easy and efficient with a conveniently located door.

The placement of the door will also determine the area to be marked off to prepare for the site excavation for the foundation. Keep reading, we’ll hit this topic too!

Curb appeal also goes a long way.

Placement of the shed can also be determined based on what is most aesthetically pleasing to the land. A shed can fill in space that is lacking character and charm, especially if other areas of the land have landscape, or other features and functions. 

If easy access for other activities isn’t a huge factor and this shed will be used as a hobby area or a kids hang out, there is more freedom for its placement, though still keep in mind the quality of the land when thinking of aesthetics. 

Don’t forget about your neighbors!

So, you have the perfect spot picked out for your shed, but it may be too close to your neighbor’s property line. As mentioned before, consult your property deed for property lines and then the county offices for the proper distance from your neighbor’s property.  You’ll be thankful you did this before any excavation construction begins.

Remember those Utility Lines, too!

We can’t stress enough to always double check with the state’s Dig Safe department to ensure you are not on top of or too close to utility lines, especially with excavation services to prep for the shed’s foundation.

OK – so you have an idea of where the shed is going to go. Great, let’s start to prepare the site for the shed’s new home!

3. Best Tips for Excavation Services & Effective Ground Prep

With the perfect location picked out for your shed now is the time to prep for the land excavation. There are a few steps involved in the land prep stage. These are important to follow as the stability of the foundation for the shed relies on the excavation and the land grading for a level ground base.

Vegetation Clearing and Removal

First, remove any vegetation and rocks from the area, including at least 5 feet from the marked dimensions of the shed. This extra 5 feet of space will provide ample room to move around the structure as well.

Ready to Dig!

Using the dimensions of the shed, plan out the excavation for the foundation. A good rule of thumb is to add an extra 12 inches to every side of the shed’s dimensions to allow for adequate room for grading and placement.

With a fairly level area that does not require a great deal of excavation and land grading, a gardening spade should suffice to be used to remove the layer of topsoil. (For severely sloped land, skip to step #4 for other the best foundation solutions)

Topsoil is malleable and easily shifts, which you can feel even under the weight of your own feet, so imagine the movement under a 1200-2600 lb. structure!

A depth of 4-6” is recommended to remove the top-soil or until you start to see lighter colored dirt. This dirt is more stable under heavy weight. Once the topsoil is removed leveling the ground is next, again, this ensures the longevity of your shed with a base that will support the foundation to hold your shed and all the items within.

Something to consider…

What you may find as you’re digging: rocks and tree roots. An easy dig just turned a little more grueling with sweat starting to drip as you reach for alternative digging tools to get around these obstacles.

The pick axe is a decent tool to break up the soil that has the big rocks impregnated into it. It is also useful for removing obnoxious roots that will disturb the level ground for your shed’s foundation. 

Your local home improvement store will also house other useful tools to help successfully remove these tougher items from your excavation site.

Quality Backfill is Required

Once these items have been removed from the site, properly leveling the ground is going to be critical for the longevity of the shed. To fill in the voids of where the roots and rocks were, you will probably have to order quality backfill that is suitable for compaction and stable under pressure, not shifting.

Once the rock and soil excavation has been completed within the accurately measured parameters for the shed’s base, plus 12 inches on every side. The site needs to be graded, leveled and compacted. Read on friend!

3. How to Level the Ground in Preparation for Land Grading 

Here is where you can show off to your friends with this neat leveling trick, no engineers required!

Follow this quick “how to” for determining the level of your land to prepare for land grading.

What You’ll Need:

  • Rubber mallet
  • (4) Wooden-grade stakes with one end pointed
  • Orange nylon string
  • String level
  • A helper
  • Measuring tape
  • Calculator
  • Backfill
  • Soil tamper

Using the wooden-grade stakes, mark out the four corners of the excavation site.  Use the rubber mallet to bang the flat end of the wooden stakes into the ground at each corner – the pointed end makes for easy impalement into the ground.

Attach the string to one of the wooden stakes – using an orange nylon line is recommended for its strength and easy visibility. Bring the remaining spool of string toward an adjacent wooden stake. Mid-way to the other stake, attach the string level to the string.

Your helper is going to watch the string level to see when the bubble falls in between the two lines, indicating a level line, while you adjust the string on the adjacent stake, going up or down depending on the level. When your helper signifies the string is level, wrap the string around the wooden stake to hold that level line.

Using the measuring tape. Measure areas along the string to see the slope in the land, high points and low points to determine how much soil is needed for leveling.

This is just one method to level the ground, check out these other methods for leveling the ground, choose what you feel is most accurate and easiest to get the best results.

Once the area is marked off with the high and low points. Ordering the backfill is next.

Backfill

Backfill is soil that is constructed particularly to support foundations under structures. This is ideal to support a long lifetime for your new shed, especially with a concrete slab for its foundation. It is needed to fill in areas to be raised up to level.

To determine the backfill that is needed for your site, the formula involves a little geometry and a calculator. Determining the cubic feet of the area to be filled we will get the volume of backfill. So, we are in need of V for volume which = the Length x Width x Depth of the area to be filled.

V = L x W x D

The volume will equal the square footage which will then need to be converted into yards as backfill is sold in this measurement unit.  

A cubic foot in a yard equals 27 (3 feet long, 3 feet wide and 3 feet deep). Divide the number you solved for V (volume) and divide by 27 to figure out the number of yards needed of backfill.

Dirt Compaction

Once the backfill is laid out get out the soil tamper to press the dirt into a compacted stated to eliminate as much space for movement and shifting under the foundation. To ensure that the ground is level throughout this process, a trick is to lay a flat board over the surface ground to see where there may be gaps or peaks in the soil.

Slope for Drainage Away from the Shed

Before placing the foundation – make sure the adequate slope is applied to the property for proper drainage to protect the shed’s foundation –

Dig 8 inches down and 8 inches wide on the side of the shed you want to drain the water away from. Direct this trench to a safe area to where the water can drain to, such as a wash or drainpipe.

How to measure the slope for the drainage.

Using the string line method, similar to the leveling method, place a wooden stake along the drainage path every 10 feet. The rate of the slope is to be 1 foot for every 100 feet.

At each stake, 10 feet apart, measure 1 inch down.

  • 1. Starting with the first stake at the shed measure to feet and place a stake. Tie a string to the first stake and tie off at the second stake where it is level with the ground. Tie a string to the second stake and then attach to the third stake that is 1 inch lower than the previous stake, continue this process until the drainage destination is met.
  • 2. Cover the bottom of this trench with 2 inches of gravel.
  • 3. Place on top of the gravel drain tile with a diameter of 4 inches that runs the length of the trench
  • 4. Using a 90-degree 4-inch PVC pipe, attach this to the top of the drain tile near the shed which will be exposed on top of the ground.
  • 5. Cover the drain tile with landscape fabric and then cover with 3 inches of gravel

Once complete, you are now ready for the foundation!

5. Best Foundations for Every Need

Who knew there were so many shed foundation options! This is good news for you because you can choose the best one for your budget, your skill, the time and energy you want to put into the project, and what will work best for the land the shed is going on.

If you fear committing to a permanent structure placed on your property, or want the freedom to move or remove it, then the on-grade foundation options would be good to start with. The alternative would be the more permanent options, which we will explore as well.

As with any foundation, as it is being developed and before the final install of the shed, always ensure that the foundation remains level.

Easy and Cheap – Concrete Pavers

The pavers can be placed right on the level ground that you just prepared! This does involve some heavy lifting, squatting and bending so make sure you are up for the task.  Other than the manual labor, this method of foundation is one of the easiest to accomplish without putting a huge dent in your wallet. Since they are going under the structure, the style doesn’t have to play a big factor, only the pavers that may be exposed around the perimeter.

Another plus for pavers is that it keeps the shed close to the ground, which makes for easier in and out access, especially if storing wheeled equipment and vehicles.

A Popular Option – Go Gravel

As read in many informational guides on shed foundations, the gravel option is often mentioned, most likely for its affordability and ease of installation. With an estimated time of 2hours, your gravel foundation can be complete. Gravel is another inexpensive option for your foundation with an average cost of $1.25 – $1.80 a square foot.

After the gravel has been laid out use the tamper from the backfill leveling to compact the gravel to level as well.

Gravel also keeps the shed close to ground level for ease of use and access.

Poor Man’s Option #1 – Concrete Blocks

So, if you would like to avoid the excavation process altogether and just rely on a cheap foundation using wood beams and concrete blocks to level the shed, then check out this option.

Solid concrete blocks only for this option. Again, leveling this foundation is still important – level the area that the concrete blocks are sitting on as well as the final foundation, this will be determined by the number of blocks required to raise the foundation to level.

Wooden beams are built on top of the concrete blocks to support the perimeter of the shed – the number of beams stacked on top of each other, and secured, will be determined by the level line as determined by the severity of the slope of the land.

Now, this poor man option has some draw backs. The concrete blocks raise the shed substantially off the ground, requiring a ramp at the right grade for any wheeled vehicles. Also, the middle of the shed’s floor has no support, unless you add in more concrete blocks and beams. Though, compared to the gravel and paver foundations, this option is not as secure, and shifting of the blocks is bound to happen.

But hey, if you are not committed to the longevity of this shed and need a quick install then this is an option.

Deck Blocks

If you followed the ground leveling steps above, then the Deck Block foundation option may be a good fit for you.  Again, a level foundation is key, with this step already complete then laying the deck blocks according to the size of the shed and how much support underneath you need will be fairly easy.

Deck blocks are a pyramid shape with the top designed to hold wooden framing beams for extra support. Compared to the gravel and paver options that provide consistent support throughout the base, deck blocks and the wood beams leave areas exposed to non-support, so heavy equipment storage is not ideal with this foundation.

Depending on style and where purchased, deck blocks range from around $3 to over $8.

Poor Man Foundation #2…A Pallet or Skid Foundation

Great for the recycling enthusiast, why not put that good wood to good use! A pallet with treated hardwood is ideal for the foundation for your shed. The level ground you prepared earlier is perfect for this option too.

The difference between a skid and a pallet is that a pallet is double sided with wood for better durability. For more stability it is recommended to take off one of the sides of a pallet, or just use a skid. Also, make sure the pallet can be flush with the neighboring pallet, this may require sawing off any wood overhangs.

With the exposed wood bottom runners on the ground, a word of advice would be to create trenches in the ground below filled with gravel to protect the wood structure.

Lay the pallets on the level ground, again, flush with each other. Connect the pallets with 3-inch deck screws through the runner boards or with metal plates. Lastly, lay plywood over the top of the connected pallets to complete the solid base.  Checking its level is always wise.

The idea of a skid foundation was, no joke, to skid the structure from one location to another.

This is another affordable and non-permanent foundation option to consider.

Plastic Base Kit

While on the recycling kick – why not reuse some plastic to support your shed? A grid made out of plastic then filled in with gravel is another option. The plastic creates another barrier between the ground and the shed base, which is a plus, though the tricky part is making sure that each grid is level, since it is a flexible unit, it moves and shifts.

This foundation option is a little pricier than the other options though is fairly easy to install after the ground leveling step has been completed.

Pre-built Shed with Foundation Kit Included

These kits were designed to provide the best foundation for that specific store-bought shed. This foundation type does need to be installed onto the leveled ground that you have prepared. Read the instructions fully before leaving the home improvement store to make sure that you have all the materials needed for the install. Some kits require that you pick up same extra materials not included in the kit. So, if you think the shed and the foundation were a flat fee, it may cost more money than you expected.

Do your homework on this option to see if it is worth it for your budget and if the premade shed is suitable for your needs.

Time to get committed!

Permanent structures will definitely need to get approved by the town/city that you live – ensure all the right permits are obtained and regulations abided by to avoid fines or having to tear down your beautiful shed!

The Concrete Pad for Your Shed

Sturdy, stable, durable, a fixed commodity to your property (of course concrete removal is available if needed). Here is what you need to know for a concrete slab. You’ve done the hard work with land grading and leveling the site.

Laying a concrete slab can be done by a die hard DIYer, though it is highly recommended to call in the concrete contractors for this one.

Now, the benefits of having a concrete slab, just like the one your home is built on, is that it will withstand the load of heavy equipment, be more durable with wet ground considering that concrete requires proper soil to be laid underneath that will not expand or shrink with wet, dry, hot or cold elements – at least very little to make any damage.

The downside to a concrete pad is the expense and all the factors to consider – adding a retaining wall for added protection, risk of cracking or shifting of the concrete, at risk for rot if drainage was not properly calculated and/or applied.

6. Foundation Solutions for Severely Sloped Grounds

Having a relatively level lot sure does make it easier for proper placement of a shed, but just because you may have more slopes in your land doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the convenience of extra storage space! Read on for methods to build foundations on uneven ground.

Post & Beam

This option provides a sturdy steady base for your shed and is ideal for sloped land. Beams are used to provide for the leveling of the base which are cut to the appropriate size to raise the base to the desired height even with the high point of the land.

To determine how the post and beam structure needs to be level and the placement of the base, review this video again for methods on how to measure the level for an outdoor structure.

What is needed are pressure-treated wooden deck posts that will be placed end first into holes dug into the ground and lined on the bottom with gravel to help with drainage. Make sure to dig the holes for the footings at least a foot below undisturbed soil and the frost-line (this is the area underground where the water freezes at a certain depth.)

For a complete guide on the how to of building a post and beam foundation for a shed, check out this detailed post.

Deck-Blocks and Dirt!

Using the method to find the level ground with the high and low points of the slope you will determine the amount of backfill needed to fill in the area from the bottom of the slope to make it level with the top. An excavator will come in handy for this process to dig out the area needed to be refilled with dirt with the topsoil removed.

Pressure treated lumber will be used to secure the backfill in place, installed as the retaining walls. For added strength and stability, it may be necessary to include concrete set footings on the side of the retaining wall that is carrying the load of the added soil. Fill in with soil and using your soil tamper to compact the soil to level.

Since there is space between the ground and the deck blocks, laying landscape fabric over the dirt will help to prevent weed growth.

Place the required amount of deck blocks on top of the fabric to fit the surface area of the shed.

Adding a couple inches of gravel can also secure the prevention of weed growth once the deck blocks are placed.

For extra strength on the frame using, evening space out deck blocks on the exterior using 4×4 wooden beams which can be secured using galvanized bolts, 1/2″ x 8” in size.

Similar to the deck block method above, lay out the lumber on top of the deck block that will be used as the foundation for the shed.

7. DIY or Call the Pros?

So here is the ultimate question, with all the information, methods and procedures listed in this article – what is the best option for you?

Are you wondering if you should…

Hire a land surveyor to precisely measure the slope of the land, as well as the slope for proper drainage to protect your new shed?

Hire a professional excavation contractor to remove the dirt and ensure accurate leveling?

Do you have a severely sloped yard that needs excavation services, hiring excavation equipment or a footing driller?

Every property is different and require a unique approach to accomplish the desired end goal.

Of course, the DIY method is cheaper without paying for the labor of workers, but there are risks involved and may be a headache or two if snafus are hit. And you must be accurate with measurements and feel confident in what you are doing.

Hiring an excavation contractor can eliminate stress since they handle the permitting and understand the required codes to abide by. They also know the ins and outs of the land, leveling, land grading and other requirements for a successful foundation for your shed.

There is much to consider here.

Consider the Professional Excavation Contractors

To ensure a job well done with a shed that will last, Specialty Grading is an excellent resource to consult.

They cover all necessary services to provide a shed install that you can trust:

  • Excavation and grading
  • Rock excavation services
  • Dirt and rock screening to reuse the soil for back fill
  • Vegetation clearing and removal
  • Footing services
  • Land grading services

For questions and more information on shed site prep, give us a call!

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