Green builders have an uneasy relationship with chainsaws and bulldozers. To some environmentalists, these noisy inventions conjure up images of ecosystem destruction and irresponsible land development.
However, just like a hammer or a level, a bulldozer is just a tool. It can be used for good or ill.
Bulldozers are extremely handy when you need to change the grade of a site. Grading matters, and novice builders who ignore grading will eventually be forced to pay attention to the topic.
How do hippies build a house? They look for a natural clearing in the woods, they put a few piers in the ground, and they build a house on top of the piers. (Although this sounds like a caricature of the hippie approach, it’s fairly true-to-life. I should point out that as an ex-hippie, I’m allowed to make hippie jokes.)
It doesn’t take long to realize the many disadvantages of leaving a natural grade around a building:
Although I have had plenty of experience hiring equipment operators and directing the work of backhoes and bulldozers, my own experiences with grading have humble roots. I have spent many years grading with a shovel, rake, and wheelbarrow. Using these simple tools, I have changed a steeply sloping hillside behind my house into a flat yard that is big enough for my sons and me to practice passing a football.
The shovel-rake-wheelbarrow triad limits how far one can go to obtain material to use for fill. It’s possible to make a back yard with the cut-and-fill method, but whenever you strip topsoil from one location, you have to be careful that you don’t bury the topsoil too deeply. The opposite problem — filling a depression in your lawn with subsoil — should also be avoided, although most types of subsoil…