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GBA Editor | Posted in Green Building Techniques on

I haven’t found a thing concerning best practice for excavation, and I wonder what I should expect of a bulldozer if I’m going to make an effort to build a house that is efficient, buildable, and respectful of resources.

The lots that attract my attention are pretty similar: under ½ ac, pretty much level, and covered with brush and younger trees (3-9 inch trunks crowded together). Mostly clay, some sand. I’ll need to clear a bunch of the organic stuff if I want to use solar panels. I’m looking to build on a slab (CZ 3A, see my sig), raised or monolithic.

Some of the trees will stay, and the harvested ones can be useful; also brush and the q-tip tree tops can be chipped for mulch – away from the house. This is zone 3A and in the VERY heavy termite zone. It’s not a good idea to let organic material decay in the soil near your house. And the lot won’t be large enough for me to bury the stumps, etc on the site.

Most small lots seem to build with big mounds of soil w/rubble at the back of the site which are then spread for landscaping. Not just ugly but also invasive.

I’m wondering if there’s an excavation/site prep process that’s less invasive. Of, If there’s an insecticide for soil treatment that is effective and that doesn’t have hazardous “consequences.” Or, If there’s a way to get rid of the stuff that can’t be used on a small lot w/o using a local landfill or burning. Especially, If you have experienced or prefer a “better way.”

Thanks for suggestions or links to things I must have missed.

Joe W

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  1. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    A good bulldozer operator shouldn't ruin the site. Ask around and find a good one. Be sure the operator follows the usual good-practice rules: save topsoil in a separate location from subsoil; don't damage marked trees; have a plan to prevent erosion.

    All that said, you don't have to use a bulldozer. When I was younger, I once dug a 6-foot deep cellar foundation, about 12 ft. by 18 ft., with a pick and shovel. Ah, to be young again.

  2. kevin_in_denver | | #2


    I think you are serious about hand digging. I am too: I think I can get a 20x20 monolithic slab dug in one day with 12 guys and 4 wheelbarrows, and one supervisor. That's green, and I think it will be cheaper that my other quotes, even if the guys are hung over.

  3. 5C8rvfuWev | | #3

    Thanks, Martin -- common sense in other words, huh? I think I still have some left around here.

    And yes, back in the day I once got all the beams and boards from an old barn I'd demolished hauled 1/2 mile to my build site by a field hockey team. I'd promised them hot dogs and beer and the $100 it would cost for new uniforms, lol. A LONG time ago. That was the summer I hauled the 3 layers of shingles from the two barns in a 1/2 ton pick up truck.

    This will be the last time and I keep fighting the urge to diy, especially with a shovel and pick in the Georgia summer.

    Any thoughts on what to do with the stumps ... my SO doesn't think they'd make good tables. Dang.


  4. jklingel | | #4

    In my experience operating a skid steer, and some cat work, even fairly well-paid people can not compete price-wise with a good machine operator. Not only will you need to clear the boreal detritus on top, but you will likely have to go deeper and back-fill with compacted gravel. Gas venting and drainage are two reasons. Can you stack the stumps and burn them in your area? What about a septic area? Foundation wall?

  5. gusfhb | | #5

    As Martin said a good operator will be able to do most anything you want. Find someone you can talk to about you concerns. Define exactly what you want done and why. If you get the "Wull sir this is th' way I do it, you jus step on outta th' way' find someone else.
    Frequently they are just trying to save you money, and again a good contractor, once he realizes the last nickel is not the ultimate, can do what you wish. They may not always be happy about it....

  6. 5C8rvfuWev | | #6

    John, I agree that a a good operator is important. I wonder if there are procedures you have used that would be more benign than the "usual." To answer you: no burning allowed -- perhaps stumpage can be ground, but then what on a 1/2 acre? Utilities are public so trenching ... but that's not so much a problem as are the termite-appetizers in the backfill. Foundation: as I said, I hope to build a monolithic slab (pending the local code permission to use insulation on its exterior); if I can't insulate it effectively, I'll go with a raised slab on a stem wall & footers

    Keith, I agree with you and Martin. I'm hopeful someone here wil have experience with a strategy that will direct me to alternatives to the standard. I'm not aware of anything more than just scraping earth into piles then moving it back .... I'm gathering that there really is no option but to make a mess and haul the rubbish to a landfill.

    If y'all have a suggestion to reduce the mess or what goes to the landfill ... thanks in advance.

    Regards, Joe

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