Landscaping & Home Construction: Part I

If you’ve ever taken on a building project, you know there are many details to consider. As landscape professionals, we encourage you to add to your checklists these suggestions for reducing the impact home construction has on the land. We often see new homes with landscape challenges such as poor drainage, compacted soil, and unhealthy trees. Many of these conditions can be prevented by planning for the finished landscape before home construction starts. In the article, we will take a broad look at these topics. Check back next month for Part 2, where we describe specific tools for planning and working with your contractor.

Water Runs Downhill

Before breaking ground, it is important to know how the water moves on a site. Natural drainage patterns play a key factor in the location of your home’s footprint. Following construction, stormwater will still move downhill on your site, and with the addition of hard surfaces like roofs, driveways, walkways, and patios, stormwater will move much faster on its downhill route. Without preparation, this heavy stormwater flow will cause erosion rather than soaking in slowly to the soil. This increase in both the amount of water and its velocity is responsible for many drainage challenges, including protecting your home’s foundation from water damage. Structures necessary to manage these challenges such as ditches, swales, rain gardens, catch basins, or pipes require space on the site and often their locations are not negotiable. In addition, some of these features need to be installed before or during construction, so they may need careful thought at the same time you are planning a kitchen. In Part 2 of our article, we will share some steps that homeowners and contractors can take to develop a drainage plan early in a project.

Save the Trees

Existing vegetation on a site can be a valuable resource. Landscape professionals can identify existing plant material and help you make informed decisions about what to preserve. Construction often results in compaction of the soil surrounding the home site, which has the potential to damage existing vegetation and make it difficult to establish new plantings. Damage done during construction may not be visible until a tree starts to decline months or years later, seemingly “out of the blue”. We can help you and your builder come up with a plan to preserve desirable plants on site before the project begins. In our next article we’ll outline more specific strategies for accomplishing this.

The Final Product

Landscape plantings and hardscape features like paths and terraces are the final step in finishing a construction site, but there is benefit in planning them early. If you’re anticipating a need for a flat area, it may be a place to utilize soil excavated for your foundation. Planning ahead would save both the cost of hauling away material and the cost of bringing in fill soil. It’s also important to consider how you plan to manage the topsoil on the site. Topsoil is a valuable resource; it can take 100 years to form just one inch! It holds more water than subsoil, and is more hospitable to plants. In the next article, we’ll give you some strategies for preserving topsoil during construction.

Planning ahead is the key to a smooth transition from home construction to enjoying your finished outdoor spaces. Check in next month for more about coordinating construction with your landscape.

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