Excavating, Foundation & Waterproofing
The first on-site work happens fast. The surveyors set location stakes. The excavators dig the hole for the foundation, and the masonry crew lays the foundation.
The whole process may only take a week and the steps aren't that complex, but it's critical to be very sure that each is done correctly.
Surveying The Site
Once the bank loan is approved, surveyors can stake out the corners of the house. This is the first important step in construction because everything else is based on those survey stakes. They're especially important when you've got setbacks and easements to worry about.
In our case, we had to steer clear of the wetland in back and a drainage area along one side. The house also had to be back at least 30' from each property line.
CAUTION: Don't start any work -- even a survey -- until after your loan closes. Banks get touchy about that because it raises mortgage priority issues. That is, the subs who do any work may legally get their money before the bank would.
Once the survey is done, you can start removing trees that are in the way. Try to leave as many trees as possible, but still clear out enough for the driveway and the house itself. We hired a crew for this, but it's a job that you could probably tackle with a chainsaw and a pickup.
It's a lot of work, though, especially on a lot with many trees and could take several days to complete. Remember, that your time is worth something and it might be better spent managing another part of the project.
Our excavators broke ground, bulldozed the driveway, and dug out the foundation in one day; just what we budgeted.
There's always a few things to consider when excavation gets underway. Definitely keep an eye on the trees you've decided to save. Make sure the excavators don't dump any dirt or run their vehicles within the trees' driplines. There's a mass of roots underground there that shouldn't be disturbed.
See what's being done with the dug out dirt (fill). If it's just being dumped off to the side for backfilling and grading later on, there should be a place left open for concrete trucks to back in and pour the footings. A good excavator will do that without having to be told, but it's still something the contractor should double-check.
We wanted to use the fill to build a higher base for the driveway in a low area. A driveway requires a certain quality of base material underneath it. So if the soil coming out of the hole doesn't measure up, it has to be trucked out and a better material has to be trucked in.
That obviously costs more, but isn't known until digging starts. That's part of the excavator's specialty so hire someone you can lean on for that expertise. Just make sure they call you for approval if anything needs to be hauled in.
You can also have the excavator dig a sump hole in the middle of the foundation to collect rainwater. There you can run a sump pump to avoid a mud hole.
Foundation Footings & Walls
The masonry crew is responsible for positioning the foundation according to the plan. But once the excavators move through, the surveyor's corner stakes are long gone. So the masons go by metal off-set stakes that the surveyors set just beyond the digging area.
The masonry crew uses these stakes to measure back and reset the corners of the house according to the survey. So know where the stakes are and make sure they're not disturbed. If they do get bulldozed away, the surveyors may have to reset the corners and that can cost a couple hundred dollars.
The next day the foundation crew put up the forms for our footings and got them inspected. That's the first big inspection required by local code.
Building officials want to check things out before you pour any concrete to make sure the footings will be on solid ground. Our footings did have some roots near the surface in a spot so we dug those out to get the footings approved.
For the drainage system that protects the foundation, we ran drain tile across the footings at several points, embedded right in the concrete.
The day after the footings cure, the foundation crew can start pouring concrete or laying concrete block for the basement walls. Our crew moved pretty fast and had good weather so it only took about 3 1/2 days to finish.
After they were done the block was waterproofed, backfilled and capped. By doing that right away, there's much less threat of a heavy rain delaying the schedule.
Many people wonder what you have to do to get a dry basement. When you build a new house, talk to a company in your area that specializes in waterproofing foundations.
Typically, the first step is to spray the outside of the foundation with a rubberized asphalt sealer. Water can actually seep through concrete but the asphalt seals it up with a waterproof barrier.
Before the spray dries, the block is covered with R-10 insulating panels. The kind we used was made of fiber glass formed to channel water straight down along the surface. So moisture has very little chance of reaching the asphalt membrane.
The third step in the process is to run drain tiles around the outside of the footings to keep water from collecting at the bottom of the panels. The water is then diverted down into pea rock where it drains away.
Backfilling around the foundation is next. It usually takes just a couple hours of pushing the dug out soil back up against the foundation then packing it down.
We also needed to put in a culvert at the same time. But the crew had an equipment problem elsewhere and got a late start here, so we lost a day on the schedule.
There are actually a lot of things that can fall through the cracks. Building a house you can easily forget about things like the backyard deck footings.
We had ours dug in advance so they could be poured along with the concrete slabs. But keep those sort of things in mind to double up work and save time when possible.