Starting from Scratch: Engineering for Residential Sites
We often get questions from homeowners or property investors about how they can begin the process of preparing a piece of land for a new construction project. Sometimes they have a building in mind and sometimes they are simply trying to figure what is feasible on a piece of property. The process of understanding how and what can be built on a property will almost always involved multiple consultants. Understanding the process, and which consultants to engage first, can help you move your project along more efficiently.
1. Feasibility Research
If a property owner does not know exactly what they want to build and are looking for general assistance with determining what to do with a piece of property, they can start with a pre-design feasibility study. This is typically prepared by a planner and involves reviewing available property records (provided by the owner or available online), reviewing zoning regulations and site features such as wetlands, streams and critical areas (typically through GIS and aerial mapping) and providing recommendations for types of uses and development intensity appropriate for the site. A conceptual site plan based on available online records may be prepared as part of this study. Recommendations on next steps, additional consultants, and permitting process can also be provided at this time.
2. Survey and Geotechnical Report
Once a property owner has an idea of what they want to build, the first step in understanding the opportunities and limitations of any property is to get a survey. A surveyor will measure the property using special tools and create a precise map of boundaries, easements, topography, and utilities. A title report can be helpful to provide to the surveyor so they can identify all easements and restrictions. The survey will be used by a planner or civil engineer to determine how a piece of land can be built upon, the size of building allowed, and where the building and access roads can go.
In addition to a survey, it is often necessary to engage a Geotechnical Engineer to complete soil testing on the property. A Geotechnical Engineer will take soil samples to determine if the earth can infiltrate stormwater and recommend a foundation system for the structure. The information provided in the geotechnical report will be crucial in the site planning and building design phases.
3. Civil Engineering
Once you have a survey and a geotechnical report it is time to engage a civil engineer and/or planner. Civil engineers and planners are experts in site preparation and planning. The civil engineer and planner will take information from the survey and geotechnical report and advise you on what type and size of structure is feasible on the property.
If you decide to move forward with a project, the civil engineer and planner will prepare a site plan that details grading, drainage and roadway design, lot layout and infrastructure. If the property has wetlands or other critical areas the civil engineer may advise you to engage additional consultants to provide recommendations for development. If the property has mature trees, an arborist may also need to be retained to provide recommendations for tree protection or removal. The civil engineer will prepare the necessary plans and reports for permitting and submit them to the jurisdiction.
4. Building Design
If you decide to proceed with building a new structure, building design can begin concurrent with the site design. Architects and structural engineers are engaged at this stage of the process. The architect will design the building to your aesthetic liking and to meet building and safety code requirements. The structural engineer can advise you and your architect on important details such as the type of foundation that is ideal for your site. Then, the structural engineer will prepare structural drawings suitable for permitting and construction. You can learn more about how a to take a building concept from an idea all the way to a set permitted construction drawings here.
At a minimum, you will usually have at two or three consultants engaged in the process of preparing a piece of property for a new construction project, but it can be up to six or more consultants if a property has multiple critical areas. The good news is that consultants from different specialties are used to working together as a team to create the best outcome for your property. CG Engineering frequently works with other land development consultants and can provide you with several recommendations on who you could work with. If you engage with the right consultants, you will be in good hands and in a position to better understand the building opportunities on your land and make the most of your property.
Contact an Engineer
If you have questions about your project, please contact us and one of our engineers will help you answer them.