The grade of a property, which is the term used to describe its foundation and soil elevations, can have a functional impact or an aesthetic appeal (or lack of appeal). Functionally, grade is important in terms of drainage—if the slope of a land brings runoff water straight toward a structure, it can result in flooding, rot, mold, and other unfortunate side effects of sitting water. Aesthetically, a property’s grade can impact landscaping options, or even your ability to do install something like a hot tub or fire pit.
Grading or re-sloping land can be a big endeavor, but it can easily tackled by a professional. Oftentimes, a small change in the degree of a property’s slope can have a big impact on its ability to properly drain or support your aesthetic requirements.
Establishing a Plan
A grade is only as good as the plan that went into it, which is why it is strongly recommended (and often legally required) that an experienced professional devise any grading plan. As with all excavation projects, it’s not as simple as just moving some dirt around. For that reason, only civil engineers and landscape architects can be licensed to create grading plans.
There are many elements of a grading plan, all of which have a purpose in moving water away from building foundations and towards drainage mechanisms. One element is slopes, which need to be created at an angle that is not too gradual and not too steep to avoid stagnant water and erosion, respectively. Another tool used is a swale, which is an elongated depression that guides water into desired areas. Swales can be straight and simple or curvy and decorated with features like rocks or foliage. Drains are third feature that come to play in grading plans, and can also come in different sizes and styles.
All of these elements are annotated into a grading plan via drawings and symbols, with contour lines playing a big role. Contour lines may be familiar to you if you’ve done a lot of map reading or are otherwise familiar in topographical drawings. If not, you may find the many circles a bit confusing. In short, the lines represent a certain distance, often 1-ft or 5-ft increments. The closer the lines are, the steeper the gradient between that increment. If the lines are further apart, the slope of that area is more gradual.
They key here is that developing a grading plan is complicated, and a trained, experienced, licensed professional will know which elements to place in which topographical areas to ensure that a property is graded to meet local codes and the owner’s desired requirements.
Executing the Plan
It may not sound like it, but the hard part is done. If a quality grading plan is established, all that is left is for the excavation and landscaping team to strictly adhere to it in the execution. As with any excavation process, it needs to include careful measurements, rough grades to get close, and ultimately the final grade that is precise and carefully compacted.
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