Land Leveling and Grading

Do you plan to build a new home? Find out why you need to level and grade the land as part of the construction process to prevent later problems.

If you plan to construct a new home on a piece of property you own, there are many decisions to make. For example, you need to choose the architectural design of the home, select siding types, and pick paint colors. However, none of that matters unless the land is properly prepared for construction. Improper preparation can lead to problems with the structural integrity of your home later. It may also adversely impact the properties of surrounding neighbors.

One of the most important aspects of preparing a residential home construction site is making sure the land is ready for building to begin. That involves a process of grading and leveling. Grading and leveling are both essential for long-lasting homes. A properly certified construction company already knows the importance of grading and leveling. However, as the owner of the new home, you also need to understand those processes. Knowing how they are done and why they are important before breaking ground can help you make sure the job is done properly.

What is Land Leveling?

Land leveling is a process used in residential construction, as well as agriculture. Farmers must frequently level their fields for more uniform planting. Doing so reduces such issues as over or under watering and difficulty performing maintenance procedures. In residential construction, land leveling is most often used to create flat, functional lawns. Leveling lawns usually entails making the land look level and flat. However, it often still slopes a visually imperceptible amount.

What is Land Grading?

Like land leveling, land grading involves rearranging the dirt on a property to create a desired effect. The difference is land grading is not designed to make land level or close to level. Instead, its purpose is to create a specific type of slope. That slope is created using the foundation of a home or other structure as its high point. Grading is also applied in commercial construction and road construction and maintenance. In the latter case, the center of the road is used as the high point, rather than a structure.

Why is Land Leveling or Grading Important? 

Grading on a residential lot has one primary function, which is to control water flow. When a lot is not properly graded, it creates what is known as negative flow. Negative flow means any water flows towards the house instead of away from it. That could include rainwater or water from other sources, such as garden hoses or sprinkler systems used near the home. Negative flow can lead to several problems, including:

  • Foundation Cracking

  • Water Pooling

  • Siding Saturation

  • Basement Leaks

  • Internal or External Hazardous Mold Growth

Land leveling is similarly used to control water. It prevents indentations in lawns from collecting large water pools. Leveling the land is also a way to reduce safety risks. Lumpy lawns present tripping hazards, particularly for children and the elderly. A level lawn is also much easier to mow than a lumpy lawn. Soil erosion prevention and even grass growth are also benefits of land leveling.

When Do You Need to Get Land Leveled or Graded?

It is important to level and grade your land before construction of your new home begins. You may also need to readdress leveling and grading issues in the future. For example, over time areas of heavy foot traffic may create portions of lawn that are not level. Heavy rains can also sometimes erode soil. Other reasons to level or grade land again after initial construction include:

  • Doing New Landscaping

  • Putting an Addition on the Home

  • Adding a New Driveway or Walkway

  • Adding a Patio

  • Correcting Any Noticeable Erosion or Water Pooling Issues as Time Passes

Do You Need to Hire Professionals to Level Your Land?

You may wonder if you need professionals to level or grade your land. Prior to initial construction, the answer is yes. It is important to have professionals assess the land and determine the best slopes and angles to protect your new home, as well as the properties of your neighbors. Once the home is constructed, there are times when you can take on small lawn leveling projects yourself. You usually only need professional assistance if the slope you are trying to level is graded at more than two feet. However, grading projects done to protect the foundation always require professional intervention.

How Much Does Land Leveling Cost?

Every company across the United States charges different amounts for land leveling and grading services. The national average for grading is approximately $5 to $10 per square foot. Each project also presents different challenges that can increase costs. For example, some areas require more permits than others for land grading and leveling projects. Certain properties also require more soil removal or new soil brought in than others.

Another issue that can increase land leveling costs is the nature of the land. For example, you may want to create a flat lawn in an area currently full of trees. If so, you must also pay land clearing costs. Land clearing costs range from approximately $1,000 to $6,000 per acre cleared in the United States. On the other hand, leveling a small area that is already prepared for the process, such as a patio area, may cost as little as $500. In some cases, small leveling projects can cost even less.

How Can You Find Land Leveling and Grading Regulations and Inspectors in Your Area?

Each U.S. state has certain requirements for home construction, remodeling, and landscaping projects. Often, grading, or leveling permits are required. The names of the local agencies that handle such permits and inspections vary. Contact the Department of Construction and Inspections or equivalent department to get started. If you cannot locate such a department, contact your local City Hall for instructions. 

The same agency that issues local grading and leveling permits usually also inspects the finished projects. Inspection is necessary to make sure all permit standards are met before the city or town accepts the project as legally completed. Speak to your local agency to schedule the required inspections after such work is completed on your property. Additional construction or landscaping is only allowed after final inspections are done.