Land Developing Guide for a New Construction Home

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Buying a new piece of property to build your dream house on is an exciting time but also comes with a lot of stress about where to begin. In this guide we will take you from things to consider before buying land in Tennessee to the final stages of building your home from an excavation contractor’s point of view.

Things to Consider Before Buying Land

We often get contacted by people who are interested in buying land in Tennessee before they even close on the property. Every time we talk with these people, the first thing we ask is if the property has been percolation tested.

Steps to Develop Land for Your New Home

Step 1: As stated in the previous paragraph, perc testing is one of your top priorities once you obtain a property you wish to build on. We have worked with clients building in Williamson County that have taken over a year to find perc sites approved by the State/County and in most cases, the local authority will not allow certain work to start until you have obtained a perc test and septic permit.

Once the perc site is documented, you will receive information on how many bedrooms/bathrooms you can have on your new home build. This area will then need to be protected by installing a barrier (often silt fence is used) so that heavy traffic or construction equipment doesn’t run over the area and fail the site causing more percolation tests to be done.

Step 2: Along with the percolation test being done, you should also find out which companies offer utilities in that area. This includes electrical, water, gas, phone/internet and sewer (if you are not able to do septic). The utility companies will tell you their standard installation requirements and also tell you where you will need to “tap in” to get their services.

In most instances for electrical service in undeveloped areas, the utility company will have to install a “drop down” to an electrical pole which can then be trenched to installed conduit to your house. The electrical company will require a Right of Way which is an easement for them to run the service to your property. If a drop down is required, they will require you to clear 40’ of trees and shrubs from ground to sky. This means you will have to remove any trees in the right of way including any branches that may reach out within the 40’ easement.

Step 3: That brings us to our next point, land clearing. In most cases buying undeveloped land means that there are trees and overgrowth on the property that will need to be removed. A land clearing contractor is often the first one on site to get your property prepped for grading work.

Some things to consider when reaching out to a land clearing contractor are if you are going to offhaul, burn, chip, or save the trees. There are cost factors for each of these you will want to consider.

A benefit to offhaul the trees from your property is that you do not have to deal with any large trees after the work is complete. However, it is more expensive to offhaul trees than the other options.

Burning trees is a cost effective way to get rid of vegetation once it is down. However, we always tell clients that the burn piles are going to be pretty large. When you start taking out trees and brush, the piles begin to stack up exponentially which may be intimidating to some to burn. At Excavation Contractors LLC, we have staked burn piles for customers throughout their property, but will not light the fire due to liability issues.

If you want to burn the piles yourself, you must check with the local authority on when you can burn. In Tennessee we often see that you will need a burn permit if starting a fire after October. You will also need to keep an eye on the fire to ensure that everything has burned and make sure you do not start any unwanted fires anywhere else.

Chipping trees is another good option to help get rid of unwanted vegetation but is often performed hand-in-hand with offhauling, burning, or saving trees. This is because a skidsteer with a mulcher (often referred to as a forestry machine) can only chip up to about 12” diameter trees effectively. Chipping trees reduces the amount of trees needed to be offhauled and often saves money when paired with other options for larger trees. One thing to consider if you plan on chipping trees is that they are often only ground down to ground level, so the stump will remain underground.


No, we aren’t talking about a “kumbaya” moment here, we are going to take out the trees for your future home build. However, we have worked in the past with clients to save the trees to be milled into wood for the home build. In this case, we would take out larger trees and stack on site for a mobile miller to come out and “plane” the wood into usable lumber. This process will need to be planned out because you do not want wood to sit for long periods of time and start to get waterlogged.

Another option for saving trees is to contact a local logging company to come out and harvest your trees on site. While they won’t do all of the land clearing, it can help to offset costs.

The last thing to consider for land clearing is how much clearing you are going to do. For instance, in Williamson and Davidson counties, if you clear or disturb over an acre of trees, you will need to have an erosion control plan in place. An erosion control plan is a preventative measure to install materials on site to ensure your soil doesn’t wash away in a heavy rain. Check with your local municipality on requirements for this.

Step 4: While you are working on getting the land clearing done and septic approved, you will want to start reaching out to general contractors, engineers/architects, septic, and grading contractors. This is the phase where you will start closing in on how your house will look, location of the home, and other details to make your dream come true.

One of the most important things to consider in this phase (coming from an excavation contractor) is the location of your house. The location of your home will dictate how the access from the road is created, how far your utilities will run, and what will need to be done to the land before starting the actual construction of your home. The location of your home can have substantial cost impacts if not strategically placed.

During this phase, you will also be able to express to the builder or engineer about the type of home you would like to build. More specifically, we are interested in what type of foundation you will have. Most homes in Tennessee are foundations with block walls built up that allow for crawl spaces underneath, however, we do run across slabs and basements. If you want to build a basement in your house, a consideration to be aware of is there are a lot of subsurface rock and if encountered can be costly to chip or break up.

The last thing we recommend in this phase is to talk with an engineer to design a site plan. Often this step is overlooked when developing new properties, but is something we often recommend so that the scope of work for the grading contractor is clear and things like drainage on the property are addressed by an engineer.

Step 5: Now that you have your land cleared and a good idea of what type of house you are building, you can start developing your property. First, you will need to install a roadway to get to the work area. In most cases, this involves a grading contractor to cut in a roadway and place gravel so construction traffic can get to the house. Some things to consider in this phase include what type of rock you will put down and if drainage ditches or culverts will be needed.

Most of the time when installing a new roadway, you will need to install a culvert under your driveway to allow water to flow underneath and not wash it out. To learn more about culverts click here. You will need to check with the local municipality to determine what type of material and size culvert you need to install along with any permits that may apply. Drainage ditches are also recommended along the driveway to ensure that you don’t get erosion later on.

When determining what type of rock you will use for the road, there are a couple different options. At a minimum, a grading contractor will need to strip the vegetation and do some minor grading to fill any depressions or cut any big humps out. Then they will need to place at least 4” of crush and run (or crusher run) rock. Crusher run is an angular rock with fines (small particles like sand) that when compacted, makes a very hard surface. This type of rock can be used as a base to put down concrete or asphalt at a later time.

Another option of rock people in Tennessee typically use is 1”-3” rock. This rock does not contain fines and is good for heavily trafficked areas such as delivery trucks, concrete trucks, or heavy equipment. Some people elect to have the 1”-3” rock compacted with a roller, but some also just have it placed and let the trucks, cars, and heavy equipment compact it into place. Both options are acceptable ways to install a road, but if you don’t get the rock compacted, it is a little hard to walk or drive through until it does compact.

Step 6: Awesome, so you’ve got your property cleared and a roadway in, what’s next? Now comes the pad prep. You will need a contractor to level off an area for you to build your house. If you are going to be installing a basement, BE WARNED. Tennessee is known for rock in the ground and if encountered, the contractor will more than likely charge a daily rate to bust it up and dispose of it. They don’t call it Rocky Top for nothin’!

Step 7: After the septic has been installed, utilities ran, and pad leveled, the last step is to pour your foundations and “get out of the ground”. This is normally the part where the General Contractor will take over to frame and plumb the house.

But wait….there’s more. That’s right, we’re not through with you yet!

Step 8: After the house has been constructed to about 90%, we sometimes come back to the jobs we work on to do a final grading and site clean up. If you elect to have us back out, we will assess the site for what needs to be done outside to polish everything up. Over the duration of your project, multiple contractors will have been on your property and more than likely left debris, washed out concrete trucks, and messed up the gravel driveway. Yes, it is frustrating, but it happens on EVERY job. Lucky for us, we get to be one of the last people on your new home build to polish off the outside (people are excited for us to do the work so they can start enjoying their investment). The work often involved with a final clean up would be things like bringing in clean topsoil, seed and straw, installing any additional drainage needed, or touching up a gravel driveway.

Well, if you made it to this point I need to congratulate you, that was a ton of information on how to develop property in Tennessee. I hope you enjoyed the article and it helps you to avoid any headaches during a very stressful time.

If you would like a quote on your next project to develop a property, click the link and request a quote!

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