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www.greenbuildermag.com 03.2012


Too often, builders and developers approach a site like this. Excessive clearing of plant life and trees, compaction of soils and random stacking of materials do long-term damage to soils. By the time they rollout the turf (below) they may be carpeting a collapsed ecosystem.


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THE RIGHT WAY TO PREPARE A BUILDING SITE


One way to protect soils is to disturb them as little as possible. As a simple rule, we should be mak- ing the most of natural assets, including not only trees but subterranean life in the form of bacteria, nematodes and fungi. A few basic rules of thumb:


1. Preserve and Protect Every Tree Often, developers spare one or two trees on a lot simply to improve the asking price of a new home. But damage to the root system can cause the tree to begin to die almost immediately. Trees need lots of space, healthy soil and co-dependent species in order to survive. Leave them alone. Don’t grade soil around them or stack materials on their roots.


2. Use Movable, Pervious Pavers Many types of interlocking, pervious pavers are now available. These not only keep more runoff out of sewers, they don’t suffocate soils.


3. Minimize Utility Access Damage Too often, easements for utility access are far wider than necessary. These should be made as narrow as possible, no more than 35 ft. at their widest, no longer than 1,000 linear feet, following the topography instead of hacking through it, with the lightest possible vehicles used for maintenance.


4. Plan Staging Carefully Limit where heavy vehicles can enter any construction site. Use re-usable construction fences around not only trees but also areas of healthy topsoil—to keep vehicles from unnecessarily compacting the whole site.


5. Listen to the Weeds Rather than throw chemicals at a site trying to control weeds, identify which weeds are thriving prior to any excavation. Then refer to “Weeds and Why they Grow,” a classic guide by Jay McCaman. You’ll get a free and quite accurate picture of the real qualities of the soil you’re dealing with.


Sources: Derived from “Sustainable Landscape Construction,” an excellent resource by J. William Thompson and Kim Sorvig


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