New House Building: Money Saving, Convenience and Healthy House Tips
Land Options for Your New Home Undeveloped Land, Individual Lots, Subdivisions, and Landfills
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This month's newsletter is focused on the issues associated with building on undisturbed or undeveloped land, or in some cases on land fill sites. There are important issues and considerations for new home owners since the impact of gas and other contaminants from land fill sites can seriously effect property values and in extreme cases your health.
It is not recommended that you build on a landfill site. However, in more urbanized areas, where there is a shortage of land, this is becoming more common place. How do you know if you are building on a landfill?? Home Building Guide customers can purchase an optional product with their order, called the Property and Neighborhood Demographics Report that that can assist with this information. Here is a link to a sample report.
The House Building Guide also has an excellent Lot/Land Buying Checklist. This This 61 point checklist will assist you in organizing your thoughts and ensuring that you consider all important aspects when shopping for a lot or land.
As usual with all of our newsletters we will provide useful links for our readers to find out more detailed information about each of these subjects throughout our article.
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Building on Undeveloped Land
Developing undeveloped land can be more challenging that many people might first imagine. The vast majority of new home owners will purchase a house from a developer who has already developed the land so that it is ready for a home to be built either on spec or based on a purchase by a customer. What many people fail to realize is that the following has already been taken care of:
- Zoning approval to build residential homes on the land by local government
- Environmental approval may be required in some cases
- Special construction if needed to deal with any environmental issues
- Streets have been laid out complete with curbs, sidewalks etc
- Utility design has been completed
- Sewer, water, hydro, gas, telephone, cable utilities have all been installed
- All inspections of above as well as your home are taken care of
The above list can seem a bit daunting, however if you have an undeveloped lot or piece of land, all of these items must be considered prior to actually proceeding with building your new home.
The situation can be quite different depending on whether you are building a single home in the country on a single lot or are developing a larger piece of land that will have several homes eventually built on the property. We will cover this subject in a bit more detail in the next section.
Home owners contemplating building a new home on an undeveloped piece of land must take into consideration that there are also no services nearby in many situations. For example, there may or may not be electrical lines on the road running past your home. If not you will have to contact the local electricity company to make arrangements for electrical lines to be installed along the road to your property and a line brought into your home. Many utilities have rules about how far they will install new lines without passing some or all of the cost onto the customer. Telephone companies for example will usually go the first quarter mile. Anything over that and they are looking to pass these costs on to the customer for laying lines to the property.
Water and sewer present special situations for anyone developing a piece of property that is not developed and is not close to existing water and sewer services. In these situation you may have to get permission to drill a well for water, the water will need to be tested to ensure that there are no foreign chemicals in the water that could be dangerous to your health. You may recall from the previous section why it is so important to protect landfill sites from leaching into ground water systems to avoid contaminating the local water supply.
If there is no sewer installation nearby, new home owners on undeveloped land must install a holding tank which must be emptied on a regular basis or install a septic system if their property is large enough and has the proper soil conditions. The septic system must also take into account the location of the well to avoid any possibility of contamination.
Undeveloped land can be a source of satisfaction and pride as well as privacy once you home built, however there is a cost to completing the development as outlined above.
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Single Lot vs. A Home in a Small Rural Subdivision
Many people are looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. They are opting for a more rural setting which may mean a single lot somewhere on a country road or a small rural subdivision that has been developed by a local entrepreneur. The issues we discussed in the previous sections all apply and we cannot stress enough to the home owner that they need to confirm that all of these issues are being dealt with by the developer or the general contractor you have hired for the job.
One more element that should be considered in these situations is financing and cash flow. Whether you are the developer of your single lot or you are paying someone to do it for you, cash flow becomes more important than ever as does overall financing. Seeking zoning approvals, design approvals etc, requires time, commitment and money. Both you and your general contractor or the small local developer must have sufficient cash flow and financing in place to ensure that there are no delays. In addition the new home owner must also ensure that there is sufficient legal protection for them should there be some sort of problem during the overall process.
Compared to purchasing a home from a large builder in a large subdivision, were you provide a down payment to purchase the home and then make the final payment to the builder upon completion and title transfer, single lot development can be much more complex from a financial perspective.
Your legal team that handles any zoning changes, architects that design the home and arrange for utilities etc, your contractors who will build the home all will want to be paid as they complete their portion of the job. Ensuring that you have sufficient cash available in the form of loans or mortgages when needed, will enable your new home to be built on schedule.
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Precautions and Building on Landfill sites, Contaminated Sites
With land becoming more scarce in many urban communities and those same urban communities continuing to expand into areas that were previously considered rural or undeveloped, developing old landfill sites for home developments and business parks is becoming more economic. The keyword is economic in this sentence and the second most important element is the health of the population that will live in these areas.
In addition to the normal expense that anyone who is developing land must consider, such as sewer, water, electrical, telephone, TV and other utilities, developers must take special precautions when developing areas that were previously used as landfill sites. There are several alternatives:
- Excavate the landfill material
- Build on top of the landfill with cement slab structures
- Sink pilings down to the supporting bedrock or a sufficient level to provide support
There are specific considerations for each of these alternatives that builders and home owners must be aware of for each scenario.
Excavate the Landfill Material
This approach is really the best alternative in terms of avoiding future problems with methane gas and potential sinking of foundations. Unfortunately it is only really practical for relative shallow landfill sites. There must be a location that is willing to accept the debris that is removed from the landfill and of course you must obtain permission to remove as well as dump the material in a foreign site. Once removed, the void must be filled with appropriate material and then development can proceed. Cost estimates for this approach must be developed and factored into the overall cost of your project.
Build on Top of the Landfill Site with Cement Slab Structures
This approach involves laying a cement slab, which the house is then built on. The assumption is that the landfill is too deep to excavate and that sufficient cover is in place to prevent gas from exiting the landfill. However, home owners are encouraged to ensure that the proper precautions are taken to prevent the entry of methane gas into the home. All utility entries must be sealed that enter the house, especially through the cement slab. Other potential considerations are trenches around the home to collect any potential gas and properly dissipate the gas into the air. Cement slab solutions should only be considered when the probability of settling is relatively low. Settling can cause cracks even in re-enforced cement slabs providing an entry point for both gas and contaminated water seepage.
Sink Pilings to Support the Foundation
If the potential for settling is high, builders must consider setting supporting pilings into the landfill down to a level that will provide appropriate support for the building. In addition the builder or home owner must also add gas dissipation mechanisms around the foundation or under the cement slab depending on which approach is being used. In addition care must be taken to ensure that all open entries for utilities are also sealed to prevent the entry of methane gas.
Many of these steps may sound significant or high risk for readers. When you consider that you are investing your life savings into a home that could settle which could potentially cause cracks in the foundation allowing the entry of methane gas into the home, these steps are well worth the effort. The extra cost involved in these approaches must be compared to the cost of building in another location.
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Understanding Land Fill sites
We felt that it is important for our readers to gain an appreciation of land fill sites, how they are supposed to be constructed and managed. It is important to remember that rules and regulations for land fill sites today are much more stringent than they were even 10 years ago, let alone 30 years in the past.
The objective of most land fill sites today is to ensure that the materials found in a land fill site are isolated from the ground water and gas generated by the landfill material is controlled and prevented from migrating to nearby homes or developments. Usually there is a clay liner, a rubber liner and several layers of additional material to prevent leeching of contaminated rainwater into the surrounding groundwater. There are often drainage ponds that collect any contaminated fluid, which can then be dealt with in the proper manner and gas recycling collection to manage the collection of methane gas that can be generated by the landfill site. In some cases the methane is used for power generation.
A landfill can be in use for many years with successive layers of trash compacted quite tightly. Landfill sites that have been closed for over 30 years must be monitored and residents must realize that the standards applied today were not in place 30 years ago. Excavations at old landfill sites have revealed newspapers that are still readable due to the lack of oxygen inside the landfill and lack of moisture as well.
Properly developed, maintained and controlled, landfill sites can be managed successfully with little or no runoff into adjacent streams or leeching into underground water systems. In addition methane collected and dispersed either into the air or collected for power generation purposes can also be managed successfully.
One of the dangers as previously alluded to, is the impact on adjacent water systems and the ability of gas to travel underground through cracks and fissures for a significant distance. Methane gas can be explosive under certain conditions and tends to collect in pockets under homes and even in basements. Explosions are not uncommon in these situations.
There are several approaches to managing or avoiding problems caused by adjacent landfill sites that the home owner and builder can consider. We will discuss these in the next section, however the most practical step for most people is to do your investigation and ensure that you do not build a home or purchase that is adjacent to or built on an old landfill site.
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Summary and Other Considerations
In this newsletter we have covered many complex topics. Understanding how landfill sites are designed and supposed to work, the possible impacts of building on or near a landfill site and the precautions that should be taken have been covered.
Readers are encouraged to investigate in much more detail if they are planning to purchase or build a home on or near a landfill site to fully understand some of the dangers as well as the steps that must be taken. One of the first steps is to properly investigate if there was a landfill in your area, 30 years ago or even longer. Old landfills may be forgotten, however the material remains for many years.
Although this newsletter has dealt with landfills and undeveloped land, there is one other area that consumers should be aware of. Land that is now available, perhaps has been vacant for many years, may have had a former business operating on the land in the past. The business has since been torn down and removed, however there still can be contaminants lurking in the soil from old manufacturing processes etc. A title search of the property will help you determine the land use in the past and whether further investigation is warranted.
Undeveloped land presents special challenges however the rewards can be significant. Beautiful sunsets, privacy etc are just a few of the advantages. Planning for your utilities and making arrangements for zoning changes must be considered before proceeding.
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