Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Lay of the Land: Eyeballs and Laser Levels

Driveway taking shape. (All photos by author.)

After what seems liked interminable delays, the “barn/workshop” is underway. The order (which has been in development and refined over the course of 9 months) has been finalized with the building supply company in West Lebanon. We returned from New Jersey on Monday to be pleasantly surprised that Bob had poured the concrete for the footings and has begun making the forms for the frost walls (which are quite substantial given the winter). The electric company has us on the schedule for a site visit Thursday to determine the scope of the work, bringing electricity up the driveway to the barn first and then later to the house. Kevin the electrician stands ready. Richie is on deck to do the framing and other onsite construction. This celebration of moving forward, however, was not without some surprises.

D checking out footings.
Without benefit of a logger (the one who did a good job on initial clearing has been too busy for a second go around), Dave, our excavator (with our blessing) took matters into his own hands and started bulldozing trees a week ago. Enough waiting, already, he said. His job was to clear enough land to reposition the barn in a way that allows for a simple slab on flat ground without any drainage issues. As we have quickly come to understand, flat and central New Hampshire usually are not uttered in the same sentence.

Some time ago we had roughly determined the home/barn site. We had a surveyor create a topographic map with a 2-foot lines of elevation. After the initial clearing and excavation, the laser leveler told us that the slope was a little different than what we originally expected. The ground slope is perfect front to back (8 feet) for a walkout basement but also slopes considerably on the one side creating a not insurmountable access challenge for the entry door. This surprise is also an opportunity, however. The more aggressive slope means a more dramatic solution; perhaps a combination of graded path and a few more steps to the door, as well as a retaining wall using rocks sourced from the excavation. And, it also means there can be a different step-down in the foundation on the side and a window in the basement that hadn’t been possible before.

Concrete crew at work.

On our recent trip back to New Jersey we couldn’t help but note the overall flatness of the land east of Princeton—they don’t call a nearby town Plainsboro for nothing—and how relatively easy it would be to position 20 houses in a development. We also recalled the great expense D incurred when he had to hire a civil engineering firm to survey for a small addition—in order to meet Draconian local building codes. In New Hampshire, we could have hired a firm to survey the site down to 1-foot elevations, albeit at great expense. Instead, we chose to eyeball it—with the help of Dave’s expertise and 30 years of experience on a bulldozer—and deal creatively with our discoveries.

Log cutter (above and below). A behemoth of a machine.
P.S. Just as I complete writing this blog, word comes that logger Steve is setting up onsite with his skidder and log cutter, ready to continue the clearing. So we will have a full house on the mountain—logger, excavator, utility company representative, concrete truck, and various workers plus Doug and me (and the bears and moose). 


  1. All this specialized equipment. Boys and their Big Toys!

  2. Yes, and up here it seems as if they are as big as the mountains.