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Guide to Clearing Land: Costs & Options to Consider

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Created on Sunday, September 01, 2019
Updated on Sunday, September 01, 2019
by Land Century

Whether a property owner wants to clear some land to build a home, add aesthetic value, or reduce tree disease spread, clearing land is a necessary yet labor-intensive process. Below is a debriefing on what to expect when clearing land and how to properly clear land. 

Solo Land Clearing: Costs

Solo clearing may be the most cost-effective if the property owner plans to clear only a few acres. Land sparsely populated with trees or other standing features like rocks might also find this approach useful. 

Typically, a property owner could buy a chainsaw cheaply at a hardware store such as Home Depot or Lowe’s. These companies also provide rental pro-grade earthmoving equipment like backhoes, skid steers, and trenchers. The cost of acquiring these will vary depending on location and equipment availability, but it could mean forgoing more expensive contractors. 

The Cost of Labor

This subject will be most subjective at all. A property owner in a healthy, agile condition can clear land all by themselves with the right tools. With careful rest after the workday and steady progress, any amount of land can be cleared by one person. 

While brute labor might be in abundance, it also takes knowledge of proper tree felling techniques and the terrain to clear land. Working on an incline, near a river bed, or on loose soil could cause additional difficulties that a layperson might not be equipped to deal with. 

Further, clearing land by hand will take much longer than professionals could do with more precise equipment. While cheap, solo land clearing should not be done if property owners have a deadline in which they need to use the cleared land. 

Pros and Cons of Clearing Land Solo

Pro

  • Cheaper. 
  • Gives property owners more control in how the land should be cleared and what features they want to be retained. 
  • Accessible to anyone with the right tools (chainsaws, axes, loppers). 

Cons

  • Much more energy intensive, and could potentially lead to injuries. 
  • Takes much longer to clear the land; should only be done when the property owner isn’t working with a deadline. 
  • Requires the property owner has acquired permits or permission to clear their land, which might be difficult depending on the property owner’s location. 
  • Dangerous to do on rocky or otherwise difficult terrain. 

In general, a DIY land clearing would be the cheapest option for most able property owners. But if age, disability, or other circumstances prevent property owners from clearing their own land, they’ll have to enlist the services of professions. 

Hiring Contractors to Clear Land

While every contractor is different, contractors will have the knowledge, tools, and efficiency to clear land quickly and according to local regulations. However, hired contractor labor will cost more than a property owner clearing their land solo, and so some property owners may not be able to afford contractors. Still, contractors could clear land by a designated deadline and keep any features the property owner wants, such as certain trees or rocks. 

Property owners can check the general ballpark it would take to clear land depending on their area using this calculator from Home Advisor. Typically, land clearing should take around $1,000 to $4,000. 

Pros and Cons of Hiring Contractors

Pro

  • They will have more experience clearing land properly and will typically know local rules, regulations, and best practices for the task. 
  • Will have access to more powerful tools than the average person could buy or rent. 
  • Can handle clearing land on unfavorable terrain. 
  • Should be able to clear land by a designated deadline, and should thus be hired for quick land clearing needs. 

Cons

  • Expensive. 
  • Contractors might accidentally clear features the property owner sought to keep. 

General Process to Clearing Land

The circumstances surrounding the property owner’s terrain and location might change this process, but overall, these are the general rules both solo land clearers and contractors use to clear land. 

Check with the Local Government

Before picking up any tools, property owners have first to see if they need a permit to cut down trees. For example, Atlanta is seeking to reduce further deforestation of its landscape. Any Atlantan who wants to cut down a hardwood tree species that is a foot or more in diameter must first get a permit. While there may be regulations in place for tree felling, there will most likely be other ordinances for soil quality and erosion. Many states don’t require permits, but overconfidence is no defense if a property owner cuts clearing land against local regulations. Property owners should call their local city hall to understand how to go about clearing land fully. 

Once the property owner has acquired their permit or if they don’t require a permit where they live, they must then decide whether they want to clear the land by themselves, with a team, or by hiring a professional organization to do it. There are positives and negatives to each approach, depending on the property owner’s circumstances, which will be outlined briefly below. 

Set Limitations

Property owners should decide what their budget is and how long they want to clear land. Setting such limitations ensures they maintain progress within their means and do not overspend on land clearing or take too long to finish a project promptly. 

Setting limitations is essential for hired contractors in particular, as property owners and contractors will need to negotiate a price point with which the contractor works. The contractor will also need to know when the property owners need a final deadline for the land clearing, so the contractor knows how to organize daily, weekly, and monthly clearing goals. Open communication between the property owner and the contractor ensures both parties are aware of any hiccups in the process and that both are getting what they want from the land clearing. 

Mark What Must Stay or Remain Unchanged

Property owners who want to keep certain trees must do so before the land clearing process begins, especially if using contracted services. Marking what features must remain untouched with brightly colored rope or signage ensures nothing is accidentally removed. 

Destroy Existing Human-Made Structures

Old barns, sheds, and a house should be some of the first items felled during the clearing process. Wooden structures can be burned, composted, sold to a scrapwood organization, or recycled for later usage. More difficult structures, such as cement walls or gates, could be removed with sledgehammers or using an excavator. 

Get Rid of Standing Features

Standing features would include rocks, pieces of brick walls, trash, abandoned cars, and other objects that could impede the vegetation clearing process. Trash should be picked up and properly disposed of. Abandoned cars could be moved to junkyards, and large rocks or boulders should be dragged away with a backhoe. 

Remove Vegetation

Once human-made structures are off of the land, the next to be cleared should be trees and other plant material. Trees can be cut with axes or chainsaws, and their stumps pulled using a backhoe. Shrubs and saplings should be removed with loppers or chainsaws, depending on the size of the shrub. Herbaceous plants can be cut by hand, mowed down, or removed using a weed whacker. As with old wooden structures, vegetation can be composted, sold for scrap wood, or recycled. 

Smooth the Land

Stumps and boulders can leave holes in the ground, which could impede the construction process. Uneven land encumbers the movement of machinery or foot traffic and would make for unstable foundations if the property owner wishes to construct a building or use the land to farm. Fill in any divots or holes in the land with dirt, gravel, or sand. Both property owners and contractors should ensure they do not carry any soil out of the land clearing site, as it could go against local environmental laws. 

Use the Land

Once the land has been smoothed over, it will be ready to use for whatever the property owner wants. Any dirt patches can be paved over or planted with grass seeds. Farmers or gardeners should aerate the soil before they used for plant cultivation. 

Additional Tips for Clearing Land

  • Property owners should be sure to investigate the types of contractors in their area thoroughly. By understanding the type of terrain, budget, and time limits the contractor would work in, the contractor can give property owners estimates as to the cost of their services. Knowing the cost of each contractor lets property owners decide which contracted services work best for them, so they shouldn’t pick contractors arbitrarily.
  • In the event of rain, property owners could set up tents or silt fencing to rain and runoff from hindering the equipment. 
  • Land clearing can lead to soil erosion, so ensure there are places to collect rainwater. Don’t leave loose soil exposed. If possible, property owners should replant vegetation or trees to anchor in the soil. 

Conclusion

Clearing land is necessary for property owners to get the most out of their land. Whether a property owner using their own or hired labor, land clearing needs to be done with human and environmental safety in mind.



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