sloping land - can it be made level?

cefosterAugust 22, 2009

Good morning everyone!

I have already tried to research this and did find a post about sloping land but it did not really answer my question. We are looking at a gentle sloping piece of land (slope - low end in front and moves higher to back). I would love the house sit flat.....can we make the whole 3/4 of an acre flat? We have designed a small cottage home and do not want it sitting up high but level or just on it's crawlspace. Any help, I will be so appreciative. Land is so hard to find within the city so I love the location of this piece. I know we should have found land first and then designed the house plans...but I did things backwards - again LOL!! Take care my Friends!!

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3/4 of an acre can be flattened for a building pad. It is done all the time in commercial building. It is a matter of soils, rocks, rules, and money. You will have to rely on local sources familiar with the property and regulations in that area to guide you on how much money. It could be a relatively small amount, or it could be a lot. If the property is treed, it will be more.

Start by getting recommendations for a reliable local excavator. The excavator can give you a rough idea of costs. Actual costs will depend on what is underneath the topsoil. You should also talk to your local building department. They can advise you on the rules and regulations, including which agencies you might not know about who could have an interest in or jurisdiction over your property.

You might also rethink your wishes to have an absolutely flat building site. Flat sites don't drain well and may require extensive water diversion efforts. Sloped sites drain naturally. You generally also get a better view.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2009 at 8:50AM
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I live in Atlanta, which is very hilly. Many of the lots I looked at either have a slope in front (sometimes very steep), and flatten out in back, or are flat in front, but then slope off in the back. It has been interesting to see how the original homes on the lot dealt with things in the 50s-70s - they tended to build the house according to the natural topography, and for the lots that sloped in the back, they would have decks or terraces.

I also saw how builders are handling this now. Some people live with the natural topography, and have a nice terrace or deck off the back, which enables them to have a full daylight basement. Others will have lots of retaining walls to even out the backyard. Others will have half of the back with a retaining wall, giving you a walk out backyard off part of the house, and then the basement is also walkout on the other half. I saw a few new homes with retaining walls all across the back and side - which in effect made the lot flat and walk out along the back (they kept some of the slope on the side so a part of their basement could have daylight). I think you need to have very good, experienced people working for you - especially the builder - when you are taking this on - the retaining walls must be designed and installed correctly, and there must be proper drainage planned.

I also saw a 4 year old house built on a tricky sloped lot, and clearly they did not do the best job with the drainage and retaining walls = the house had 'weeping' in the foundation, and they were installing french drains in the back as a way to try to get things to drain better.

Bottom line, although I am far from an expert, I get the impression that it can be done. Retaining walls cost a lot of money when properly done, though. One lot I looked at needed so much grading and site work - it seemed like a bargain price, but my builder and architect estimated that it needed about 200k worth of grading. They told me to think of the lot price as the selling price plus 200k.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2009 at 10:08AM
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THank you both for taking time to hep me. I just don't want the front of the house sitting up high...the back I don't mind as much. We aren't planning a basement as of right now. I really appreciate your input. Take care!!

    Bookmark   August 22, 2009 at 11:31AM
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Just have the builder level off the actual house site, instead of having a variable height crawl space. It's routine stuff. If you are building on a slab, it will have to be level.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2009 at 11:39AM
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Before making a decision, you may want to check out Russell Versaci's website. His portfolio features a home with what could be a front walkout basement. The lot slopes, as yours, to the front. Instead of a solid brick wall dominating the front elevation as in your 'what I don't want' post, his design features a nice arched front porch. The overall design is beautiful.
Even if it's not the solution you're looking for, you'll enjoy his website. I love his work.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2009 at 12:08PM
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I confused your post with one by mgabriel. He/she has a similar situation.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2009 at 12:23PM
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Yes, on several of the lots we were looking at, the builder suggested leveling off the lot by 5-6 feet so that the retaining will wouldn't be so massive in the back, and also the even out the approach from the street.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2009 at 1:22PM
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You all are the best!! Taking time on your Saturday to help others out is so very nice. Ok...I feel better about the land now and it really is a tiny slice of heaven in an area that has so many subdivisions. Not that I have anything against subdivisions, but we wanted to build something a little different and in most subdiv. around here, every thing looks os cookie cutter'ish. Again, I feel better having a little more knowledge. Take care!!

    Bookmark   August 22, 2009 at 2:35PM
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emmachas - Do you have a link for Russell Versaci's website? I can't seem to find it. Thanks.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2009 at 9:38AM
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I just googled Russell Versaci's name and it came up with a whole bunch of sites that had some of his plans on them. I hope this helps. Take care!!

    Bookmark   August 23, 2009 at 10:05AM
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Colleen, the website is The first design featured on his home page was the one I had in mind. Once you click on the design, the print arrows will provide other views of the home.
We have a similar situation, in reverse. Our lot falls from the street to a lake at the back of the property. The landscape architect and engineer we consulted both suggest creating 2 terraces to bring the grade at the front of the house slightly above street grade. I'm still exploring all possibilities.
Your lot sounds beautiful---well worth the extra effort!
Keep us posted as you progress.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2009 at 1:30PM
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I'm on about 2/3rds of an acre that slopes down in front and also left to right. The land the house itself sits on was leveled, but other than that, much of the natural contour of the land was preserved. There's about a 4-5' rise from street level up to the house.

I don't know how severe your slope is, but leveling an entire 3/4" of an acre sounds kinda severe. Some slope and natural contour can add a lot of beauty to a home, and as mentioned I love the drainage. Personally I think my landscaping looks much better than if the lot were completely flat. Let me know if you'd like to see a few pics.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2009 at 10:02AM
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I would absolutely love to see some pics if you don't mind - that would be wonderful. My email is under my name info. I surely appreicate it!!
Thank you so much!!!

    Bookmark   August 24, 2009 at 9:51PM
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Enough money can level a couple of acres, but for most people, it adds a LOT of money to the build. Fill dirt is expensive, and if improperly compacted (and where I am, I see this a LOT) it can create structural problems down the road--sooner rather than later. It also changes the rain runoff patterns of your lot, and in many municipalities, you will have to file an impact statement and make sure that the runoff stays on your property. It cannot adversely impact your neighbor who didn't raise his lot if you raise yours. You will have to have engineers sign off not only on the actual fill but the water management plan as well.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2009 at 11:27PM
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Here's a pic of the front. You can see the house sits higher than the street, and the land also slopes to the right. Now try to visualize this photo with everything flat - no stone retaining walls, no stairs going up on the paver walkway, etc. To me that would be much less visually interesting.

Here's a photo of the back, where the land was leveled quite a bit but some slope still exists. You can see the step up from the eating area up to the pool, then another step up to the gazebo. The steps and change in elevation again add a lot of visual interest imho. The grassy area is pretty flat though, to give the kids a place to run around and play.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2009 at 2:17AM
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I think that leveling the land will be expensive. Moving around dirt, or in my case blasting rock was like huge money. Almost 10% of the cost of the house. That is before you build anything.

My recomendation is therefore to look at other alternatives first. They will almost certianly be cheaper. A good architect can be useful here. Hire one on a fixed fee basis for let say two hours work. One hour on site with you, and one hour to draw a few sketches for ideas. Figure on about $US 100 to $US 150 per hour. That way you get some professional advice about the alternatives.

Warmest regards, Mike.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2009 at 6:49AM
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