Clearing land is not a job for a beginner

Ask The Builder

December 09, 2007|By Tim Carter | Tim Carter,Tribune Media Services

I purchased some raw land to build a new home. It has lots of large trees and a few bushes, but I don't know where to start. Is clearing land something I should consider doing myself? What kind of equipment would I need? Are there regulations about land clearing that affect what I do?

I can think of lots of do-it-yourself projects, but I have to be honest: Land-clearing would be either at the bottom of the list or left off on purpose. It is hard work and typically involves lots of large, heavy equipment not usually operated by weekend warriors. I am not saying you can't do this, but I am saying it is a very large-scale project, even on a smaller building lot.

Land-clearing equipment runs the gamut from simple hand tools all the way up to enormous bulldozers. At the very least, you will need a powerful commercial-grade chain saw or two and all safety equipment that one uses with chain saws. If you have never operated a chain saw, you must obtain training. Felling trees is extremely dangerous.

There are all sorts of ways to do land-clearing, and if you ask five experts you will likely get five different answers. The method chosen often has lots to do with what happens to the trees and bushes that are being removed. Some land-clearing experts push down the entire tree, and then move it over to a place on the land where it can be processed. Others cut down the tree, leaving a stump that sticks out of the ground about three feet. The stump stub gives a bulldozer leverage to pop the stump out of the ground.

Before you do anything, you may want to see if you have any valuable timber on the land. You might be surprised to discover that the trees you intend to remove might have value to someone. Be sure to get multiple estimates from timber buyers. In some cases, they will actually come in and do the tree removal for you as part of the deal.

You need to check with your local government as well as regional and state officials. There may be scads of regulations regarding land-clearing, including but not limited to timber permits, silt fencing, tree ordinances, burning, composting, burying organic material, and so forth. Land-clearing is considered by many to be a harmful process, so it can be highly regulated in many areas.

You often can rent medium-sized equipment that can do a somewhat respectable job of clearing land. It can take hours or days for a beginner to learn how to extract the most efficiency from these powerful machines. If you decide to rent equipment like this, ask the tool rental company if they have a training facility where you can learn how to use the machines safely.

Expert home builder and remodeling contractor Tim Carter has 20 years of hands-on experience in the home industry. He is a licensed master plumber, master carpenter, master roof cutter and real estate broker. If you have a question, go to and click on "Ask Tim."

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