You may be more eager to see your first paver laid than the excavation machines pulling up to your property. However, the excavating phase of your landscape project is the actual kickoff; it’s the most promising confirmation that the beautiful new patio or pool deck you’ve been dreaming about is actually going to happen.
Before any excavation begins, your landscape contractor will give careful attention to any buried utility lines. After the permits are pulled, the contractor will ensure that subterranean gas and phone lines are properly marked out and/or staked, and that the contours of the project’s footprint are similarly defined.
Excavation will be the first major activity on site, and by its nature, it will likely be somewhat messy. At the same time, there will be precision involved to achieve the proper depth without disturbing the subsoil. Even if your project is quite small, it will more than likely require heavy machinery.
A Bit of a Mess, Lots of Precision
No two excavation jobs are exactly alike. The installation of a paver patio, driveway, or long retaining wall involves different degrees of upheaval, noise, and unforeseen challenges along the way. It’s wise to go over what to expect with your contractor before the digging begins.
As for the area of the land that will be affected, it will usually be fairly focused on the future location of your landscape features. However, proper excavation may extend 6 inches or more in every direction beyond the intended perimeter of your eventual structure, to accommodate additional lateral support or drainage elements.
Load, or the physical weight your structure is designed to handle, can require not just wider but deeper excavation as well. Typically, that’s to accommodate the thicker layers of base material that will offer support to the finished feature, working to prevent settling and drainage issues in the future.
The labor and equipment required will be dictated by the terrain and what is being excavated — whether that’s an existing concrete walkway, thick clay soil, or loose topsoil. Then there are the subterranean obstacles. Even after taking spot samples, there’s no way to know for sure what’s under the topsoil until the digging begins. Sometimes surprises occur. Digging a few inches into topsoil and clay is one matter; removing an old concrete walkway or patio is quite another. Just know that when surprises are uncovered, it’s not necessarily anyone’s fault, and it’s rarely cause for concern. Experienced contractors know to expect a few surprises along the way, and they’re prepared to address a variety of obstacles that occur during excavations.
Excavation Tailored to Your Project
Proper excavation is a crucial step. It needs to be done safely and efficiently so that all the subsequent steps will occur as planned. It requires specialized knowledge and expertise — the exact qualities that our carefully vetted Unilock Authorized Contractors possess. After all, it doesn’t matter whether a project is a new Victorian-style, cobbled driveway or an interstate highway, the ultimate stability of the structure relies on its foundation.
Load varies dramatically from a walkway to a driveway, or from a 2-foot sitting wall to a 12-foot retaining wall. While the crew might excavate to a depth of 8 inches for a walkway or patio, a driveway is likely to require at least 12 inches. Unilock provides contractors with the latest materials, proven techniques, and online tools for education and training to determine exact requirements based on load, terrain, and soil factors.
Retaining walls have requirements all their own. The depth required for a retaining wall is generally greater than a pathway — 8 to 12 inches is common, but a lot depends on the height and weight of the wall. Walls that are truly retaining in nature are frequently built with some setback, that is, each layer of wall stone is slightly offset horizontally from the layer below it, to create a face ever-so-slightly sloped away from the front, against the higher terrain. Because of that, the base trench is often well forward of the retained terrain to allow not only for setback, but for a good 12 to 18 inches of gravel backfill to facilitate drainage. A shorter retaining wall, or a sitting wall, may be installed without setback; such walls often require a maximum of 6 inches of bedding space. It’s worth noting that anything much taller than 3 or 4 feet may merit a more thorough design review by an engineer, and some municipalities have formal engineering requirements for walls as low as 2 feet.
Knowing What to Expect
The most delightful aspect of all the commotion of excavation is knowing that it doesn’t last. Soon, the crew will be layering in base and bedding materials and installing the beautiful Unilock pavers and wall systems you selected during the design stage, working to bring your vision to life.
Having trouble coming up with ideas? Find inspiration on our Project Ideas page.
Unilock offers durable, high-quality products that enable you to realize that vision — beautiful pavers and wall units in compelling designs, and sophisticated colors and textures you can’t find anywhere else. We also offer extensive resources to inspire, educate, and visualize your next hardscape project (you can visit our Outdoor Idea Center for real-world inspiration). A Unilock Authorized Contractor can take it to the next step, to put the look you envision into action with the kind of craftsmanship that’s built to last. We’ve been partnering with contractors for over 45 years to ensure they have access to the right materials and equipment for the job, every step of the way.