Moving Dirt to Build a Home and Gravel Driveway

Reader Contribution by Jennifer Kongs
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The Small Home, Big Decisions series follows Jennifer and her husband, Tyler, as they build a self-reliant homestead on a piece of country property in northeastern Kansas. The series will delve into questions that arise during their building process and the decisions they make along the way. The posts are a work in progress, written as their home-building adventure unfolds.

So much excitement is happening on our property. I mean, I don’t even really like the idea of huge machines tearing into our soil and generally making a mess of the front portion of our property, but after working so hard on the “prebuilding” steps, we’re overjoyed to see the earth-movers in action. This post is a photo essay of sorts, documenting the physical progress on our property.

Tyler and our contractor, Jeff, measure and flag our house corners.

After the successful perc test at the site of our future septic system, we could go ahead and mark the site where we’ll build our house. We met our contractor, Jeff Wooster, at the property and spent about an hour flagging the necessary corners, based on our final building plans, for the crew that would come out to dig the spot for our foundation.

The soil profile that marks the edge of our house. Our basement will sit in this space, and will be a walkout on the other side.

Then, we waited. We were so torn between cursing the rain as it delayed the digging on our property and praising it as we planted seeds in our garden. Homesteader problems. But then, seemingly all of a sudden, the hole was there! Within  days the house site had been dug out, and we got to admire the layers of topsoil to clay to shale that would house our future home.

Our entrance is at the top of the photo, with the scraped path for the driveway leading up the hill to the space dug out for our foundation.

The driveway and entrance (middle and background of photo) required moving a ton of dirt. Probably more than a ton, both literally and figuratively. This part of the process is definitely one of the more expensive pieces, partly because of the location of our property and partly because of where we decided to put our home. We could have put the house much closer to the road and saved money on the dirt work and gravel, but we wanted to be off the road and behind the trees.

The crew (with the machines you see in the photo) scraped the path for our driveway so that the clay would be exposed and harden. All of the removed dirt was relocated at the driveway’s entrance in order to satisfy the Kansas Department of Transportation’s standards for a new access (because our property is located on a state highway, albeit a quiet one with the alternate name of “Kaw Valley Scenic Highway”). 

Our entrance used to be a grassy dip that was hard to drive over and nearly impossible to see out of when pulling onto the road. After moving loads upon loads of dirt, our entrance is now built up for much easier access to the property that doesn’t require four-wheel drive.

The entrance was approved and the gravel was put into place (dark but exciting photo below). Yes, we most definitely did drive out there at 9:30 p.m. the night we found out the driveway had been rocked and drove up and down it a few times for good measure. I’ve never been so thrilled by a layer of crunched rock in my entire life. I doubt I ever will be again (except maybe when we extend the driveway past the house to the future barn in another year or two).

We couldn’t wait until the next day: We took a photo of the freshly laid rock on our gravel driveway as soon as we got the word the work was done.

For the entrance to be wide enough for the big trucks and the electric company’s needs, we did lose more trees than we anticipated. However, Jeff had the crew spread the downed trees and branches out so that Tyler can access them for firewood and maybe even posts for our future garden’s fence. They had to come down, but we’ll definitely find ways to make good use of them.

All photos taken by Jennifer Kongs.

Next in the series:How to Get a Building Permit to Build a New Home
Previously in the series:Green Building Materials, Part 1: Shopping at the Habitat for Humanity Restore

Jennifer Kongs
 is the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can connect directly with Jennifer and Tyler by leaving a comment below!