A grading permit allows you to make the necessary changes to your property. Without one, you could be acting against the law. Here’s everything you need to know

When does a grading permit cost big money?

That beautiful concrete deck overlooking the water that adds a million-dollar view to your real estate? Gone before you sell it if you don’t have a permit. Buyers can insist that unpermitted construction is repaired or removed. They might demand a hefty price reduction.

Lenders might refuse to fund a mortgage. And even if it slips by the sale, buyers can sue you for failing to disclose defects beforehand. Ignorance or thrift isn’t an excuse to avoid the permit process.

Sometimes it isn’t a big deal to move a little dirt around. But sometimes those actions come back to haunt you. Avoid anxiety and sleepless nights. Read on to learn when a grading permit is required.

What Is Grading?

Before you begin construction, it is important to begin with a level base or foundation. Sometimes a specific slope is required for drainage. Commercial and residential construction may require professional engineers to determine whether or not grading must be done.

An engineer will consider soil makeup, the water table, and other factors to determine the scope of the project. When construction is improperly engineered, it can cause issues with a property. Expensive problems like erosion, watershed contamination, or flooding can happen when properties aren’t graded to drain properly.

If an engineer determines grading is required, a professional excavation service team will perform the work. Large, heavy machinery like bulldozers and excavators may be necessary to prepare the surface. Smaller areas may need only scraping and compaction.

Does All Grading Require a Permit?

The short answer is no. Not all projects require grading. Not all grading requires a permit.

In general, small projects such as a low garden wall or a small path connecting terraces don’t require grading or a permit. However, even these small projects may require a permit in parts of the Tahoe Basin.

Firebreaks and farming are generally exempt from grading permits. When in doubt, contact a licensed professional.

When Is a Grading Permit Required?

In general, our experts counsel that you should obtain a permit for your project when:

  • Grading in or near a floodplain, drainage course or wetland
  • Filling or excavating more than 250 cubic yards (9 cubic yards in some areas)
  • Cutting or filling more than 4 feet in depth
  • Building walls if more than 4 feet in total height, as measured from bottom of the footing to the top of the wall
  • Or if the structural retaining wall supports a surcharge
  • You disturb more than 10,000 sq. ft of soil or plants
  • You are building a swimming pool more than 4 feet deep
  • You are building a private vehicle bridge

There are many more regulations and exceptions. Each city has adopted its own plan and there are site-specific regulations in many areas. In fact, there are several exceptions to the above general guidelines.

For example, you should get a grading permit if you are grading near a drainage course. However, if the excavation is for a basement and there is already a valid building permit, an additional grading permit is unnecessary.

What Kind of Professionals Can Be Consulted?

The final rule in regards to the permit procedure is your applicable permit office. However, you may want to start with a local qualified design and engineering firm. They will have experience in finding the correct jurisdiction and correct specialty engineer.

An architect is defined by California law as a planner of sites, and the designer, in whole or in part, of buildings or groups of buildings and structures. Any person who uses the title of architect or advertises architectural services in California must be licensed. An architect may be able to advise you if grading permits may be required.

Landscape architects may legally perform construction planning in regards to the grading of sites for the purpose of landscape preservation, development, and enhancement. If the project is within their scope, they may give qualified advice regarding grading permits.

Professional engineers are also regulated by California law. If grading is within their scope of practice, they may give advice.

What Kind of Engineers Are Permissible?

Engineers in California must be licensed. There are several types of engineers, not all of them are qualified regarding grading and drainage. The following types of engineers are highly regulated. The paraphrased descriptions follow.

Engineers generally permitted to give grading advisement are:

1. Civil engineers

They perform structural and soils engineering, with proper education and experience. They are permitted to prepare design and repair recommendations for drainage systems, septic systems, foundations, and retaining walls. They can make grading plans.

They prepare topographic maps of the elevations and contours of the land. Civil engineers are permitted to design swimming pools. They may design almost any structure except public schools or hospitals.

2. Structural Engineers

structural engineer is a civil engineer with additional experience and qualifications by exam. The title “Structural Engineer” refers only to those who have passed the more rigorous examination. They have specialized knowledge and may analyze and design structures including public schools and hospitals.

3. Soils Engineers

Soils or geotechnical engineers are educated and examined as civil engineers first. After additional coursework, experience and a passing score on a specialized geotechnical engineering examination, they may use a title. Acceptable legal variations include the titles “Geotechnical Engineer,” “Soil Engineer,” or “Soils Engineer.”

The soils engineering specialty includes engineering investigation and evaluation of earth materials. This includes soil, rock, groundwater, and man-made materials. Soils engineers investigate and report the interaction between soils and earth retention systems, foundations, and other civil engineering.

Soils engineers apply the principles of soil mechanics and earth sciences. They must prove knowledge of engineering laws, formulas, construction techniques, and performance evaluation of civil engineering works.

Other types of California licensed engineers are unqualified to give advice about grading.

More Questions About a Grading Permit?

Don’t make the mistake of ignoring a grading permit. The wrong advice can cost you money, especially if you ever try to sell your property. The right site engineering advice will help your project thrive.

The wrong advice may lead to delay and eventually failure. Your decisions may make no difference in the short run, but when you try to sell your home, it may cause it to flop. That’s why your choices are so important now and in the future.

We’re here to help you with your next project. Click here to get started with a quote!