What are survey plans and what do I do if I find a survey pin?
A survey plan establishes legal boundaries and defines the extent of a person’s ownership or other land rights. Survey plans also include information about rights-of-way for utilities such as gas lines. Alberta Land Surveyors will mark each lot in a new subdivision with iron pins. These pins provide the legal boundaries of a property and a point of measure for future improvements such as a garage, an addition or a fence.
New homeowners may find a pin and think it’s simply debris and throw it away. However, it’s illegal to remove or tamper with an official boundary marker. For example, if the survey pin is right where you want a fence post, you must move the fence. Do not remove the pin. The cost of replacing a survey marker could be as much as the cost of the fence, driveway or landscaping.
You should also ask Alberta Land Surveyors to identify boundaries, so you know exactly where your property lines are located prior to a construction project. Sometimes pins are destroyed during construction or moved from their original position. Also, pins may not relate to your property at all but simply mark rights-of-way or other land-related measurements. People frequently assume certain improvements (e.g. shed or fence) and physical features (e.g. a swale or power/telephone installation) indicate property lines. However, these physical features are not evidence of boundary lines and should not be used to determine your boundary lines.
How do easements and utility corridors impact my property?
An easement provides another party access to a defined section of your property. For example, access is granted to service water/drainage systems, power/telephone cable routes or even a driveway route to an adjacent property. Easements deal with the lot itself, not the homeowners, so when land is bought or sold the easements remain attached to that land in the sale. Easements are noted on the Real Property Report or on the Certificate of Title.
If you plan to build or landscape next to an easement (such as a power box, a drainage swale, property line or roadway), contact the planning department in your jurisdiction regarding buffer zones. Make sure you are aware of what you can and cannot do near utility poles, electrical boxes or meters installed on your property.
Before digging anything—from a new flowerbed to a deck pile—make sure you know the locations of all underground services. Within Alberta, utility services can be located free of charge with the “Call Before You Dig” service. Schedule an appointment by calling 1 800 242 3447.
Other Property Considerations
- Before paving or installing a concrete driveway, look for a survey pin or metal cover that indicates a water shut-off valve (sometimes called a ‘cc valve’) is in the area. Access to that valve must be brought to the top of the driveway. Do not cover the valve with concrete or asphalt
- When watering your lawn, avoid getting water on electrical boxes
- Do not surround gas meters with any enclosures. Enclosures could concentrate gas that would normally be vented.
Water can cause significant damage to your home. A surface water management plan will remind you what actions must be taken to help keep water away from your home.
- Fill areas that have settled next to the foundation with clay—not topsoil—with a positive slope away from the foundation
- (10 per cent is recommended)
- Use downspout extensions to move water farther from the foundation and keep them extended year-round
- Ensure eavestroughs and downspouts are clear of debris
- Ensure window wells are clear of debris so water can flow to the weeping tile system. The top of a window well should be a minimum of two inches (50 mm) above finished grade. Do not plant flowers in window wells
- Sprinkler heads should not direct water against the foundation or cladding and should not be placed within the backfill area near the foundation
- Ensure your sump systems are in working order. Install a discharge hose if necessary to move water collected in your sump pit farther away from your home.
For more detailed water management strategies, check out our Surface Water Management guide.
How is my lot designed to drain water?
In Alberta, most individual lots are graded according to a municipally-approved grading plan. Grading slopes the clay sub-soil away from the home. A second grading may take place to fine-tune the grade before topsoil is applied. In some jurisdictions, the homeowner is responsible for the second (final) grading of the lot. If you are unsure, contact your local authority (e.g. City of Calgary, Strathcona County) for lot grading requirements.
The lot may have drainage systems such as swales (shallow valleys), catch basins (storm water collection points) or holding ponds designed to control and assist in overall surface drainage.
Standing water near a home’s foundation can find its way into the basement. For this reason, it’s critical to drain pools of water as soon as possible. Homeowners are responsible to maintain drainage systems/strategies that move water away from their homes and away from neighbours’ properties. This can be accomplished by filling areas that have settled.
A lot is graded for drainage during normal rainfall but heavy or prolonged rain may result in standing water. Areas excavated during construction (e.g. utility trenches or basement areas) are more susceptible because they often settle over time, forming areas where water can collect and cause leakage problems.
To fill these settled areas (also called depressions), remove the topsoil and fill the depression with compacted clay—not topsoil. Topsoil absorbs water like a sponge and the water will simply drain through it and collect again when it reaches the clay layer located just below the topsoil.
Other Drainage Considerations
- Do not alter the general drainage pattern of your lot without consulting your municipal authority
- Do not divert water from your property onto a neighbour’s property
- Clear ice and snow from drains each spring and provide a drainage pathway to move water away from your home.
Efficient rooftop drainage will help you keep your basement dry. Eavestroughs move water to downspouts and away from your home. During heavy rainfall, this drainage system can move hundreds of gallons of water in a single day so it’s important that eavestroughs are sloped towards the downspouts and are clear of debris. Surface particles from asphalt shingles are often washed away by rain and settle in the eavestroughs, reducing their efficiency. Clean your eavestroughs at least once a year to prevent this.
Downspouts ending on sod usually feature an extension to move water farther from the perimeter of the home. Always return downspout extensions to their lowered positions after cutting the lawn.
Surface drainage is far more efficient than weeping tile at keeping water away from your foundation. Weeping tile is a piping system that collects and channels subsurface water away from the foundation. Surface water (e.g. rainwater) should be directed away from the perimeter of the home to reduce demand on a weeping tile system.
Landscaping is not usually included in the contractual agreement between a builder and a homeowner. However, landscaping decisions and implementation can cause significant damage to a home so it’s important to plan landscaping carefully and hire a professional if necessary.
How does landscaping impact water drainage?
Between May and October, a 40’ x 100’ lot in Alberta receives an average 14 inches or 31,900 gallons (144,800 litres) of rain so it’s important to consider the drainage plan for your lot when planning your landscape design. Here are some things to consider before landscaping:
- Grassed areas generally require steeper drainage slopes compared to hard surfaces like concrete or asphalt
- Planting beds should also be graded away from your foundation walls
- Some species of trees (such as poplar) have invasive root systems that can enter utility corridors and weeping tile systems. Tree roots have been known to rupture water and sewer lines and can exert enough force to crack concrete basement walls. Plant trees away from the perimeter of the home
- An established lawn prevents soil erosion. To avoid erosion, establish a lawn or implement your landscape design as soon as possible after the rough and final grades have been completed.
How do I take care of my new landscaping?
Newly planted lawns, shrubs or trees require special care and attention in the first few years to ensure proper root establishment.
Grass grows better in some areas than in others depending on exposure to sun, wind, rain and other factors such as drainage, soil type and maintenance. When establishing new sod, the first two weeks are critical. You should avoid walking on newly laid sod and should saturate the sod with water as soon as it’s laid. Keep the grass moist for the next few days and in the second week, reduce watering to every other day. Once the grass has ‘taken,’ a weekly watering is usually adequate. Water evenly and slowly so the water penetrates the soil without running off.
Your lawn needs about 25mm (1 inch) of water a week—including rain—when it’s actively growing in the summer. You can track this with a rain gauge. Shallow watering results in a shallow root system, leaving the lawn susceptible to damage. Deep watering establishes a strong, healthy root system. Hot, sunny areas may need more water and shady areas may require less water. It’s important to avoid overwatering because saturated soil prevents air from reaching the root zone where it’s needed.
Proper mowing keeps grass healthy. Grass cut too short is susceptible to sun damage. Landscapers recommend grass should be approximately 50 mm (2 inches) long and also suggest you never cut more than 3 cms (1.18 inches) of grass blade height at one time. Sharp mower blades will also prevent ragged, brown tips on the grass. If you mow frequently, fine clippings will decompose and help maintain the lawn. Heavy clippings must be removed from the lawn.
Fertilizing for weed control also protects your lawn. Consult your garden centre for products and application techniques. Finally, to give your lawn a healthy start in the spring, remove snow from shaded areas to avoid ‘winter kill.’
Trees and Shrubs
Building and repairing root systems and ensuring plants have adequate water are the most important elements when establishing newly transplanted trees and shrubs.
Trees and shrubs require about one gallon of water per foot of growth at each watering (includes rain).
Trees and shrubs should be watered immediately after being transplanted with quality drinking water that includes a root starter fertilizer. Do not use water high in sodium such as water from water softeners or from sloughs. Also, use well water with caution as some wells contain water with high salt content.
Water shrubs and trees at least once per week for the first year. In the first year, fertilize with a root grow fertilizer each time you water between May 15 to June 30. Use a balanced fertilizer with each watering from July 1 to August 1. Do not fertilize trees and shrubs after August 1. The resulting new growth will not have time to harden off before winter and may die. Contact your local garden centre for advice on suitable fertilizers. Trees should also be watered thoroughly in early fall to ensure there is adequate moisture at the root zone during the winter. Evergreens may require watering in late winter or early spring to keep the root ball frozen, especially in areas that experience chinooks.
Trees and shrubs require about one gallon of water per foot of growth at each watering (includes rain). If 12.7 mm (0.5 inch) of rain falls in a week, you may not need to water. However, maintain the fertilizing schedule and use some water when you do so. Water slowly all around the plant from the centre to the outer circle of the leaves. For evergreens, spray the leaves or needles on hot days in the morning and the evening.
Evergreens exposed to wind need extra protection in the winter to avoid drying and browning of the leaves. A young tree exposed to high winds should be staked until it’s well established. Make sure you use the correct stakes and ties for your type of tree. Contact your local garden centre for specific advice on how to prepare your plants for winter.
When you plant a tree, it’s important to consider how large the tree will be in 15 to 20 years because a plant in the wrong place is simply a weed. For example, a full-grown tree may block windows, impede upon walkways or encroach upon a deck and a mature evergreen can create so much shade that lawn will not grow beneath it.
How do I prepare my outdoor hose connections for winter?
Most exterior water valves on newer homes are ‘frost-free’ types. This type of valve is connected by a shaft (12 inches or more in length) to the shut-off valve located inside the wall towards the warm interior of the home. When the handle of the tap is turned to the off position, it closes the valve in the wall. Any water contained in the shaft between the valve and tap will drain out when closing and protect the tap from freezing. Frost-free lines will not protect outside water supply lines from freezing if the exterior hoses have not been disconnected from the threaded connection. The hose must be disconnected from the tap for the automatic drain-down function of the frost-free valves to work.
If a hose is attached to the outside tap, the tap may not drain down and the trapped water will freeze in cold weather. This frozen water can split the pipe that extends into the home, resulting in a leak in the wall each time the tap is turned on.
Older taps have a shut-off valve with a drainage port inside the home (usually located in the mechanical room) that you must drain the water in the line before cold weather comes to protect the system from freezing.
How do I use and maintain my irrigation system?
Irrigation systems save time and reduce labour but caution is required when installing, using and maintaining them. An irrigation system should not direct water towards the home’s foundation. It must also be checked regularly for leakage to prevent the accumulation of unnecessary water underground. Finally, a soil moisture sensor will ensure the irrigation system only delivers the amount of water needed.
There are three factors to consider before building a fence: personal safety, location and design.
What should I do before digging posts for my fence?
Within Alberta, utility services can be located free of charge with the “Call Before You Dig” service. Schedule an appointment online or call 1 800 242 3447.
How do I determine where to place my fence?
The survey line denotes the edge of your property line—not a fence centerline. Every portion of your fence must be placed on your property—not on the line. This includes the concrete anchoring the posts.
Check with your municipality regarding where you can and cannot place a fence. Usually, a homeowner is not allowed to build a fence that would encroach upon an easement or utility corridor. Fences are also subject to height and location restrictions.
Are there rules about fence design?
Many municipalities have by-laws restricting fence location and/or height. Some neighbourhoods also have architectural guidelines to provide aesthetic consistency or to create a theme for the area. The neighbourhood developer can tell you if any architectural guidelines are in place for your community. These guidelines may define the range of fence styles and possibly even the colour of the fence.
If you have a neighbour on the other side of the property line, it’s always a good idea to discuss details of the fence with them. Neighbours will often share the construction cost of a new fence.
Sundecks, verandas and raised patios are subjected to unrelenting sun, rain and snow. Decks installed by homeowners are outside the coverage of new home warranties. Even with seasonal care, a conventional wood deck will not match the lifespan of the home and will ultimately need replacement. Because of this expected deterioration, it’s important to check the integrity of all stairs, handrails and platforms and repair or replace any components that are not firmly fastened.
Are there rules about where I can build a deck?
Check with your municipality for where you can and cannot place a deck. Usually a homeowner is not allowed to build a deck that would encroach upon an easement or utility corridor.
Are there rules about deck design and the materials I can use?
Before you build a deck, make sure you understand all local and Alberta Building Codes regarding deck construction. The 2006 Alberta Building Code changed rules for required bracing and anchorage to the foundation, the type of fasteners used and foundation depth. Make sure you are familiar with these rules before designing and building a deck.
For example, wood I joists can only be used in interior applications protected from rain or moisture and railings are required on decks more than two-feet above grade. In Alberta, handrails are also required on exterior steps with more than three risers.
Many alternatives to wood, such as vinyl or wood/plastic composites are now commonly used for deck construction. Although more expensive, these alternatives require less maintenance and may have a longer lifespan than wood. Follow manufacturers’ instructions to maintain these materials.
How do slivers form and how do I get rid of them?
Wood is a natural material and reacts to weather changes. Horizontal surfaces, such as decks and the top of handrails, are subject to significant traffic and will sliver more readily than vertical surfaces.
Wood slivers form when the wood surface is subject to repeated wet/dry cycles which cause the wood fibres to bend and twist. The fibres want to return to their natural shape and in trying to do so, may rise above the original surface. Over time, this movement will form a sliver.
While the forming of slivers cannot be stopped, you can minimize slivers by applying a protective coating such as paint, stain or a water repellent that minimizes water penetration into the wood and protects the wood from the sun.
If the wood has been exposed to the weather for more than two weeks, sand it with medium grit, garnet sandpaper (80-100 grit sand paper) before applying a protective coating to remove weathered fibres. This will allow for better coating adhesion.
How do I maintain my stained deck?
Exposure to the elements and foot traffic cause deck surfaces to fade. Horizontal areas such as deck surfaces and handrails wear much faster than vertical deck elements such as spindles. Regular maintenance will help maintain the appearance of your deck and also preserve the wood.
A wood stain is used to protect and colour exterior wood surfaces. There are two types of stains: film forming (solid stains) and penetrating stains (transparent and semi-transparent). Stain colour varies because of characteristics in the wood and how the wood is treated prior to staining. Wood characteristics such as density and grain vary from tree to tree and even in boards cut from the same tree. For example, a portion of board that is dense will not accept stain as well as a portion of board that has a more open grain. Wood that is rough sawn, unprimed or very dry may absorb stain more quickly than wood that is smooth cut, damp or treated with a sealer.
When a wood surface needs to be re-coated, it should be repaired, sanded and cleaned so the new stain can fully penetrate the surface of the wood for maximum durability of the finish.
After the wood is prepared, new stain can be applied. This coating will help protect the wood from sun damage. Paint on the other hand, will completely block the sun but it can also trap moisture which encourages faster decay of the wood.
It’s important to use the correct type of applicator and the correct application technique to ensure the coating is evenly distributed and provides maximum protection for the wood. For example, a roller-applied stain must first be worked into the wood with a brush to give a more uniform colour and deeper stain penetration.
Most stain manufacturers provide detailed brochures that discuss stain product options, surface preparation and application tools and techniques.