Re: Grading Information
1. How far below my cedar siding should the final grade be? (assume 2 to 3 inches of mulch).
3" to 4" minimum below the siding with your finish layer. Accounting for your mulch, the soil should be graded 5" to 6" below the siding.
2. Do I need to pitch away from the both legs of the "L" shaped ranch, or can it pitch directly to the street? (See photos below)
I would recommend pitching away from the structure in all directions AND pitching towards the street. This way you won't have pooling around the house and you'll also get natural drainage to the street. Additionally, a drain could be run the length of the property to the street to collect the water down the sides of the house/property and direct it appropriately.
3. What pitch do I need to grade to? 1/4" per foot?
This would be sufficient, particularly over a hardpan soil as you've described.
4. How far out from the foundation do I need to continue that pitch? 5 feet, 10 feet, all the way to the street?
Two options, you can go all the way to the street OR you could go about half way and install drainage to continue it. By going all the way you'll eliminate pooling and problem areas in the future.
5. When amending heavy clay soil, how deep do I need to till?
Depends on what you're trying to accomplish. For lawns, you don't need to amend any deeper than about 6", however for flower beds up to 12" would be better because of the root depth of the plantings over grass. A caution, however, is that when you amend the soil, you'll be creating a basin in the hardpan for water to collect. Perimeter beds won't be an issue, it will be along the house that you want to be careful of this. The cure would be to amend the soil to the same depth in all areas, so that a basin isn't created in the hardpan.
6. What equipment should I look for at rental yards for this job?
That would depend on your stamina. I would at the very least rent a commercial rototiller, though with the amount of tilling, amending, and grading you're looking at, a small tractor with a loader and tiller would probably suit you better and make the job easier and faster. Not knowing the lay of your property or utilities, I would recommend a call to USA, which is a nationwide company that comes to you for free to locate all underground utilities. If you've got a sprinkler system, it is likely going to be destroyed in the grading and tilling process, if you don't have irrigation, now would be a good time to install it (after grading and amending ).
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