What is The Role of an Excavating Contractor?

In the world of residential construction, few entities carve as defined a niche as excavating contractors. They lay the groundwork—quite literally—for what's to come, ensuring that what follows is stable, safe, and sustainable. Among these contractors, VersaGrade stands tall, particularly in the vast landscapes of Nevada and California. But what is it that makes this Reno-based contractor so special? Let's delve into the world of excavating, with VersaGrade, the premier general contractors in Reno.

VersaGrade: A Specialist in Residential Sitework

When you think of residential sitework, the imagery of vast tracts of land being prepped for housing subdivisions might come to mind. It's a massive task, one that requires precision, expertise, and an unyielding commitment to excellence. This is where VersaGrade shines, specializing in large tract production subdivisions.

At the heart of their service offerings lies foundation excavations. Be it conventional footing with stem walls or slab on grade foundations, VersaGrade has mastered the craft. The foundation is just the beginning. They excel in the preparation of underground utility services—everything from electrical and fiber optic lines to sewer and natural gas preps. Impressively, they are a qualified Gas Backfill Contractor, which means gas line installations are left in the capable hands of the governing utility company.

Beyond the Basics: Grading and More

Every building's exterior is as crucial as its interior. VersaGrade's commitment to ensuring the integrity of what lies outside a home is evident in their flat prep services. They ensure accurate grading and aggregate base for exterior concrete flatwork. Furthermore, their final grading services are unmatched—be it drainage swales, berms, or retaining wall prep, they follow grading and plot plans to the tee.

A special mention here is their use of auto grade laser control systems. This cutting-edge technology ensures accurate grading with incredibly tight tolerances—a testament to VersaGrade's dedication to precision.

The Extras that Elevate

However, VersaGrade doesn't stop at the essentials. Their expansive list of additional services speaks of a holistic approach. From subsurface drainage systems to street cleaning and SWPPP compliance work, their portfolio is both comprehensive and compelling.

Residential Projects: A Legacy of Excellence

A company's reputation often rests on its clientele and portfolio. VersaGrade's list reads like a who's who of residential construction. From Artisan Communities and Ryder Homes to giants like Lennar and Pulte, VersaGrade's footprint is undeniable. Their work on numerous residential tract projects and custom homes for such prestigious builders is a testament to their quality and reliability.

Innovative Solutions for Today's Challenges

Innovation is the lifeblood of VersaGrade. Their approach to soil retention systems is a case in point. By using a diverse array of manufacturers and installation techniques, they provide cost-effective solutions tailored to specific project needs.

Their services extend to tie back & anchoring systems, ensuring structures are stabilized from lateral loads. Their prowess doesn’t stop there. With expertise in shotcrete operations and injection bore drilling, they offer solutions for everything from erosion protection to seismic retrofit upgrades.

The Heart of VersaGrade: A Journey through Time

At the core of VersaGrade's success lies its founder, Bob Fehling. A graduate of California State University At Chico, Bob embarked on a journey through the U.S., building everything from earthen dams to interstates. These experiences honed his skills, propelling him to the forefront of the industry. Eventually, his path led him to VersaGrade, transforming it into the powerhouse it is today.

To understand VersaGrade is to appreciate the intricate ballet that is excavating contracting. Their story, woven with precision, expertise, and a deep commitment to excellence, resonates with anyone who values quality and dedication. As we look towards the ever-evolving landscape of residential construction, one thing is clear: VersaGrade is not just a contractor; they are pioneers.

J & J Nevada - Seismic Retrofit & Tenant Improvement with Micropiles


J & J Nevada was a project involving a seismic retrofit and tenant improvement to an existing warehouse in Sparks, Nevada.  Additional truck docks were required to be installed, changing the structural characteristics of the tilt up concrete building.  The installation of a moment frame on the interior of the structure required some relatively high loads to be addressed in tension and compression at specific locations.  VersaGrade was contacted early in the design phase to help determine the best foundation system to address these loads.


Originally built in 1979, the warehouse was constructed for General Motors Corporation as a parts distribution center.  The 634,000 Square Foot facility included dozens of truck dock openings and an interior railroad spur for the unloading of train cars inside the building.  The soils are predominately Alluvium of the Truckee Meadows, consisting of pebble to cobble sand, silty sand, and sandy silts overlain by scattered, well rounded volcanic & granitic cobbles.  Due to the rocky nature of the site and limited soils investigations, VersaGrade concluded that the use of Micro Piles would be the best system to meet the required loads.  Pile groups of 3-4 would be necessary to achieve the 140 Kip allowable loads at specific points along the perimeter foundation.


VersaGrade, Inc. was awarded the subcontract to install 40mm Contech Systems Micro Piles along with a custom Ram Jack bracketing system.  K2 Structural Design & Ram Jack Engineering were contacted to help design the bracket that would carry a 35 kip allowable capacity (70 Kip Ultimate) in tension and compression for each pile.   Each bracket was designed to work on shear strength alone, and attach directly to the tilt up panels themselves as there were no footings to attach to in some locations.  Six each 7/8” diameter epoxy doweled bolts (per bracket) were used to secure the brackets to the face of the concrete tilt-up walls.  A 5 ½” diameter x 8’ long steel guide sleeve was then inserted through the brackets and set to elevation.  After bracket installations were complete, VersaGrade installed Contech 40/16 Micro Piles with a 4” carbide cutting bit down through each guide sleeve.  The Micro Piles were installed to an average depth of 21’.  One of the challenges of the project was higher than expected grout usage during the Micro Pile installation due to unconsolidated material and fissures.  Some piles took in excess of 35 cubic feet of grout to complete.

VersaGrade used a Komatsu PC-160 Track-mounted hydraulic excavator with an Excavator Mount TEI 350 Rock Drill and ChemGrout CG600 Batching Plant for the Micro Pile installations.

Total No. of Contech Micro Piles and Ram Jack Custom Brackets installed: 14

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Step 2 - New Construction Pile Fixing Foundation 12/23/2015


STEP 2 is a private non-profit organization that has been serving Northern Nevada since 1986.  Its mission is to provide comprehensive, coordinated services related to the treatment and recovery of chemically dependent women and their families.  The 12,000 square foot expansion project adds a 20 bed residential housing component and storage facility to the already existing Mathewson Family Counseling Center and Transitional Cottages.  The design vision of the project is to accommodate the everyday living needs of women and children in distress.


The project site is located north of the Reno / Sparks Area in Nevada on the foothills of Peavine Mountain. The area is predominately made up of Alta Formation soils components that contain hard volcanic rock, highly expansive clay minerals, and corrosive soil properties.  The soils investigation confirmed the project site would not be conducive for conventional foundation construction.  A deep foundation system was decided to be the best course of action, but due to the soil properties and its inconsistent nature, no one foundation system type could be utilized.  VersaGrade was contacted early in the design process to help determine the best and most economical approach for this problem site to prevent fixing the foundation if issues later arose.  It was determined that a mix of deep foundation types that included Ram Jack Helical Piles and Contech Micro Piles would be necessary to overcome these problem soils.


VersaGrade, Inc. was awarded the subcontract to install Ram Jack Helical Piles and Contech Systems Micro Piles on two adjacent project sites.  One site was “The Living Center” and the other was “The Storage Facility”.  Both building foundations were similarly designed as a pile and grade beam system.  Since the soils were highly expansive, the entire foundation system was designed with a 6” void space under it to allow the clay soils to expand and contract without contacting the foundation system.  6” thick by 10” wide Sure Void was installed along the bottom of all grade beam trenches to provide the separation between soil and grade beam.  Lateral stability which is normally achieved by the weight of the building on the underlying soils, was alternately achieved by the use of angled (Battered) piles installed at load points throughout the buildings footprint.

The Living Center foundation plan consisted of 95 vertical piles and 22 angled piles with working loads of 34,000 pounds and 10,000 pounds respectively.  Installation depths varied wildly with helical piles ranging from 10’ - 60’ to achieve adequate load carrying capacities.  Where helical piles could not be installed due to solid and fractured rock obstructions, Injection Bore (IBO) Micro Piles were installed to a depth of 20’ with a 4’ unbonded length.  The Storage Facility foundation plan consisted of 62 vertical piles and 14 angled piles.  The grade beam design on both buildings was only 10” wide, which made layout and installation techniques critical.  Pile migration during installation of 1.5” was unacceptable.

VersaGrade used a Komatsu PC-160 Track-mounted hydraulic excavator with a Pro-Dig two stage 12K drive motor for the Helical installations and an Excavator Mount TEI 350 Rock Drill and ChemGrout CG600 Batching Plant for the Micro Pile installations.

Total No. of Ram Jack Helical Piles installed: 150

Total No. of Contech Micro Piles installed: 43