How do you clean construction debris from a yard?

We are about to close on a … “fixer-upper.” It’s a short sale, and the seller had tenants in the home who did some damage and left a LOT of junk behind (including some illegally-erected partition walls, etc.). The seller was kind enough to get a dumpster which they filled with as much of the debris and junk that they could. But in the process, they left a tremendous amount of small bits of broken glass, nails, etc. all over the lawn.

How does one normally go about getting these little bits up? By hand? Shop-vac your lawn? Just roll sod over everything and pretend it never happened?

The sod sounds like a good idea. You can rent a wide rolling magnet to pick up nails and other steel/iron items.

There are also services that clean up lawns after construction projects. I guess there are specialty tools for picking up stuff like that, which it doesn’t make sense to buy for one use, but which these services own, because they uses them several times a day. Contact something like Home Advisor, and ask them about construction clean-up crews.

I have no idea how much you will pay, though.

You also might contact a tool rental place, and ask if there is some kind of yard vac for use after a construction project. Mention lots of broken glass and nails.

The danger of throwing sod over it, is what could happen if someone a few years from now is digging to plant a tree or a garden, and tosses up a shovel full of nails and glass shards-- or worse, ruins a roto-tiller with it.

Magnets are cheap … shop-vac for the rest … how many square feet of yard are we talking about here? … I keep a small coffee can handy whenever I work in my yard, glass shards are my big peeve and it took some “hands-and-knees” work to get things cleaned up enough to walk around barefoot …

How about a temp labor place? Hire two, or three, folks for the day. A wheel barrow would help.

Years ago bought a house in Woodberry, (Indian for “Land of Broken Glass”) Baltimore City and discovered that my back yard would probably assay 10% glass, broken brick, and unidentifiable lumps and chunks. Raked and loosened vigorously with a garden rake and then vacuumed with my 20 year old Craftsman shopvac (Ah, they were Giants, then!). Problem solved, until the following spring, when frost brought forth a new crop, so…rinse and repeat. By the fifth spring the upboiling was over. If you sod, you might find that junk can still show up, depending on location.

Of course, 25 years on, climate change might have eliminated frost heave in Baltimore.

I would start with a rake.

Depends on your budget, your square footage and your plans for this space. If you’re actually looking forward to a nice, green, family activity friendly yard and if funds permit, you’re best bet it to bring in a skid loader, scrape away the top six inches of soil, back fill with clean, re-grade and re-seed. This isn’t cheap but it beats being unable to go outside without closed toed shoes.

Seconded. A leaf rake is the cheap low-tech tool for the job.

And next time, you tell people to put some tarp down on top of the lawn before they begin the project.

I second the magnet and would add a thatch rake, which is more rigid than a leaf rake and has closer spacing of the tines when compared to a garden rake. It won’t get up every piece of glass, but it does a pretty good job with most debris.

When my father was 61 years old, he put a new roof on our (2500 sq. ft.) house by himself. A lot of the old nails got away from him, so he started dragging a couple magnets behind his lawn tractor while he mowed. He was picking up as many nails two years later as he did right after he finished.

Using a clean-up magnet on the yard is a good idea whenever you move into a new place, especially near any buildings. When we changed our siding we dropped a bunch of nails, so I used our foot-long magnet with a telescoping handle. On even the first pass it was picking up strange, rusted nails and screws that we couldn’t have possibly dropped. On the seventh pass, it was still finding a significant number of old nails and screws. I was kind of amazed.

Hand work, rakes and the like. Hire some teens. My house is 20+ years since construction and I’m still finding bits.
3 years ago we had metal roof put on. The old asphalt roofing and nails were a bitch to clean up. It’s gonna be time consuming.

We clean up with rakes and brooms. Shop vac if the surface is firm enough and it is required. Using a nail sweep is a very good idea if steel fasteners are involved. Repeated iterations are helpful.

It is not uncommon to lay down a tarp and some plywood or OSB before starting work that will create a lot of debris, I know that doesn’t help in your case.

I’ve done construction work in my early twenties and a cheapo method was to attach sheet metal/welding magnets to a metal tined rake and put another over it so the tines are interleaved. With gloves on you clean off the metal bits from the magnets each pass. Tape or tie the two takes together and use it to comb the soil after you remove most of the original sod. Afterwards, if you are laying sod use a mechanical tiller to mix things up. Water it afterwards and lay sod the next day, or prep it the same day for a concrete patio by spreading pea gravel and aggregate liberally over the area and tamping it down evenly. Usually you just let the concrete guys do this part though.

Yeah: “if I’m buried 'neath the sod; but the angels won’t receive me…” :smiley:

Not that its any help this time, but next time make sure the construction company doesn’t get their final check until the yard is cleaned up.