When it comes to construction projects of any size, proper planning is always key to ensuring that the job is done correctly, on time, and with minimal costs. One of the first questions for most projects is often “how much dirt do I need for my project?”
Materials such as lumber, nails, screws, and cement are fairly easy to measure and plan for, but other materials — not so much. Dirt is definitely one of them. Dirt isn’t something that can be measured in length and width, and weight really isn’t going to get you anywhere either. Measuring out dirt is its own process, starting with determining the size of the area you will be using it for.
So, how do you go about determining the amount of dirt you need for your project? Before getting to that aspect of things, let’s first determine what type of dirt you need in the first place.
Fill Dirt vs. Topsoil
Dirt for construction projects calls for two different types of dirt, each with totally different uses. Mixing up the dirt type you need for your project can cause plenty of problems, so be sure you are acquiring the right one.
Fill dirt refers to dirt that is below the topsoil layer. This dirt is low in nutrients and organic compounds, and has an abundance of hard, rocky material that makes it the more solid of the two. Fill dirt can be used for leveling off a surface for building, filling holes and divots in your landscaping, and creating sloping to grade your soil around your property.
The substance of fill dirt is dry, rocky, and lacking in nutrients, so if you are using it to plant things in, you aren’t going to get very good results.
Topsoil is the the very top layer of dirt in the earth’s surface, found at a depth of around 4 to 12 inches. It contains a high amount of nutrients and organic matter such as carbon, nitrogen, and other helpful nutrients. This makes it ideal soil to use for your yard and gardening, as long as it is placed on top of fill dirt, if applicable.
Using topsoil in place of fill dirt can create several issues in your landscaping and structures. Due to the organic material and compounds found in topsoil, it tends to break down and create air pockets that can randomly collapse.
This is perfectly fine if your soil is host to flowers, vegetable gardens, and other small landscaping, but if there is a structure built upon it, the slight shift can result in damage to the structure itself, similar to an earthquake causing ground to shift. It may not happen in the span of a few minutes, but the effects could eventually be similar.
So, How Much Dirt Do I Need?
As mentioned earlier, dirt is measured differently from other construction materials. The most common unit of measurement is cubic yards.
1 cubic foot equals 12 inches x 12 inches x 12 inches, while 1 cubic yard equals 27 cubic feet. Picture an empty cube that has sides of 1 yard. Fill that empty cube up with dirt, and you have a perfectly-packaged cubic yard of dirt.
Measuring out the dirt amount beforehand can be done in two different ways:
This is how you would determine how much topsoil you would need for a flower bed that’s 6” deep and 12’ long by 12’ wide:
- Convert the dimension in inches to feet (6” ÷ 12” = 0.5’)
- Multiply the three dimensions together to find the number of cubic feet (0.5’ x 12’ x 12 = 72 cubic feet)
- Divide the cubic feet by the number of cubic feet in a cubic yard (27) to find the number of cubic yards (72 ÷ 27 = 2.67 cu. yd.).
Therefore, you would need 2.67 cubic yards of dirt to fill the flower bed.
Here’s a different calculation for the same amount. This involves converting all three dimensions to yards:
- Convert the dimension in inches to yards (6” ÷ 36” = 0.167 yards)
- Convert the dimensions in feet to yards (12’ ÷ 3 = 4 yards)
- Multiply the three dimensions together to find the number of cubic yards (0.167 x 4 x 4 = 2.67 cu. yd.)
If you aren’t comfortable doing the calculations yourself, online dirt calculators are easy to find on any search engine.
Planning = Success
It’s no secret that preparing for a project at your home will always ensure a smoother process, no matter what size your project is. Dirt can be somewhat difficult to plan, but as long as you have approximate measurements, and the right type of dirt, you can begin any project with confidence. At worst, you’ll have some leftover dirt that you can stash for future projects or property issues, or give to a friend or neighbor. Contact Dirt Connections for more information.