Checked and updated on March 9, 2021 by Aaron Barnett
The first step is to calculate the earth that needs to be added or removed by marking out your desired heights in each corner, or at regular intervals. When you have your quantity and have worked out the “expansion rate” you can work out the cheapest method for dirt removal, be that by hiring a digger or digging the ground by hand. Read on to find the best DIY tool for doing a ground leveling set-out.
Digger drivers can charge a bit, but just like any job if you want to save money and level a yard or lawn you can do as much of it as you can yourself.
For example, the preparation, and planting of grass, or laying ready-lawn, or the tiles if you include them in your landscaping design. You might want to level the ground in your yard because of drainage issues around a house or building and you need to lower a yard ground height.
Or you might want to get a perfectly flat lawn and install drainage to stop mud, more on this below. Otherwise, this guide goes into detail about how to do as much of a ground leveling job yourself, the DIY way to save some money in the process.
What you will need:
How to level ground with a water level
A water level is a free way of transferring level marks over distances as long as your hose is. Although it can be a bit awkward to set up, it is free. It is easier to do with 2 people.
Using a construction laser -level is much simpler and quicker than this water level technique, although the slow water level still works fine as an alternative.
How to level ground with a laser level
Instead of a water level, an easier option is to get a small self-leveling outdoor laser level , this tool is mostly used indoors but can also be used outdoors if you wait until the sun goes down a bit.
This tool is a lot cheaper than bigger pieces of construction leveling equipment, and is my recommendation for a DIY ground leveling job, as it will only take you 5 minutes in the evening to get all the level marks you will need. Just set up your steel rods in your corners in the daytime.
If you do want to do the leveling work in the day time and you plan on getting in a digger, you should get an electric sensor for the laser level. Just like an expensive rotary level, but it will be cheaper. Look for one that has a full horizontal level line (not just a dot).
How to level ground professionally
On building sites, leveling jobs would normally be done with a rotary level or a dumpy level. These tools are expensive bits of measuring equipment. A dumpy has the best accuracy over long distances.
And the benefit of a rotary laser level is it shoots a line in a full 360 degrees, although the line is invisible and requires an electric sensor. A portable construction laser level shoots a visible line a line but only in one direction.
For Diy, it is more practical and cheaper to get a cross-line laser level not, a rotary laser or dumpy level. And then doing leveling work in the evening, or if you want to do the work in the daytime get an electric sensor for the laser level.
Leveling ground set-out
The first thing you want to do is mark the heights you want in each corner by either digging a small square or packing up a bit of dirt to height. But first, you want to set up a method of leveling over long distances.
If you want to level ground perfectly, or you want a very even and perfect slop to your lawn or ground area you want to use either a water level or a laser level.
Calculating clay and ground removal
Now that the set out is done you can calculate how much dirt to add or remove so you can determine whether to do the digging yourself or with a digger.
Also, calculate space for dumping dirt if you can, so you can work out how much dirt needs to be removed from your property. A way to save a bit of money is to see if you can find someone who needs dirt to fill in a bit of their land. You can then go half on a digger and truck and you won’t need to pay a dumping fee.
When Earth gets dug up, it will expand as it mixes with air, and becomes de-compressed, this is known as expansion rate or bulking factor. Different types of ground and earth will expand at different rates.
It can be surprising how much dirt will expand when it gets dug up, so make sure to take this into consideration. So you can calculate how many truckloads needed for dirt removal, or how many bins you need to hire.
Depending on the type of ground, the expansion rate will be different, but on average expect a bulking factor between 20% to 40% for clay. When working out how much ground there is to move or fill in. calculating the area and X it by the bulking factor for the earth type.
Level ground by hand or digger?
Now you know the quantity of dirt that needs to be added or removed it is up to you how much exercise you want!
For large amounts of earth-works, check your local council as a resource consent might be needed. To potentially avoid having to get resource consent you can look at getting earth removed with a truck rather than putting loose soil on your land that’s the biggest thing local councils can have an issue with.
Should you dig by hand
If it’s a small amount of dirt get the shovel out and start digging! keep your height marks in place and run a string line over the ground every so often to get it right.
If you want to add drainage to stop mud after the rain read below as you want to adjust your finished ground height to suit 1 inch of drainage material.
Should you use a digger
A digger can save heaps of strain and time, any large amount of dirt for a yard leveling job needs to be done with a digger. When you know the exact amount of dirt you need to be removed and you have already marked everything out perfectly you can work out whether or not you need a digger for the job.
Ground preparation that stops a muddy lawn
A cheap hack to get your lawn perfectly flat and to stop grass from getting muddy is to add a drainage layer. I recommend adding a .75 inch layer of thick grit sand the type that is mixed into the builder’s mix. Between ground clay and ready lawn.
Lawn drainage tips
Keep in mind that sand needs to be of a thick grit, so it doesn’t mix and sink down into the clay. You need to lay ready lawn, rather than planting grass seeds as the ready lawn already has established roots, holding a small amount of dirt together. The roots will quickly grow through the sand into the clay below.
Make sure you don’t have sand that isn’t to thick that your grassroots cannot grow through. 0.75 inches maximum.
When you lay ready lawn you want to roll the next roll over the top of the last roll, and then cut it both rolls at the same time with a sharp knife this gets a perfect join.
Ready lawn comes wet and can shrink when it gets dry, keep the edges very tight by using the above technique. And make sure along the long side of the roll gets really compressed into the last roll.
Water your lawn all day for the first week, and every day for the first few months, You need it to establish and you want to help the roots grow through the layer of sand.
Good luck with your leveling ground project, as mentioned above a laser level is a very quick effective way to get your heights. And if you are putting grass down. I highly recommend using ready-lawn with a layer of drainage sand, you will get a perfectly flat and mud-free lawn.
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