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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 you, be that 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 your yard or lawn you have to do as much of it as you can yourself.
For example, the preparation, and planting of grass, or laying ready-lawn, or tiles.
You might want to level the ground in your yard because you are having drainage issues around your house and you need to lower your backyard ground height.
Or you might want to get a perfectly flat lawn and install drainage to stop mud, more on this below.
This guide goes into detail about how to do as much of a ground leveling job yourself, the DIY way. And save some money in the process.
What you will need:
- A hose or a cross line laser level
- A calculator
- A shovel
- Pink dazzle spray marker
- A string line or 2
- Small d10 steel bars. (You might need a small angle grinder to cut some)
- Possibly an “earth fill” bin to hire
- Potentially an electric kango hammer or steel bar
- Maybe a digger or a digger driver
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.
- Get a garden hose the length of the distance of the ground you want to level.
- Fill the hose with water
- Have 1 person at either end of the hose, when the water level is evenly level on both side of the hose, you have a level or “datum” point. to work from and measure down from as a level “off-set”.
- Now you have a datum point at either end of your backyard or excavation area you can simply measure down the same distance, and dig or pack up the ground to get your desired height as stated above and move on to the next steps.
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 be used outdoors if you wait until the sun goes down.
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 at day time.
If you do want to do leveling work in the day time and you plan on getting a digger, you should get an electric sensor for the laser I talked about above this will allow you to use the laser in the day time! Just like an expensive rotary laser level, but it will be a bit 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.
D10 = Round Steel bar of 10mm.
- When you have a datum point at either end of your backyard or excavation area you can simply measure down the same distance, and dig or pack up the ground to get your desired height so you can visually see what you want and change it if necessary.
- You want to tap in a small steel rod to mark your height reference point and spray it with some pink spray paint “dazzle” so it stands out and is clear.
- Repeat these steps to get heights on every corner. You should go further back by a few meters than what you want to excavate or fill in. This means you can keep your height marks without having them get in the way of digging work done by you or a digger driver.
- When you have all your points you can run a string line from each corner, from each D10 steel bar using the same “of-set” this will give you a height at any point you want.
Calculating clay and ground removal
Now that you have done a set out you need to calculate how much dirt you need to add and remove to determine if you can do it yourself, or you could hire some students for the weekend. Or if you need to get a digger in.
You can also calculate if you have space for dumping dirt. Or if you need to get it removed from the site.
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. Or wants to get rid of dirt, if you need some. You can then go half’s on a digger and truck and you don’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 can expand when it gets dug. You need to take this into consideration if you want to calculate how many truckloads you will need for removal, or how many bins you will need to hire. And if you can get away with just a bin or 2. Or if you need to get a digger and a truck.
Depending on the type of ground you have, the expansion rate will be different but on average expect a bulking factor between 20% to 40% for clay.
You want to work out how much ground there is to move or fill in. calculating the area and X it by the bulking factor.
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, you need to check your local council as you might need a resource consent. To potentially avoid having to get a 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.
Digging 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.
Using a digger
Now a digger can save you heaps of strain and time. Any large amount of dirt needs to be done by a digger.
Hopefully, you know the exact amount of dirt you need to be removed and you have already marked everything out perfectly. In other words, you are ready for a digger to start.
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.
- You can use a long straight edge to perfectly screed the sand under your ready lawn to have a perfectly flat lawn.
- Stops mud and keeps a grass lawn firm and solid to walk on.
- Help reduce lawn dents that can be caused by walking in the same spot.
Lawn drainage tips
Keep in mind the sand needs to be 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 compress it 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.