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An Investor’s Guide To Land Grading In 2022

Written by Paul Esajian

When you think of landscaping projects, you typically think about curb appeal. Things like flower beds and bushes can make a property more attractive, but they aren’t essential, nor do they necessarily increase the property value.

On the other hand, there are some projects that absolutely have to be done. Land grading is one of those projects. Not only can it be a great investment, but it might even be essential to your property’s integrity. Here’s everything you need to know.

What Is Grading Land?

Land grading is the process of changing the level or slope of a ground. In most cases, the ground is flattened before new construction. That said, land can also be graded into a slope for cosmetic purposes, or to allow for better drainage. There are several potential reasons, including:

  • Preparing the ground for a new foundation or a building addition

  • Preparing for hardscaping such as a deck, patio, or driveway

  • Preparing to lay down new sod

  • Preventing erosion

  • Improving drainage

Land grading requires a series of steps. First, any existing topsoil needs to be removed. Next, the site is leveled, and dirt is added or removed to particular areas. Slopes are removed or added as needed. Then, the soil is compacted back down, topsoil is added, and sod or gras seed is laid down. This ensures quick regrowth, and helps prevent erosion.

Depending on the jobsite, fill dirt may need to be trucked in or shipped out. In addition to trucks for this purpose, the job also requires equipment like excavators, backhoes, and skid steers. All this equipment can get expensive, particularly if you’re working on a larger project.

land grading

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How To Land Grade A Property

The process of grading your land is different depending on the type and scope of the job. The bigger the job, the more equipment you’re going to need.

Let’s start with the basics. What if you’re just correcting the slope on a small property? In that case, you can usually get the job done with a small skid steer, or even a dirt rake. Start by finding the highest point in the area, so you have a reference point. Now, you want to build a slope that drops about 2 feet for every 10 feet of horizontal distance. If the total drop is going to be more than 12 feet, you’ll need a retaining wall to shore up the earth. Otherwise, it will erode too easily. If you’re laying sod over the top, you’ll also want to reduce the total soil depth by an inch, to account for the thickness of the sod.

If you’re experiencing pooling, you’ll have to raise the low spots on the property where the water is collecting. Find and mark out the areas with poor drainage. It helps if you do this during a hard rain, to find the maximum extent of the pooling. Now, remove the topsoil and grass from the area, and set it aside. Then, fill the area with at least 4 inches of dirt. This can either be cheap fill dirt, or dirt taken from a higher part of the property. Cover the dirt with the topsoil and grass you removed, and the issue should be resolved.

For larger projects, you’ll need to bring in the heavy equipment. Unless you’re a landscaping expert, just call a professional contractor. You’ll experience some sticker shock at first, but they’ll get the job done right the first time. That’s a lot cheaper than doing it yourself and being forced to do it over.

Land Grading Steps For New Construction

In most cases, buildings require level ground for the foundation to be stable – and if the design calls for a slope, the slope needs to be precise. As a result, land grading is an essential part of building new construction. Here are the things you need to do when preparing for a new building.

  • Hire a professional

  • Check your local regulations before you begin

  • Start during the dry season

  • Use vegetation to create a buffer zone

  • Recycle your own fill dirt to save money

  • Remember to backfill

What Does Land Grading Cost?

Except for very small projects, land grading should really be done by a professional. It requires heavy equipment, multiple laborers, and years of experience, and this doesn’t come cheap. The average residential land grading job costs between $5 and $10 per square foot. According to, this works out to a national average of $3,100.

That said, there’s a lot of wiggle room here. HomeAdvisor gives a completely different average of $1,925, with a range of $973 to $2,955. The biggest factor affecting the price is the size of the lawn. Obviously, you’ll pay more for grading a larger area. Then again, larger commercial projects tend to cost a little less per square foot, because of the scale of work.

The slope, soil rockiness, and other factors will all impact your cost. Another important consideration is if you have to ship out a lot of fill dirt. And if you have to fill in a large area, you’ll want to budget about $15 per cubic hard for the project.

What Impacts The Cost Of Land Grading?

Let’s take a closer look at the various factors that determine the cost of land grading. One of the biggest drivers is the cost of labor. Depending on the size of the crew and their level of experience, you’ll pay between $40 and $180 per hour. On top of this, a contractor will typically charge a set fee for every cubic yard of dirt that needs to be moved.

But that’s just the beginning of the things that could affect your cost. Here are some other factors to consider:

  • Property size and accessibility. A larger property doesn’t just mean there’s more dirt to move. It can also mean larger equipment and a bigger crew, which drives up your cost. In addition, accessibility is another major factor. If the crew has to move dirt through a narrow gate or up a long driveway, it’s going to cost more.

  • Soil conditions. Rocky soil can drive costs up significantly, because workers may have to excavate large rocks and boulders. Depending on conditions, you could be looking at an increase of $40 to $100 per cubic yard. Trees and other obstacles can also be expensive to remove.

  • Dirt removal. If your project requires a lot of dirt removal, you’ll need to pay someone to ship it out. Depending on your local area, this costs somewhere between $140 and $175 per cubic yard.

  • Fill dirt. Fill dirt is required when you need to add height to your property. This actually costs less than dirt removal, though, at $15 or less per cubic yard.

  • Leveling a slope. If you’re completely eliminating a slope or hill, you’ll be moving dirt from one area to another. This can often be more affordable, since you won’t have to pay for a lot of fill dirt or dirt removal.

  • Drainage. If you need to install pipes or another drainage system, it will be more expensive than simply moving dirt.

  • Permits. Many jurisdictions require a permit for land grading. Check your local regulations, pay your fees, and get your permit in advance.

Land Grading Additional Costs

So far, we’ve established the basic costs of land grading. But depending on the nature of the job, you might be less than pleased with how it looks. After all the digging, dumping, and compacting, your lawn is going to be all torn up with dirt everywhere. If there’s further work to be done, you might be fine with this course of events. But if the landscape is complete, you’re going to want to restore your lawn. This can lead to extra costs:

  • Topsoil. If you’ve filled in an area, your contractor will have used cheap fill dirt. This is fine for bulk, but it doesn’t have the nutrients your grass needs to thrive. Before you seed or sod, you’ll want to cover the area with topsoil, which costs considerably more per cubic yard.

  • Sod. Another way to restore your lawn is to lay down sod. This has a major advantage, since you won’t have to wait for grass seed to grow. The sod will establish much faster, and the seams will be invisible in no time. On the downside, sod can cost as much as 10 times more than laying down seed, at a cost of $1 to $2 per square foot. If you’ve got the patience for seeding, that’s a lot of money saved!

Types Of Land Grading

Land grading is a catch-all term that applies to a variety of related tasks. Every property has its own soil type, slope, and existing vegetation. Moreover, you might have different needs for your property. Here are some of the terms you should be familiar with before you start.

  • Drainage. Effective drainage is essential for any property. This can often be accomplished by land grading alone. However, some cases might require drainage equipment, such as pipes, to guide water to a creek or retention pond.

  • Excavation. Excavation simply means digging a hole. Excavation is particularly common when preparing a property for a new foundation. It can also be necessary prior to hardscaping, such as installing a driveway or a patio.

  • Surface smoothing. Just because an area is flat doesn’t necessarily mean it’s smooth. Lumpy ground presents a tripping hazard, and it’s not a good look for your home or business. Surface smoothing is the process of leveling uneven ground.

  • Bobcat. A skid steer, often referred to by the popular brand name Bobcat, is a versatile machine that accepts multiple different attachments. It can be used for digging, dumping, smoothing, and moving dirt.

  • Topsoil. Ordinary dirt doesn’t contain a lot of organic matter, which makes it a poor choice for grass and sod. When you’re done with your land grading, you’ll have to lay down fresh topsoil before you reseed.

Does Land Grading Increase Property Value?

Does land grading increase property value? Depending on the property, it absolutely can! According to the National Association of Realtors, 99% of real estate agents think that curb appeal is essential for attracting new buyers. And according to, homes with better landscaping can fetch 20% more on the market.

This alone is a good reason to consider grading your land. But in some cases, it can be an important safety issue. In flood zones, for example, homebuyers want their property to have the best possible drainage. For sellers in these parts of the country, land grading can be a major part of preparing your home for sale.

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At first glance, land grading might seem like a purely cosmetic operation, to improve your home’s curb appeal. But whether for your own home or for a commercial property, it can be an important part of the landscaping process. With proper grading, you ensure that you’re getting the appropriate amount of drainage, and prevent your soil from eroding. This means more peace of mind for you, as well as for prospective buyers.