How Much Does It Cost for Land Excavation & Grading?

Typical Range:

$1,449 - $5,522

Find out how much your project will cost.

Cost data is based on actual project costs as reported by 1,943 HomeAdvisor members. Embed this data

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  • Homeowners use HomeAdvisor to find pros for home projects.
  • When their projects are done, they fill out a short cost survey.
  • We compile the data and report costs back to you.

Updated March 30, 2022

Written by HomeAdvisor.

A typical residential excavation job runs between $1,449 and $5,522 with an average of $3,453. Though most companies charge anywhere from $40 to $150 an hour, residential jobs receive project bids. Project bids reflect cubic yards of dirt moved, anywhere from $50 to $200 per cubic yard. Land excavators are subcontractors who rarely oversee entire jobs - though you can hire one directly for things like digging a hole for a swimming pool or a trench for new utility lines.

In residential settings, a land excavator prepares a site for development by removing trees, digging and grading the land in preparation for home foundations. If it has to do with dirt - dirt removal, cut and fill, land clearing, digging, compacting, and land prep - these earthmoving experts do it. Although the specific machinery used for excavation may vary depending on the size of the lot and the plant life already in place, the most common choices are either an excavator, backhoe loader or tracker with a backhoe attachment. The exact cost will depend on several factors, but this guide helps homeowners estimate expenses.

Average cost to excavate land ranges from $50 to $200 per cubic yard

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National Average $3,453
Typical Range $1,449 - $5,522
Low End - High End $450 - $12,900

Cost data is based on actual project costs as reported by 1,943 HomeAdvisor members.

Land Excavation Costs

Professional excavators rent themselves out by the hour or subcontracted by the project. Rates can run anywhere from $100 to $180 an hour for a machine and operator. These rates are going to vary greatly depending on the market factors in your location. The contractor makes about the same regardless how you pay - by the hour, cubic yard, acre or project.

How is Excavation Priced?

Contractors offer project quotes based on the number of cubic yards of dirt. One cubic yard of dirt will run about $100, though it can range anywhere from $50 to $200 and more depending on terrain. When bidding on projects, contractors typically include any associated costs for additional work, such as grading, land clearing, land leveling and erosion control. But these increase the price. Contractors sometimes bid these additional services by land area rather than by the cubic yard.

Pricing is impossible to do without first seeing the site. So many factors can influence a quote, so homeowners should only accept bids from companies that have physically seen the land and the surrounding terrain. Otherwise, they may underbid, do a poor job or even overcharge.

Cubic Yard vs. Square Foot vs. Acre

A cubic yard of dirt determines most excavation projects. However, land clearing and large-scale grading employ both square foot and acre pricing.

Land clearing only runs about $200 to $6,000 an acre - but only includes removing trees, shrubs and debris from the land. You'll spend an additional $0.47 to $2.28 per square foot for grading. With 43,560 square feet in an acre, that's about $20,000 to $100,000 an acre.

Average Excavator Hourly Rate

Average hourly rates tend to vary greatly due to location but tend to run between $120 to $150 an hour. That rate includes both the equipment and the operator and often comes with a minimum number of hours - typically at least one day or eight hours. Hourly rates only apply when you are contracting the excavator directly. General contractors will bid project rates instead.

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Excavation & Land Leveling Factors Affecting Costs

Four major factors may affect land excavation prices. The size of the total area, terrain and soil composition, purpose of the excavation and equipment needs. Tough projects that require additional equipment, or the use of multiple machines at once, may add to the total price of the job. Keep in mind that timing can play a role in total bill.

Size & Accessibility

For residential purposes, many projects have minimum fees. Smaller projects often require smaller equipment with lower prices . For instance, a skid steer or backhoe for a small job rent for around $100 an hour with an operator where a full-sized excavator runs about 50% more for larger projects.

Soil & Terrain

Digging in rock or rocky terrain will add $200 to $1,200 or more to the project . A contractor will always visit the site to determine the final bid. Excavation in an area with loose soil, no trees and no rocks in the dirt will be much simpler, and therefore cheaper than removing dozens of mature trees and dealing with boulders stuck in clay-like soil.

Flattening Hills or Slopes

Cut and fill rates can vary greatly from $1 to $12 per cubic yard. Haul distance will affect excavation more than size. For example, cut and fill earthmoving over a few hundred feet utilizes less crew, equipment, fuel, and time than moving it over five miles. The price differences are going to vary greatly due to these factors plus location, accessibility and the type of project.

Equipment Needed

Equipment run in the $100 to $250 an hour with operator range. However, larger jobs can use larger equipment that is more efficient at earthmoving, cutting costs. Accessibility also determines the type of equipment needed. Poor accessibility to a job site may require smaller dump trucks and more labor hours to move dirt and debris, increasing the bill.


Though season does have some limitations for most construction work, unless it's a project in the Arctic, it has very little effect on projects or costs. The main worry about winter work is laying a foundation before frost sets into the dig site - though this is a concern of the foundation and general contractor, not the excavator. Current levels of technology and engineering in equipment make winter workflow as seamlessly as summer construction. The largest impact is weather delays. General contractors usually absorb costs due to delays.

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Excavation vs. Yard Grading Prices

Yard grading runs between $1,000 to $6,000 or more for the entire job. Most contractors consider grading as part of excavation, though it is sometimes a separate project. Yard leveling, also known as grading, is a type of excavation used to correct drainage issues, prepare the ground for home extensions, and for purely aesthetic purposes. Both include digging and removing dirt or cutting and filling for both landscaping and leveling.

Dirt Digging and Removal Prices

Hauling away dirt from new foundations and in-ground pools will run between $8 and $25 a cubic yard. Access to the dirt plays the largest factor. If a dump truck and backhoe have easy access to the dirt, expect a lower price.

Site Cut & Fill Estimates

Cut and fill runs anywhere from $1 to $15 per cubic yard. Cut and fill is the practice of moving earth from one location (cut) to another location (fill) for leveling and grading purposes. The most common example is the process of leveling terrain for a road. The costs vary drastically because of the specifics of each project. The distance from the cut area to the fill site is the largest consideration. Other factors include:

  • Type of equipment needed.

  • Is compaction required?

  • How steep is the area?

  • Erosion and environmental requirements.

Because costs and regulations vary significantly between locations, you'll need to contact a local excavator for specifics. In residential construction, large-scale residential projects like planned subdivisions use these techniques, but they often lead to drainage issues under foundations. Likewise, landscapers use cut and fill to create driveways and level lawns.

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Reasons to Excavate Land

Excavation is the first step in the construction process included in your overall home construction costs. Excavators prepare sites for a variety of purposes including installing home foundations, waterproofing basements, installing in-ground pools, pouring concrete patios, grading for driveways and even for simple erosion control and drainage. It's used to clear and grade farmland and in commercial applications like roads, bridges and even parks.

Concrete Patios and Driveways

Creating a patio or driveway first requires creating a dirt pad - sometimes with grading. It will run between $1,000 to $2,500 to have an area graded, compacted and prepped for concrete.

Basements, Crawl Spaces, Foundations for a New Construction

New construction is one of the most common jobs for an excavator. On average, you'll end up paying between $1,500 to $6,000. Just digging the hole for a new basement or crawlspace can cost between $500 for a DIY job - just renting the equipment for a small project. For larger projects, expect to pay upwards of $6,000 to $10,000.

Basement Waterproofing

Getting the basement exposed to waterproof runs anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000. On top of digging costs, basement waterproofing costs between $5 to $10 per square foot or about $4,000 total.

Swimming Pool Excavation

Digging a hole for a swimming pool will run you anywhere from $400 to $1,500 in an easily accessible area with soft soil. Inaccessible areas with rocky terrain can cost as much as $20,000.

Rock Excavation

Rock excavation, if it involves blasting to create small, movable chunks of rock from shelves or large boulders runs $40 to $100 per cubic yard. Rock presents the largest cost increase for digging if it's larger than an excavator or backhoe can handle. Blasting often requires geological and explosives consulting professionals.

Landscape, Backyard Erosion Control & Gardening

Yard leveling for landscaping, gardening and erosion concerns run anywhere from $500 to $6,000 depending on the job specifics like composition of soil, size of project, equipment needed, etc. Basic lawn resloping averages $1,900 and helps prevent erosion and drainage problems.

It is worth asking professional excavators about their erosion control plan before project completion. Simply placing earth in a new location doesn't guarantee that it will stay there indefinitely, particularly if the area is sloped or there is significant rain forecast in the future. Some options for erosion control can include planting ground cover, compacting the area or consistently watering the ground until construction begins. Keep in mind that the more involved an erosion control method is, the more it will cost the property owner.

Fire Hazards

Clearing shrubs and trees around your home creating a fire break runs anywhere from $350 to $8,000 with an average of $2,600. Land clearing costs vary greatly with the size of the project. Expect to pay about $1.30 to $2 per square foot.

Plumbing & Septic Systems

Trenching for new sewage lines and septic systems have a few considerations. A new sewage main can cost upwards of $1,500 just to tap into. Installation add another $6,000 to $10,000 depending on linear feet and accessibility. Renting a trencher runs between $150 to $400 a day depending on the size of the machine.


How long does it take to excavate?

It really depends on the yards configuration. With easy access, it'll only take a few days to excavate.

How do you remove a hill in the backyard?

A contractor will use an excavator or backhoe to remove the hill in your backyard. Dump trucks or side dumps haul away the dirt.

Can grading or excavating work occur in the winter?

Digging projects can happen throughout the year, including winter, though in some cases it can increase the cost and the duration of the project.

Can I DIY excavation or land flattening?

You usually can with enough experience and the right equipment. You'll need to research the appropriate methods. Get the right permits and survey the land. In rocky regions, you may want to involve a geologist - some digs turn into blast sites or require heavy equipment to remove rock. Equipment runs anywhere from $75 to $350 per day. Contact your local rental outlet for detailed pricing.

Call 811—the dig line—before digging. If your dig runs over any lines, you'll need to involve the appropriate utility company to either reroute the lines or do that portion of the dig. Never dig or move utility lines outside the home yourself. Costs will vary considerably based on a wide range of factors.

When lines cross the dig, or the terrain is complex and rocky, it's best to hire a professional.

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