Professional excavation contractors remove unwanted soil and earth in preparation for home renovations and construction projects. Excavation levels the ground for new foundations, additions to existing structures, new outbuildings—such as sheds and garages, new driveways, or new sod or landscaping.
The excavation site should be surveyed and cleared of any underground pipes or utility lines to prevent dangerous ruptures during a project. Permits are generally required before undertaking an excavation project that could disturb the surrounding environment—especially one that redesigns an existing driveway or changes the landscape in a significant way. Several cost factors affect small- and large-scale excavation projects.
Some excavation contractors charge an hourly rate for their services, especially for smaller jobs. Excavation contractors sometimes also charge by the hour for clearing jobs, also known as "topsoil excavation." Topsoil excavators remove brush and shrubs using heavy machinery such as a backhoe. Gary Hartloff of Hartloff Property Restoration in Olympia, Washington, charges $60 per hour for topsoil excavation, which includes one worker operating a mini-excavator backhoe tractor.
Grading for driveway installation
One of the most common excavation job requests is clearing and leveling out driveway sites and installing fresh rock. This type of work is topsoil excavation. Hartloff of Hartloff Property Restoration says he measures driveway excavations by the square foot and gravel by the yard when calculating costs. Here’s how Hartloff breaks down costs:
270-foot-long and 10-foot-wide driveway, total project cost: $2,000
Day one—Clear and grade driveway site: $1,200
- Includes clearing and grading down two inches using a Bobcat tractor to remove holes and create an even surface
Day two—Spread new gravel: $800
Bobcat tractor used to spread 24 yards of crushed rock
- Includes a second laborer to hand rake and spread gravel evenly
Leveling for lawn installation
Excavation contractors can create a level surface for a new lawn in an area full of stumps, brush and trees. Professionals can also level or grade existing lawns to help them drain properly, creating a surface that won’t allow rain or sprinkler water to pool. In addition, excavators can help homeowners achieve flat or sloped landscapes for aesthetic purposes. Hartloff of Hartloff Property Restoration uses a mini-excavator for lawn excavation projects. Here’s how he breaks down costs:
New 1,000-square-foot lawn: $1,750, or $1.75 per square foot
Topsoil excavation—scraping off two inches of existing topsoil or lawn to level area and hauling away debris
- 50 cents per square foot to clear the 1,000-square-foot lawn: $500
8 yards of new topsoil at $30 per yard: $240
- Labor and materials for installation of new sod: $1,010
Excavating for construction
When excavating land to build a new pool, foundation or basement, it’s a good idea to work with an excavation contractor and most likely an engineer as well. Heavy machinery that can remove large quantities of soil is required, as are safety precautions, planning and permits. Some contractors charge by the cubic yard for larger projects like this, and others quote one project fee that includes the estimated number of cubic yards as part of the calculation. Unexpected water under the soil level, excessive clay, or rocky formations that hinder digging and removal could all increase project costs.