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Changing the slope (or grade) of a lawn is often done to keep water from flowing towards a home's foundation or to eliminate swampy areas. You may also wish to direct water towards a certain part of the yard (such as a garden or stream and waterfall) or level an area in order to accommodate a swingset, sandbox, fencing, or other outdoor feature. Even if your lawn is small, earthmoving equipment is required for this job. Homeowners who are comfortable operating a Bobcat can rent one and forego hiring a general contractor or landscaping company.
Lawn Grading Considerations
Grading a lawn is never a one-size-fits-all solution. Depending on your property and the nature of the problem, a number of factors go into determining the type and amount of work required.
- To prevent water from flowing back towards the foundation and entering the basement, your lawn should slope away from the house at a rate of approximately ¼" per foot (in other words, for every 4 feet of lawn, there should be an inch of drop). The current lawn slope of your property will determine how much grading needs to be done, and accordingly, how much the work will cost.
- Soil conditions in your area play a big role in how easy it is to reshape the earth. In places like New England, where the soil is rocky, resloping a lawn is much more difficult than in a place like Nebraska, which has loamy soil.
- When a swampy lawn (not basement flooding) is a concern, consider working with the drainage problem by planting a rain garden that contains water-tolerant plants.
- If your lot is situated at the bottom of a slope, lawn grading may not be sufficient to prevent excessive moisture problems. In this case, French drains or a dry creek bed can be used to divert water.
- Leveling a lawn can sometimes lead to erosion issues which, if not addressed, can cause new sloping problems. Plants are Nature's solution to preventing erosion. Incorporate some, and/or a wooden or metal bracing system, to keep the resloped soil in place. Where soil slopes down significantly, a retaining wall might be needed.
- Some lawns or certain areas of lawns can't be accessed by earthmoving machinery. In this case, shovels, rakes, and wheelbarrows can be used, albeit with a good deal of manpower (read: labor costs).
- Check with your municipality for codes or regulations regarding lawn slope and drainage.
Lawn Resloping Average Costs
- HomeAdvisor.com puts the average national cost of lawn grading at around $1,500 to $2,500. Based on your location and the type of work performed, however, actual costs can vary significantly.
- Expect to pay $500 to $1,000 per day (or $75 to $150 per hour) to hire an operator and a piece of heavy equipment (usually a skid steer loader or tractor with a scraper/planer attachment). There may be additional charges for travel and setup. Some contractors charge a full day minimum even if the job takes less than a day.
- Manual labor by a landscaping company costs $35 to $70 per man hour.
- Renting a Bobcat or similar piece of equipment for DIY lawn resloping might cost $175 to $350 per day or more.
- Additional landscaping services, such as planting, fertilizing, and building terraces, will add to the project cost.
- Building a small retaining wall cost $750 to $1,500.
- If your grading project requires fill that can't be obtained on-site, plan on paying $10 to $30 per cubic yard (plus delivery) for topsoil. Bags of topsoil, useful for small areas, cost $2.50 to $5.00 apiece.
- A comprehensive lawn drainage solution that uses French drains can easily cost $5,000 to $10,000 or more.