How To Level Backyard 101

How To Level Backyard

Maybe you bought a new home with an unlevel backyard. Or, perhaps you had a great idea of how you want to use your backyard, but it requires you to level the backyard. Either way, you ask yourself how to level backyard space properly.

The concept sounds simple, put more dirt in areas that are deeper than others. However, there are many challenges to leveling a backyard properly. We will outline two of the biggest hurdles on how to level backyard space. We will also suggest your various options for getting this task done. These vary in terms of how much time or money you’ll need to complete the project.

Challenges On How To Level Backyard Properly

When considering leveling out your yard there are some serious issues to consider.  You can get yourself in a world of trouble by not factoring in two areas: utilities and drainage. We will explore how you can be safe with each of these.


First, are there any underground or overhead utilities that will be effected?  The first step with any earth moving activity is calling 811, the call before you dig hotline.  Then the various utilities will come out to the property and locate where they have underground utilities.  This can be done at any time, and at no cost. 


The next consideration is drainage.  When it rains, where does the water go?  The last thing you want to do is create a flood at your neighbors house, or a wet basement at your house because you changed the grade of your backyard.   Often it’s impossible to tell which way a slight gradient is going just by looking at it, even for seasoned professionals.  This is why they use laser transits to be sure.  Check your local tool rental like Home Depot if you don’t want to spend $500 on a new one. 

How To Level Backyard drainage

Once you’ve determined where the low point is, and how water flows across the property you can start thinking about leveling it out.  However, you never want to truly level the yard out.  Creating a large flat area can cause more headaches like pooling water, mosquitos, and swampy ground.  You should always have a slight gradient, a 2% minimum grade is ideal

Now, when changing the grade of your yard you may make some areas steeper than they were before.  If you don’t want to build retaining walls you’ll want to keep the maximum slope no greater than a 3:1 slope. Try and calculate the cubic feet then the cubic yards you’ll need to create the grade you are hoping to achieve.  Keep in mind there is no shame in hiring a professional to help you with your leveling project.

How To Find Material (Dirt) To Level Your Backyard

Where do you get the dirt to level your yard?  Well, one great place to start is pool companies.  They are often removing dirt from yards, and they are always looking for places they can dump.  Keep in mind though, they won’t be spreading it around and grading it off.  They will leave big piles of dirt and if you don’t discuss the quality of the dirt ahead of time, you’re at the mercy of what they drop off.  If you’re filling a giant hole in you may be able to take just about anything. However, if not, here are some things to watch out for when getting dirt delivered.

Check for High Organic Content (Grass)

Often the pool builder will first scrape off all the grass in the area where the pool will be built.  This topsoil and grass will be mixed together in the first dump truck load of the excavation and if let to rot for a few years would make some great topsoil.  However, if you use this material for fill, over time the grass will rot and the ground will sink leaving low spots in your newly filled yard.  Typically when requesting fill, make sure there are no organics in the material.  

How To Level Backyard material grass and rocks

Check for Bones (Rocks)

Then, ask for whether the material is “bony”.  In the northeast where there is a lot of glacial till being excavated there will often be large rocks mixed together with the fill.  This is not great for filling and grading a yard, but can be overlooked if you’re filling in a large void.  Of course one additional thing to request of the fill is “is it clean?”.  Sometimes a pool company will be removing an existing pool to build a new one.  If this is a gunite pool they’re removing there will be a load of broken concrete and rebar that’ll need to go to a recycler.  Obviously you don’t want to use this as fill on your property.

What To Do After Finding Material To Level Your Backyard

Once you have the dirt on your property you’ll need to spread it around and grade it off as you’ve planned.  This requires renting machines like a skid steer, a lot of back breaking work with a shovel and a wheelbarrow, or hiring a landscape or site work company to finish the job.  Either way, it’ll be a memorable experience and in the end you’ll have the yard of your dreams.

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