When assessing how much dirt you need for a large landscaping project involving infill, a new garden, or a raised bed, you'll want to start by calculating cubic yards. For reference, a cubic yard equates to a pile of soil that is 3 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 3 feet high — which is the same as 27 cubic feet. Many landscape supply companies take orders for soil by the yard, a measurement of the volume of dirt needed for your project. Some delivery services, however, will ask you to order by the ton.
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Topsoil Measured in Tons
Calculating tons requires knowing the density of the type of soil you are ordering. There are about 0.8 cubic yards of topsoil per ton, but soils can weigh anywhere from around 1,200 pounds per cubic yard for compost to 2,400 pounds per cubic yard for topsoil. You can check with your local landscape supplier for specific figures, but this example will use a typical weight of 2,400 pounds, or 1.2 tons per cubic yard. Now, get out your measuring tape and calculator, follow these simple steps, and find out how many tons you'll need for your landscape.
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How to Calculate Yards and Tons of Dirt
Step 1: Measure Project Area
Measure the length and width of the area you want to fill with soil. Multiply those two figures together to determine the square feet of your project. (If you measure in inches instead of feet, simply multiply length and width together, then divide by 144 to convert to square feet.)
Step 2: Calculate Cubic Yards
One cubic yard covers 324 square feet at a depth of 1 inch, but you could need to fill an area anywhere from a few inches deep to a foot or more. To determine the total cubic yards needed, multiply the total square feet of your project by the desired depth in inches and then divide by 324. As an example, multiply square feet by 6 (your chosen depth in inches); then divide by 324 to determine the total cubic yards required for the project.
Step 3: Convert Cubic Yards to Tons
Convert cubic yards to tons by multiplying yards by the typical weight of 1.2 tons per cubic yard of topsoil (again, you can check with your landscape supplier for a more specific figure). Dirt will settle over time, so you may want to round up your total by 10 percent to make certain you order enough for your project.