Steps to Regrade Your Lawn Yourself
If you’re making minor adjustments to the strip of land around your foundation or other yard features, regrading your lawn is a relatively manageable project. On the other hand, yard grading can become a huge undertaking if you have a large, uneven, or steeply-sloped lawn.
Measure the Existing Grade
The first step is to find out how large or small the existing slope is. For this measurement, you’ll need two stakes, about 10 feet of string, a hanging string level, and measuring tape.
- Tie one end of the string around the first stake and pound it into the ground right next to the foundation of your home until the string is at ground level.
- Measure 100 inches away, or about 8 ⅓ feet, and pound the second stake into the ground just enough for it to stand up on its own. Tie the other end of the string around this stake.
- Hang the level at the approximate midpoint of the string and adjust the height of the string on the second stake until the bubble is in the center of the level.
- Measure the distance from the ground to the string on the second stake.
- Divide this measurement by 100 to find the land grading measurement, expressed as a percentage by moving the decimal two places to the right.
Thus, if the string is 6 ½ inches above the ground where it’s tied to the second stake, your calculations will come out to 0.065, or a grade of 6.5%. Repeat this measurement at several places around your foundation, including walkways and driveways. Write down your findings for later reference. It might also be good to physically mark the high and low spots with spray paint, stakes, or flags for future reference.
Rebuild the Slope
If the current slope of the yard is too shallow, you’ll want to raise the ground level near the foundation and smooth out any other high spots. If large changes are necessary, you may need to rent heavier machinery like a bobcat or a mini-excavator. However, for smaller changes, you may only need a power tiller, a landscaping rake, a wheelbarrow, and a sheet of plywood. Additionally, you’ll need enough extra soil to build up the grade. Here’s what to do next.
Check for Obstacles
First, check around the perimeter of your home for any low-lying pipes or vents. You don’t want to block, bury or damage these features, so you can often extend the pipes or vents so that they’ll still be aboveground. It’s crucial to consult a professional about making changes if you don’t know the purpose of these features.
For basement windows that would potentially be covered up by adding soil, try window wells to hold the dirt away from the glass. If there are utility lines in the first few inches of topsoil, they need to be clearly marked, so you don’t disturb or damage them in the next step. Check with your local utility company, who may want to send a technician out to mark them. You may also need a permit from your city or county for larger projects.
Distribute the Soil
Next, you’re ready to start removing about four inches of topsoil in order to work on the harder subsoil underneath. You’ll probably need to rent or purchase a power tiller to break up the soil enough that you can move it around with a landscaping rake. Additionally, be sure to purchase fill dirt to build up new high areas. You can use a soil calculator to estimate how much you might need by cubic foot or cubic yard. If it’s a small project, you may be able to get away with buying it by the bag, but for larger projects, it will make more sense to buy by the truckload.
Start taking the soil to the areas that need to be raised. You’ll want to start near the foundation, where the new high point needs to be. After laying the soil, use the back of your rake to smooth it into a reasonably level surface, then lay your plywood across it. Walk across or jump on the plywood to tamp the new soil down. If this doesn’t seem sufficient, you can also buy or rent a tamper to compact the new dirt.
You can, of course, also remove dirt from areas that are too elevated. If you go this route, avoid creating new areas for runoff to pool. You’re looking to improve your overall yard drainage, after all. As you finish this step, make sure you leave 4 to 8 inches of your foundation uncovered above the new grade.
Measure the New Grade
Once your soil is in place, repeat the measuring process with the string between two stakes to check your work. Recommendations vary as to the ideal finished grade, but the general suggestion is between 2% and 5% slope. That’s a decrease of 2 to 5 inches over 100 inches (8 ⅓ ft). Now is the time to make any corrections that you need, so double-check that you’ve arrived at the right grade.
Finish Your Work
To put the finishing touches on the new surface, add about 4 inches of topsoil to replace what you removed initially and till it into the surface of the subsoil. You don’t need to tamp this down, but water it well to compact it slightly.
We recommend planting grass seed or putting down sod at the same time to provide new ground cover. The roots will help bind the new topsoil together and act as erosion control. Make sure to keep up with watering the growing grass over the next days and weeks.
Explore Other Options
Not all yard grading projects are quite this straightforward. For yards that are small or an unusual shape, you might not have enough room to grade the surface around your home properly. If this is the case, you can install a feature called a French drain beneath the ground to direct the water away from low points in your yard. Alternatively, if your yard has steep slopes, a retaining wall can help decrease erosion while maintaining proper drainage.