If you’re building a house, digging a well, dropping a curb, running an outdoor water pipe, or even putting up a shed, you might need excavation work. Excavation is often the only way to build, and you may have to invest in it even if you want a simple flat patch of ground.
The good news is that excavation is typically relatively cheap – and you can move a lot of dirt without a great deal of investment. However, costs vary depending on the material, disposal sites, and care needed.
For example, you can expect to pay an average of £85 per cubic metre to excavate sites less than 300 metres deep. You can drop that to as low as £45 per cubic metre for simple vacuum excavation. And, if you need manual rather than machine excavation, you could pay as much as twice that for the full job.
Many jobs rely on excavation. For example, building a foundation, building a swimming pool, lowering a curb, levelling ground, putting in drainage, adding channels for pipes and electric, dredging waterways, etc.
Excavation can include:
- Digging a hole for a foundation, pool, basement, etc.
- Grading or levelling ground, either by digging or by adding new material
- Digging channels for a channel foundation
- Compacting and hardening ground
- Changing the soil composition around a foundation for drainage
- Stripping topsoil and turf to preserve it during building
- Stripping away loose materials such as rock, gravel, and topsoil that may interfere with a project
- Horizontal tunnelling for pipes, drainage, etc, after the construction of a building
Many excavation projects include more than one of these. For example, if you’re building a home, you likely want to strip topsoil and turf, grade the land, excavate a basement, excavate channels for the footings, excavate the foundation, and then add a drainage layer. You’d then have to dispose of the removed dirt.
How Much Do Excavation Services Cost?*
Excavation services cost a significantly different rate depending on what you’re doing, what kind of material you’re digging in, and how long it takes.
For example, an excavation job on an open lot will always be easier than the same job in a crowded garden with walls on either side. However, on average, you can expect roughly the following rates:
|Item||Cost per m3|
|Trenches – 100-400 mm||£18-£34|
|Trenches – 400-10,000 mm||£30-£45|
|Excavating Rock /Concrete||£89-£147|
|Compacting||£2-£17 (per m2)|
*Please note, these estimates are based on quotes at the time of writing in April 2023. Actual rates are subject to change and may be different at the time of reading.
8 Excavation Price Factors To Consider
In every case, the cost of excavation will depend on the site, the extra work you need, and the actual services you need. Here, the cost of labour is almost always the most expensive part of the project.
1. Excavation Site Size
The bigger your excavation site, the more you’ll pay for the total project but the less you’ll pay per cubic metre. For larger build-sites, you’ll also have more machinery, which means your project might start out between £3,000-£30,000 depending on whether you have a basement or not.
Here, you’ll typically pay £85-£125 per cubic metre in excavation costs – with extra costs added on for pit and trench excavation with reinforced facings. If your house is 76 square metres, a foundation will cost upwards of £6,000.
However, smaller excavations can be more costly. For example, if you’re excavating a small trench or pit in your back garden, you can expect to pay a half-day or day rate – even if the labourer isn’t there the full day. This means you might pay £150 to dig a small trench in your garden – even if it’s only a cubic metre of displaced material.
Most construction companies will charge different rates based on the soil composition they’re working in. You’ll get the best rates with compacted dirt and sand.
Heavy clay may cost more – however, it might not. And, if you have very rocky soil, you can expect to pay more. Excavating large rock or concrete pours can cost hundreds per cubic metre, simply because it takes time and considerable effort to move.
In most cases, you can expect to pay £25-£50 per hour for labour, or an average of £150 per day, per person on site. In addition, you may pay machine or rental fees for heavy equipment, tipper lorries, etc.
For example, if you want to dig a simple trench in your back garden, you can expect to hire 1-2 people for a day to do the digging. They’ll come in, prep the site, dig, and then either dispose of or waste soil or set it to the side so you can fill it back in later.
If you want to dig out footings, you’ll likely get 2-4 people with an excavator and a tipper. You might also get pile drivers and specific equipment intended to dig holes for piles.
Grading equipment and levellers may also cost money to bring on-site, especially if your construction crew has to travel a larger distance. However, in most cases, the cost of travel and the equipment is included in the cost of labour.
For example, for footing foundations, you might have:
- Removing topsoil/turf
- Digging drainage
- Digging foundation
- Compacting ground
- Waste disposal
You’ll likely get the following:
- 2-man team + turf removal machinery
- Grading machine with 2 man-team
- Trench cutter or manual excavation with 2-4 man-team
- Excavator/tipper lorry with 3–4-man team
- Compactor with a 2-man team
This means that you’ll almost always have 2 men on the job, and for a large portion of the work, one will be there for safety and guidance rather than productive work.
In addition, lorry drivers and heavy equipment drivers will likely earn more per hour than manual diggers – so the increased speed of digging may be offset – and you’ll likely only pay a small percentage less for machine excavation than manual.
4. Waste Removal
Waste removal can be a considerable factor in costs.
For example, most construction sites will charge something like £7-£10 per cubic metre of waste disposed – within x radius of distance. If they have to drive further to dispose of waste or don’t have their own disposal facilities, those costs could be significantly higher.
Of course, not all excavation jobs have waste to dispose of. It may be that you simply dig a trench and then refill it later with all soil compacted back down over pipes or lines.
It may also be that you have to dispose of several hundred cubic metres of clay after excavating a pool or a basement. Therefore, costs can vary significantly from project to project.
For this reason, it’s often a good idea to include the cost of waste disposal in your quote. Some contractors will have the means to easily dispose of or re-use large quantities of clay, meaning they will charge less. However, it shouldn’t be your only consideration.
It’s significantly likely that you’ll need a survey before you start digging. That may be a simple soil makeup survey.
It might also be a CCTV Drain Survey if you’re digging over drainage and water lines around the property. Or, if you don’t know where they are. A CCTV will cost anywhere from £100-£400+.
You might also need:
- A structural survey to indicate if your excavation will interfere with existing footings
- Ecological survey to assess the environmental impact
- Land survey to confirm property boundaries
- Arboriculture survey BS5837 to check how the development will impact trees and if they should be moved
In addition, if you’re in a city, you might actually have to conduct a noise survey to determine how much you’re going to disrupt your neighbours, so you can attempt to mitigate that as much as possible.
Each of these surveys is likely to cost £100+, however, it’s unlikely that you’d need all of them.
6. Drainage and Plumbing
In many cases, you will have to reroute drainage and plumbing or dig new drainage when you excavate. That may be as simple as changing soil composition or installing gravel or sand drainage around the footings.
If your soil composition is good enough, this might not be necessary. However, in the worst-case scenario, you might end up cutting a significant amount of drainage channels. These normally cost £20- £45 per cubic metre of removed dirt.
In most cases, you’ll want to pay to have landscaping completed after the excavation project. This might include replacing the turf. It might also include shaping the topsoil, replacing it, mulching it, and seeding new turf.
In either case, it will cost money although how much depends on what you want.
- Replacing turf – £10-£15 per m2
- Seeding turf – £6-£15 per m2
If you want landscaping and design work, you’ll pay more – depending on your choices.
8. Kerb, Streets and Tarmac
A lot of excavation work will require modifying streets, kerbs, sidewalks, paths, and your existing footings. For example, if the project is to install an extra garage, you’ll want to pay to drop the kerb.
Kerbs and Streets – if your work affects public property, you’ll have to apply to council for permission. This often means paying an application fee, meeting requirements, and then having a Registered Competent Person do the work. For example, the city of Birmingham charges £103 for an application fee plus a £298 administration fee.
From there, you can expect to pay a licensed contractor between £2,000 and £4,000 to drop the kerb for you.
Other work, like repairing the sidewalk or tarmac will typically cost closer to £2,000. However, full rates will always depend on how bad the damage is and what you have to fix.
However, it’s always important to include repairs and modifications in your cost assessment, because it can be a considerable part of costs.
British Standards For Excavation
The Code of Practice for Earthworks (BS 6031:2009) defines how excavation must be completed in order to be safe, environmentally friendly, and structurally sound.
At any point where you hire a registered competent person to do excavation for you, they should automatically work according to these guidelines. You can look for the following credentials:
- Registered Competent Person
- 0-Series StreetWorks Certificate (For working with public streets)
- SPA Safety Passport
- ISO 9001: 2000
- OHSAS 18001
- ISO 14001
- British Safety Council
- Civil Engineering Contractors
Of course, you don’t need one person to have all of these.
In fact, some, like the O-series, mostly apply if you’re working with curbs and street repair.
What’s Involved In An Excavation Job?
Excavation projects can change based on what you’re doing. For instance, a simple plumbing ditch will be a lot different than digging footings.
- Remove brickwork and paving stones around the ditch
- Strip topsoil
- Dig ditch
- Lay drainage
- Install pipes
- Cover the pipes
- Replace topsoil and paving stones
On the other hand, a footings project for a home might look more like this:
- Remove topsoil/turf
- Grade site
- Excavate site
- Add compacted pits and trenches
- Add drainage layer
- Remove waste material
- Replace topsoil around the site
That may also include steps like clearing access to the site. For example, removing a garden fence, building new pathways, etc.
Machine excavation will also impact the total amount of prep work required, because you might have to make considerable space in your garden for an excavator.
The cost of excavation can vary considerably depending on the job, the type of excavation, and the material. On average, you can expect to pay about £85 per cubic metre for excavation. If you’re doing a small job in your back garden, you can expect about £150 per day, per person on the job. You’ll also have to work in extra costs, like dropping kerbs, replacing topsoil, landscaping, repairing footpaths, etc.