October 2007

Economic Conditions for Balancing Earthwork By: Site Development Group
The development of both large and small commercial sites has many construction related economic considerations. Balancing earthwork is one of the important elements of planning and design of the site. The engineer should consider cut/fill balance along with minimizing earthwork which can significantly decrease construction costs. One method used to reduce the amount of earthwork is to place the building and other hardscapes as close to the existing grade as possible to minimize cut and fill. However, in and around the urban areas of Western Washington the large properties that are ideal for commercial sites are at a premium and we are left with properties that offer significant challenges. The acquisition and disposal of soil presents the following questions: • Where to get borrow material and at what cost? • How to dispose of excess soil? • What permits and restoration are required? Locating the building at existing grade may not be practical due to access or other criteria such as building heights, parking and soil conditions. Balancing earthwork is rarely achieved by placing the building at existing grade and in reality, the building or access road center line ground elevation hardly ever represents the entire cross section as it relates to cut/fill balancing. This is especially found in terrain with steep side slopes, rock outcrops, gullies and creeks. The goal of this article is to look at the criteria that are unique to a site. These include the changes in ground elevation, soils and base materials (balanced ground line) rather than the elevation at the location of the building. Consequently, conforming the building footprint and access road center line to the balanced ground line would give balanced cut and fill which lessens the amount of earthwork, resulting in a much more cost effective project. The following is a list of some factors that go into earthwork balance design. Site Geometry and Layout Considerations in deciding a proper balance for a building site starts with site layout. Key elements associated with the site include: • • • • • • • Buildings Parking lots Access drives Loading docks Equipment and vehicle storage areas Sidewalks Stormwater Facilities

These elements must work in conjunction with compliance to building codes, ordinances, and zoning regulations. Allowable access road grades also dictate much of what happens in site geometry and layout. Site Soils Subsurface exploration is required for an understanding of the soil conditions affecting the building and other structures placed on the site. These are required in areas with expansive or low strength soils. Other conditions would include when the site foundation will be supported by fill, projects with steep slope locations and higher ground water and sites with poor subsurface material and bedrock. The geotechnical report will make recommendations for duff removal (excess vegetative material) and foundation material depths for supporting the structures. Determining these quantities and minimizing the construction within zones of bad soils will be beneficial in lowering the projects cost.


final elevations are established for each corner of every grid square. The software’s capabilities allow for survey data of an existing site to be compared with design data for the future site. The Calculation The theoretical calculation that is often performed to determine cut and fill quantities is known as the Grid Method. Suite 300 Kirkland. WA 98101 Phone: 206. 11255 Kirkland Way. The foundation material in cut areas will result in an additional amount of material to be moved. Where. For each grid square.2014 1601 2nd Avenue.30% from a bank (in place) condition to a truck (transported) condition. For each grid square an average of the depths/heights of the four corners is multiplied by the area of the square to determine the volume of earthwork associated with the grid area.1855 1300 John Adams Street Oregon City. concrete. walls.paceengrs. These foundation materials usually consist of base material to support the structures. The soils engineer will analyze the existing surface and sub-soils to determine what criteria and materials are needed to support the buildings. WA 98033 Phone: 425. The grids can be measured to squares of 10.827.100 or more feet depending on the project size and the accuracy desired. The calculations are performed quickly and the design can be fine tuned (designed site raised or lowered) to better match the reality of the site conditions. borrow areas and volumes for asphalt.441. results in a much more cost-effective project.com . Due to the complexity of the various strata and time consuming method of the calculation many designers utilize Autodesk’s land development software to perform the calculation. vaults and flexible surfaces such as roads and parking.655. This method (also known as the Borrow Pit Method) calculates an excavation volume by applying a grid to an area of excavation with varying depths. Suite 1000 Seattle. For example. A comprehensive look at all the conditions for balanced cut/fill and lesser amount of earthwork. duff. some soils may swell in volume up to 25% . 50. Fill areas therefore require smaller quantities of general fill material. OR 97045 Phone: 503. The grids can now be measured to squares of two-feet or less which increases the accuracy of the estimated materials. Volumes are calculated as follows: Foundation Materials V= (D1 + D2 + D3 + D4) /4) * A * (1/27) Balancing the site requires looking at the base materials used in constructing the facilities.) A shrinkage or swell factor is then implemented to account for the condition upon which the calculated volume is to be used. These are subtracted from the existing elevations at the same location to determine the depth of cut or height of fill at each corner.1342 www. base and other materials can also be calculated. The total earthwork volume for the project is calculated by adding the volumes of each grid square in the excavation area. Bad soils. 20. V= volume (cubic yards) A= area of the grid square (square feet) D= depth of cut/fill at each grid corner (ft.