How to Estimate Cut and Fill Volumes for Earthworks

Projects
Introduction
On construction projects it is often
necessary to modify the existing ground
levels to create platforms to build on.
Accurately calculating the volumes of
soil that must be removed (cut) or added
(fill) to create the final ground levels is
an essential part of the planning
process.
In this article we are going to describe
how these volumes can be calculated.
We will take an example project, and
use three of the most common methods
to estimate cut and fill volumes. The
three methods that we will go through
are:

The cross-section method

The grid method

Using specialist software

The example project which will be used in this article.
This is a (fictional) platform being added to Alcatraz
Island in San Francisco Bay. The project includes cut
(shaded red) and fill (blue)

The examples described in this article have been worked through for each of these three
method with an excel spreadsheet which is available here. You may wish to download this
spreadsheet and work through the examples yourself to aid understanding of the methods
described. The spreadsheet also contains a number of formulas which automate certain
aspects of these methods described below, so you may find it useful for implementing
these methods on your own project.

How to Calculate Cut and Fill
Page 1 of 5

©Kubla Ltd
12 Sept 2014

An example calculation for the volumes between two sections of the example shown opposite. The volume between each pair of sections is estimated by multiplying the average cut or fill area of the two sections by the distance between them. These provide a useful visual summary of the estimation. Perhaps the simplest (but most time consuming) method is to plot the sections on gridded paper and count the grid cells of the cut and fill areas. The spreadsheet included with this article includes formulae which have automated the process of calculating section areas using the trapezoidal rule. A balance has to be made between accuracy on the one hand. For each section line the cut area and the fill area is determined. There are several different methods used to determine the areas of cut and fill once the sections have been plotted. but take longer to estimate. and speed of generating the estimate on the other. Sections are drawn at equal intervals through the project. Multiplying the cell count by the area represented by each of the grid cells gives the cut or fill area for the section. This can save a great deal of time if you are using the cross section method. the cut area and the fill area is determined. and to determine the areas of the sections.Cross-Section Method The cross section method involves plotting cross sections of the existing and proposed levels at regular intervals across the project site. Other methods include drawing the sections in CAD and exporting areas or calculating areas mathematically using the trapezoidal rule. The volume between two sections is determined as the average area of the two sections multiplied by the distance between them. One of the disadvantages off the method is that it can be extremely laborious to extract cross sections from the drawing. The accuracy of the cross section method depends to a large degree on the distance you choose to set between the sections. How to Calculate Cut and Fill Page 2 of 5 One of the great advantages of this method is that cross sections are generated in the process. Closer sections improve the accuracy of the estimate. ©Kubla Ltd 12 Sept 2014 . By adding together the volumes between all of the sections the total cut and fill volumes are obtained. which present the cut and fill depths across the project in a very clear way. Once these volumes have been calculated for each pair of sections the total cut and fill volumes are obtained by adding them all together. and the values are added together to get the total cut and fill volumes. This calculation is repeated for all of the sections. For each of the cross sections.

The average cut or fill depths are determined for each cell in the grid. like the section method. From these depths the volumes of each grid cell can be calculated. the grid method is timeconsuming and tedious to implement. and the time which will be taken to produce the estimate. The same is done for the fill cells to get the total fill volume.Grid Method The grid method involves drawing a uniform grid onto a plan of the earthworks project. the volume is calculated by multiplying the cut of fill depth by the area of the grid cell. the accuracy of the grid method depends upon the size of grid cell which is used. If the resultant depth is positive then this is a fill cell. One of the disadvantages are no graphical summary is generated for the estimation. An example calculation of the volume for one of the grid cells in the example on the right How to Calculate Cut and Fill Page 3 of 5 ©Kubla Ltd 12 Sept 2014 . while a negative value indicates a cut cell. and by adding the cell volumes together the total cut and fill volumes are obtained The cut or fill depth for each cell is found by subtracting the average existing level of the cell from the average proposed level. An advantage of the grid method are that the basis of the estimate can be fully summarised on the site drawings. By adding the volumes for each cell together the total cut and fill volumes for the project can be estimated. In either case. and the volume for each cell is obtained by multiplying the depth by the cell area. and taking off the existing and proposed ground levels at each node of the grid. A compromise has to be made between the accuracy which is required. Also. Once the volume has been calculated for each grid cell. all of the cut cells are added together to obtain the total cut volume. With these values the average depth of cut or fill required on each cell of the grid is calculated. which presents a very clear summary of the calculations for others to check. As with the cross-section method.

The primary disadvantage of using software to produce estimates is the cost of the software licence. Shading cut and fill depths across the project is a particularly useful facility. Another major advantage is that most modern software products of this type will have useful display options which can be exported for presentations. Rightly or wrongly. Perhaps the principal advantage of software is that it is much quicker to produce a more accurate estimate when compared with the manual methods described above. These products vary greatly in terms of complexity and price. As well as calculating volumes automatically. and most companies which estimate earthworks on a regular basis will use software to do so. The first stage of producing an estimate using software is to import the existing terrain. At $190. which varies between around $200 to several $1000s. this is one of the most economical software products of its type. the cut and fill depths are shaded. Some will essentially apply the grid method described above on a fine-resolution grid. and the software automatically calculates the cut and fill volumes required.Software Modern computer software allows earthworks volumes to be calculated quicker and more accurately than either of the two manual methods described above. whereas others use a triangulation of the terrain to calculate volumes directly. There are many advantages to using software to calculate earthworks volumes. How to Calculate Cut and Fill Page 4 of 5 ©Kubla Ltd 12 Sept 2014 . which is software for estimating earthworks volumes. A screen shot from Kubla Cubed. In any case. Different software products use different methods to generate the estimate. There are a number of software products available for this purpose. This is particularly important when presenting your estimates to a client as part of a tender. Once this is done the proposed terrain is drawn. While this cost should be offset against the time saved by using the software as well as the improved chance of winning bids with computer visualisations. people tend to be more impressed by computer-generated images than they are by hand calculations. the processing power of modern computers means that a high level of accuracy can be achieved in a fraction of the time it would take to produce a manual estimate. and trust them more. it can nevertheless be a cause of concern for a company that does not need to produce many earthworks estimates.

The best method for a particular organisation will depend on a number of factors. They may be used by educators provided attribution is given. The topographic data used in the example in this article is provided courtesy of the NOAA.woods@kublasoftware.com How to Calculate Cut and Fill Page 5 of 5 ©Kubla Ltd 12 Sept 2014 . including:  The number and complexity of the projects which you need to estimate  The presentational requirements for the estimation  The level of accuracy required  The time you have available to produce the estimate  The money you have available to buy software licences This article is written by an employee of Kubla Ltd. three of which are described here. including the images. a software product which is mentioned in this article. are the copyright of Kubla Ltd. who are the makers of Kubla Cubed. If you have any feedback on this article please email l. This article. In all other cases you must contact Kubla before using this copyrighted material.Summary There are a number of methods available for estimating cut and fill quantities.