lightweight fill for sod lawn

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    Katherine Jacobs

    Hello, lounge!

    I am working on the backyard of a residence that can only be accessed by a flight of stairs and a walk around the house. Through a series of unfortunate events we need to do some re-grading that will require 150 cubic feet (~5.5 cubic yards) of fill dirt to be brought in. One wheelbarrow at a time. 

    Part of the unfortunate-ness of the situation is that we have no money in our budget for this.

    Has anyone had to deal with a similar situation? I know about using perlite, vermiculite, and various foams on green roofs to provide lightweight bulk, and these materials would be much easier to get onto the site than soil. However, we do want it to drain normally enough to support a sod lawn and be durable enough to withstand the traffic of playing children’s feet. 

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Stairs going up, or stairs going down? The difficulty with the wheelbarrow is keeping it level. One person is higher than the other in carrying it up or down stairs leaving someone in high risk of a back injury. Plastic trash cans carried on the shoulder is safer, but you can’t carry much more than 2 cubic feet at a time that way (vs. 5 CF in a full wheel barrow). You can use a wheel barrow or appliance cart to move the barrels everywhere else and only have to carry them up and down the stairs. 

    …. I used to have a contract removing seaweed from beaches (7 beaches, 7 days a week for three months) that were only accessible by stairs – lots of stairs. That is how we did it.

    “Fill dirt” or soil for the sod?

    If it is soil – you could build the soil in place by bringing bales (they are actually bags) of peat moss for 1/3 of the volume. Sand is lighter than some more clay soils and resists compaction under a lawn …. for another 1/3 of the volume. And finally you can lump the last third of native topsoil in,.or spend the money on 2 cubic foot bags. 

    I know that in my area there are a couple of places that will rent conveyor belts for moving soil – mostly for when someone is excavating under a house and they can’t fit a skid steer under it.

    Katherine Jacobs

    Thanks for your response, Andrew!

    There are 8-10 steps going up to the property. Our crew typically puts a piece of plywood over the stairs to create a ramp, which avoids the back injury issue. It’s still a big pain in the butt and takes more time, which increases costs.

    We need to raise the level 6″-12″ in different places, so typically we would import cheap fill for the first few inches and top it off with a few inches of higher quality soil for the sod. In this case, I’m imagining we could use a few inches of some super-lightweight material, mix it with the top layer of native soil for drainage, and then top it off with topsoil as usual.

    I generally like to avoid peat moss since it’s not renewable, but I appreciate the suggestion- it might be a good material to use in this case.

    Jason T. Radice

    Have it blown in. You can hire a company (if there is one around you) that has large blower trucks where they just run a large diameter hose to where it is needed and the material is literally blown in place. They use them for mulch and to blow green roof media to the top of the roof so no crane is needed for the large hopper bags or the need to bring 8 million plastic bags up an elevator and then up stairs.

    Soil is generally not a problem for these things if it has been screened. And you can get proper soil instead of the expense of lightweight materials. Here is a video from one of the manufacturers of the equipment. Look online or in the phone book for mulch or gravel companies/haulers, as they are generally the ones with this type of equipment (they also come in trailer form).

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