Excavating for a Driveway

Excavating for a driveway is one of the biggest jobs in home civil engineering. It’s quite an undertaking, but if you’re buying your own piece of land and planning to build your own house, it’s good to know how much earth you’ll be digging up and what sort of foundations you

If you think you don’t need to be excavating for your driveway, think again. It may only be just a little bit of concrete, but in a few years’ time you’ll be doing the job again. And the second time you’ll be excavating properly!

A Little Excavation Goes a Long Way

You don’t need to dig all the way to Australia! And the depth to which you excavate depends on the nature of the ground beneath it, which sort of driveway you are laying, and its length and width. But you need to lay proper foundations if you want a driveway that performs well and lasts for a long time. That means excavating.

We can’t cover all the excavation techniques and foundation levels for every single instance here, but the intention is to give some general guidelines. For the exact depth of foundation and excavation required, take a look at the articles on this site for each driveway type.

Manual or Mechanical?

Once you know how far down and how wide your excavation needs to be, you need to decide whether you are going to do the job by hand or get some mechanical tools in. Often the bulk of the work is carting the rubble away and disposing of it rather than the actual digging. But that also depends on the type of ground you have. (Read our article Waste Disposal When Making a Driveway on this site.)

If you have soft, loamy soil, and you can make use of it in the garden, you may be better off saving some money. Just get a few friends and family in to help dig out the soil and take it to its new home in wheelbarrow loads.

If you live in a mountainous area, and there’s solid rock under your topsoil, you may well have to get specialist in. That could blow the driveway budget out of the water, so do some exploratory digging before you commit to the job.

Get the Diggers in

Mini-diggers are pretty economical to hire these days, so it might be worth lining up a digger and a skip if you think you’re going to have more stone than earth to shift. If you are lifting an old driveway, perhaps Tarmac or Concrete, then a pneumatic drill is definitely on the cards.

Without a pneumatic drill you’ll be looking at hours of work with pick axes and spades. If you have a mini-digger, you’ll be able to shift larger chunks, so the job will be even faster.

Skip Management

If you’re using a skip over a weekend, make sure that the skip firm are able to swap a full one over for an empty one on the Sunday; you’ll need that if you end up using more than one skip load. If they don’t work on Sundays, make sure you have an arrangement to call late on Saturday afternoon and be prepared for them to take away a half load. That’s better than filling the skip up halfway through Sunday afternoon and having nowhere to put the rest of the rubble.

It’s also worth checking if they do recycling of building materials. It may be an extra charge, but it can save you a lot of money in landfill charges and tipping fees.

Should You Get a Builders Excavator?

You’ll need to consider the width of your driveway and whether you need it to conform to current regulations regarding vehicle access. If you’re planning on excavating for an asphalt or concrete driveway, then a mini-digger is going to be your best bet.

If you want something more traditional like a gravel driveway with bricks down each side, then you’ll probably be better off with a regular digger.

If you own your plot of land but not the house and have to ask permission for any excavations, don’t assume that it will be granted. If your neighbour has recently moved in or is planning to build soon, they

Watch Yourself

Finally, make sure you wear the right protective gear and take it slowly and steadily. It’ll be no good saving money on driveway excavation if you put your back out and can’t work for a fortnight (for more information read our article Safety and Driveway Laying.)


In conclusion, don’t be afraid to take a risk. If you think it’s better to get someone in, then do so. You’ll probably save money in the long run and you may well get a higher quality finish when it comes to laying your driveway or patio slabs. But if you do decide to do it yourself, be prepared to take a take your time and keep yourself covered.

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