While clearing land for a home can be somewhat expensive, it is usually only a small part of the cost of building a house.
Since land can be easy or hard to clear, there is a huge range of prices. If the land is level and has few trees, there isn't that much work for contractors to do. Clearing forested land is somewhat expensive, but not as expensive as leveling uneven ground to prepare it for building.
Preparing the land for construction costs anywhere from $2000 to $4000 for a 2000 square foot area. The total cost can sometimes be less than $1000, or it can be more than $8000. Things like digging a well or tearing down a building cost thousands of dollars.
Many things can raise or lower the price of preparing raw land for a home. If you need to test the soil, remove stumps, dig a basement, demolish an old structure, or stop erosion, it can be more expensive to clear your land. It can also be much cheaper than normal if there is not much work to do, and what location you live in also matters.
I have had land cleared to build a home on before, and it does not cost a fortune, in my experience. Even if the job is more difficult than usual, the total cost is not likely to exceed ten thousand dollars.
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Many Things Determine the Price
The more work there is to do, the more it will cost to do it. The range of prices is huge, from less than $600 in total to more than $8000. The size of the land isn't the most important factor - a bigger piece of land might be much easier to clear.
Contractors usually charge by area (either acre or square foot) and not by the hour, but they will charge a higher hourly rate if the land is harder to prepare. Flat land is cheaper than land that needs to be leveled. Land surveys, erosion, and permits can add to the cost.
Is Land Preparation Always Necessary?
Even if there isn't a forest to clear, the site will still require some preparation. Workers will have to flatten the land and remove debris.
There is hardly any chance that contractors can build on your land right away without preparing the ground first. However, if it seems like the job would be quick and easy, you might get a lower than average price.
The Cost of Permits
There are a lot of permits and regulations these days, and you'll have to pay for a permit before you get your land cleared. Thankfully, this is cheap - it might be as low as $10, and it won't be more than $350. The average cost is about $200.
Cost by Area
Preparing a square foot of land for a house usually costs less than $1.20 to $2. This is the price of removing rocks, plants, and trees, plus leveling the land by moving earth from higher ground to lower ground.
The price is not always in the normal price range. If you're lucky it could be below it (if the ground is already nearly level, it might be cheap), or it could be more expensive than usual (if a lot of earth has to be moved).
Site Preparation vs. Land Clearing
Preparing land for building is much more expensive per square foot or per acre than merely clearing the land. If you only want a lot of rocks and trees removed from your home, that is cheap - only a few hundred to a few thousand for a whole acre. However, preparing an entire acre of land for building costs $25,000 to more than $40,000.
Thankfully, you don't usually have to clear very much land to build a home. You don't need to clear a whole acre, just a few thousand square feet of land.
Again, the most important factor is how level your land is. Land that is hard to level is much more expensive to work with than heavily forested land.
What is Forestry Mulching?
Forestry mulching involves turning the trees and bushes workers remove from your land into a nourishing mulch that can improve your soil. It is an alternative to debris removal, where the workers remove all of the plant matter from your land.
Forestry mulching can be done quickly, so it is reasonably cheap. While contractors charge about $200 per hour, they can cover two acres for only $800, or 1/8th of an acre for only $50.
Removing the Brush
If you choose to have the brush removed instead of turned into mulch, this is thankfully also cheap. You will pay at most $200 and as little as $20 per acre.
Another significant part of the cost is bringing utilities to your new home. If your raw land doesn't already have access, you will need to pay to bring power, water, sewer pipes, gas, and other things to your property.
Sometimes, it can cost as much as $2000 to bring electricity to a property, but it usually isn't nearly that expensive. If you live in a rural area, it could be expensive, depending on how far away the nearest poles are. In other places, the electric company might do it all for free.
The need for wells and septic tanks in rural areas also makes land development more expensive. You may have to pay about $6500 for a well and a septic tank.
Sometimes, contractors will need to move earth to your home and not merely move it around. It costs about $150 to move a dump truck full of dirt to your property.
Sometimes, it can take many loads of dirt, enough to cost you another few thousand dollars. It may take a surprisingly large number of loads to complete a project. On the plus side, earth to your property may not be necessary at all.
If people cannot easily move large trucks and machines to your land, they will need to build a temporary road, which will raise the price further. Don't be too worried that it will cost a fortune - workers will only have to do a fraction of the things listed here. Call a company that will give you a free estimate, and you will probably hear a reassuring number.
Other Costs and Considerations
If you need to prevent erosion, tear down an old building, or merely remove some old tree stumps, the project may cost more than normal.
Erosion Control Can Also Cost You
Erosion is a serious problem and not something that you can get away with ignoring. Eventually, erosion could destroy your home if you don't do anything about it. Your house needs flat, solid ground to rest on, and erosion will ruin it.
What is Erosion and How Can it Damage Your Home?
Erosion is the land naturally changing shape over time. For example, rain might wash the dirt away and change the shape of the land. Water can cause erosion in a few different ways (a river might become wider and shallower, or it might change its course), and so can wind.
Development and agriculture can cause or accelerate erosion. Erosion can eventually lead to the foundation of your home weakening and failing, and it sometimes causes floods and landslides. The presence of vegetation and trees can prevent it.
How Do You Control Erosion?
Hydroseeding, or planting grass, is a common way to control erosion. For only 8-20 cents per square foot, a developer can put grass seed, water, mulch, and fertilizer on your land. Rain will no longer erode the ground once your land is covered in grass.
What if An Existing Structure Needs to Be Destroyed?
There might be an old, dilapidated building on your property that should be torn down because it is an eyesore or because it is in the way of what you want to build. It costs $4.33 to $11.67 per square foot to demolish a structure and take the materials away.
A lot of work goes into demolition, so it is not exactly cheap to do. For example, an old building may have been constructed using asbestos, which is poisonous and difficult to dispose of safely. An asbestos test will add to the price, and then cleaning up the building will cost more because the asbestos complicates the process.
What is Asbestos?
In the past, asbestos was a common construction material. People did not realize that it causes health problems and can kill people. Asbestos was used for shingles, tiles, siding, and especially insulation.
When an old building containing asbestos is torn down, it has to be done properly to prevent harmful particles from entering the air. Contractors must be licensed to dispose of asbestos and must use the right equipment to prevent workers from being exposed to it and prevent asbestos from entering the air. After the work is done, there should be a final test to make sure almost no asbestos remains in the area.
Sometimes, repairing and using an old building on your property is a better idea. However, if the old building is damaged beyond repair, is of no use to you, or is on the land you want to use for your house, walkway, or pool, you should tear it down. Repairing a badly damaged structure can be far more expensive than demolishing it.
Small Scale Tree Removal
Sometimes, you might only need a small area cleared, even as little as a single tree. Small-scale tree removal is relatively cheap - it costs about $630 per tree.
Larger trees are harder, riskier, and more expensive to cut down. Large trees (over 80 feet tall) may cost significantly more (e.g., $1050 or $1900) to remove. A small tree (under 25 or 30 feet) may cost less than $400 or as little as $150.
Tree stumps can also get in the way of land development, and you might not like the look of stumps on your land. Removing stumps costs about $40 or $80 per stump, with the first stump costing more like $300.
Contractors sometimes charge hourly, usually more than $100 per hour. Removing stumps is not easy - they have to remove the roots and not only the visible part of the stump.
Digging a Basement
Digging a basement requires heavy equipment and costs $10 or $20 per square foot. Possibly, you can save about 30 or 40 percent of the total cost if you do the work yourself. You might also do some of the work yourself but then outsource the rest of the work.
Paving Concrete Over a Flat Surface
Concrete slabs can be used for many things - garage floors, driveways, patios. The land must be cleared and flat before workers can pour concrete. It costs around $6 or $7 to lay a concrete slab.
Not everyone needs a soil test, but soil tests are good if you are looking to grow plants on your land. A soil test measures the nutrients, acidity, and salt in your land. If the soil is good, you won't need much fertilizer to help your plants grow.
After the land where your house will be has been cleared and leveled, you may need to landscape it. There is a huge range of costs, as for the rest of the land preparation process. It could be thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.
Sod can cost you very roughly 2000 dollars, or $0.34-$0.85 for each square foot. If you get a professional to install it, it is much more expensive ($0.90 to $1.80).
Installing sod can be done remarkably fast - professionals can finish a large lawn in only a few hours. However, their services are not cheap. If you want to do some of the work preparing your land yourself, you might lay the sod.
Installing a Path
The national average cost to install a stone path is $1437, with an average path being 3 feet wide and 40 feet long. A stepping stone path looks great and allows people to cross your garden.
You can save about 55% if you purchase the materials and build the path yourself. To do the work first, you will need to level the land, dig out the soil until it is about 4 inches deep, and then use sticks or string to mark where the path will be. You need a broom, carpenter's level, shovel, rake, and wheelbarrow to complete the work.
Adding Bushes and Trees
It can cost anywhere from $25 to a few thousand dollars to add bushes and trees to your land. If you only want a very small amount of work done, contractors might be willing to do it for a minimal extra fee. It costs about $25 or $50 to purchase and install a single plant.
Flower beds are a bit expensive, even at the low end. A flower bed costs 650 to 3000 dollars. Flower beds must be placed somewhere where they get enough sun, and the soil must have enough nutrients to allow the flowers to grow.
What Does a Pergola Cost?
A pergola is a wooden structure you can place next to your house to create an outdoor living space. You can get a custom-built pergola for $5800. Pergolas can cost anywhere from about 2000 to about 9000 dollars.
Retaining Wall Cost
A retaining wall can be necessary to stop erosion. If your land gets a lot of rain and is eroding over time, you might need a retaining wall to stop it. A retaining wall costs $4000 to $8700 and holds the ground in place, preventing the water from washing it away.
Does an In-Ground Pool Cost a Fortune?
Installing an in-ground pool, including digging out the ground where it will be, is a lot of work and is expensive. The total installation cost might be about $45000. Not everyone can afford that, but if you probably can, maybe it should be part of your new home.
Different Types of Pools
Pools with vinyl liners are relatively cheap - sometimes under 30,000 dollars. You do have to replace the liners, which will cost you three or four thousand once every seven to ten years. Vinyl pools are also somewhat less durable than other types.
Fiberglass pools are somewhat more expensive ($24000 to $70,000) but are more durable and faster to install. These pools also conserve heat well and can be used with saltwater systems. Fiberglass pools are usually relatively small.
Concrete pools are the most expensive ($31000 to $71000) and are in many ways the best. A concrete pool lasts the longest (50 years), and you can customize the size and shape. There are still maintenance costs, such as sealing cracks in the concrete about once every 10-15 years.
Land Clearing Costs in Different US States
Land clearing is more expensive in more expensive parts of the country. If you live somewhere where the wages and the costs of living are higher, people will charge more to work on your property.
The demand for land clearing also affects the cost. If there are a lot of jobs and a shortage of people with the right skills, they can charge more.
Can You Rent the Equipment and Clear the Land Yourself?
Yes, you save money by clearing the land yourself if you have the skills. Labor costs are often high, so you can save more than a little. Weekly costs for some heavy equipment are:
- $750 to $4200 for a dump truck
- $1250 to $5000 for an excavator
- $1000 to $1600 for a bulldozer
- $420 to $900 for a stump grinder
Frequently Asked Questions
How Long Does Land Take to Clear?
It takes very roughly two or four hours to clear an acre. Some professionals can do it faster than others, and land can be quite easy to quite hard to clear.
How Many Acres Can be Done in One Day?
About two or four acres is standard. Four acres is not a maximum - it can go much faster than that, depending on what work needs to be done. It depends on what company you hire and how many workers they send.
What if You Like Certain Trees and Want to Keep Them?
Yes, contractors are completely fine with working around trees that you want to keep. All you have to do is tell them which trees you don't want them to remove.
Can Land Clearing Damage Underground Utilities?
Yes, if there are already any utilities under your land, work could damage them. However, you may be able to get your land checked for utilities for free. Call 811 and have a utility company look at your land and identify the locations of any utilities.
The Total Cost Won't Necessarily Be Huge
These numbers might give you the impression that it costs a fortune to prepare raw land for building a home. However, only a small number of the jobs described here have to be done on a property. This makes the total cost reasonably low for most people.
The average cost of clearing and preparing the land enough to build a house may be only $2500, or less than $2 per square foot. It is not always expensive to clear the land for a house.
Even if the work you need to do is extensive, the average cost is only about $8300, a small part of the cost of building it. You will only spend a lot of money if special, unusually expensive work needs to be done.
About THE AUTHOR
Brittany has been in the land business since 2020 when the world was starting to shut down. Since then, we’ve sold to dozens of people from ATV weekend warriors to camping enthusiasts to retired truck drivers. Our inventory spans mostly in the western United States. We’ve been trained by experience, land acquisition courses, and hundreds of hours meeting with county assessors and clerks, zoning officials, realtors, and land investors. We’ve answered hundreds of questions from people regarding the buying and use of land.Read More About Brittany Melling