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EARTHWORK 1.1
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Table Contents

EARTHWORK 1.1 ............................................................................................................. 1

Disclaimer ........................................................................................................................... 3
Abstract ............................................................................................................................... 3
Earthwork............................................................................................................................ 4
Grid system method ........................................................................................................ 5
Principle of solution.................................................................................................... 6
Cross section method ...................................................................................................... 8
Cross section with both cut and fill........................................................................... 10
Cross coordinate formula.......................................................................................... 11
Indirect contouring............................................................................................................ 11
Mathematical interpolation ........................................................................................... 11
Procedure of earthwork design (Example housing development) .................................... 13
Study project layout ...................................................................................................... 13
Study survey drawing in conjunction with project layout ............................................ 13
Propose design levels.................................................................................................... 13
Compute volume of cut and fill. ................................................................................... 13
Balancing cut and fill volume. ...................................................................................... 13
Computer Software ........................................................................................................... 14
Things that need to consider in earthwork design. ........................................................... 16
Glossary of terms .............................................................................................................. 19

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Disclaimer
conjunction with computer software named Earthworks Computation.

While all attempts have been made to verify information provided, neither I, nor any
ancillary party, assume any responsibility for errors, omissions, or contradictory
interpretation of the subject matter herein, or by the software or websites described herein.

Any perceived slights of specific people or organizations are unintentional.

Abstract
This earthwork eBook is providing some information about two common formulas that
use for earthwork design computation. It is an essential part for a development project to
carry out. The book will focus more to grid system method because it more common
usage. Furthermore, it provides some procedures and tips on earthwork design.

It is useful for junior earthwork designer for gaining further knowledge on earthwork
design.

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Earthwork
Earthwork is an essential work to be carried out in any development project. It may
involve of importing material from other site to form necessary platform, road or
exporting extra material from site after formation of platform, road etc. Importing
material from other site is called fill volume and exporting material from project site is
called cut volume. Importing suitable land and materials can be expensive because
contractor needs to source the source of materials. Suitable materials may at far away
from project site and increase the transportation cost. Disposing extra material can be
expensive by searching for suitable location for dumping.

Therefore, it is essential that for design engineers make as accurate a measurement as

possible of any areas and volumes involved. As for example, projects such as
construction of a new highway, where large amounts of material have to be excavated
and moved around the site, careful planning of this movement is essential since charges
may be levied not only on the volumes involved but also on the distances over which they
are moved.

The purpose of this ebook is to discuss some of the theories, methods, procedures and
things to be considered in doing the earthwork design. The calculation of the amount of
earth involved in removing and filling of an area is most commonly done by either the
cross section method or grid system method.

Of the above two methods, the grid system method which involves dividing into small
equal squares gives more accurate results than the other.

Basis computation of volume is using formula of volume = horizontal area * height or

vertical area * distance. Therefore, reader needs to study some basis mathematic for
volume computation for further understanding of this ebook.

In this ebook, it will briefly introduction on the two methods. User who needs more
information has to refer to any earthwork reference book.

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Grid system method

This method is used to obtain the volume of large are of excavation such as basement,
housing development and so on where the formation level can be sloping, horizontal or
terraced.

A square or rectangular is established on the ground and levels are taken at each grid
intersection by method of indirect contouring. By reducing the size of square or
rectangular, better accuracy in volumes can be achieved. However, the accuracy of
results should be determined as the circumstances required for reducing the size of square
or rectangular means more work is involved.

An area to be calculated shown with existing and designed levels by contours and
platform levels is divided by equidistant vertical and horizontal grids that are know as
columns and rows respectively. These columns and rows should be drawn to extend
beyond the boundaries of the area so that the whole area is covered by this so called grid
system (Figure 1.1).

The columns and row s are then numbered numerically or aphetically from left to right
for columns and top to bottom for rows.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
A
B
C
D
E
F

Column Row

Figure 1.1

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Principle of solution
The volumes of cut and fill for the area is the summation of all the individual square
volumes.
The difference in level between the existing and designed levels with positive or negative
value determines whether the volume is cut or filled respectively. The squares are
classified into two groups.
They are:
a. Total cut or total fill.
b. Partial cut and/or partial fill.

a. Total cut or total fill

The differences in levels of four corners of a square are all positive or all negative.

CUT FILL

H4 H3 H4 H3

H1
H2

H1 H2

Figure 1.2

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b. Partial cut and/or partial fill

When the square has combination of cut and fill or when there are less than four levels
which are all cut or all fill.(Figure 1.3)
i. One independent level.

One independent level

H B

B

H2 B
H1

B H2
H1

Figure 1.3

Volume Formula

i. Volume = 1/3*(B/2)*H
ii. Volume = 1/3*(H1)*(B/2)+1/3(H2)*(B/2) +1/3(H1+H2)/2*(B/2)
iii. Volume = (H1+H2+H3+H4)*B (Simplified method)

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Cross section method

This method is useful for highway construction projects. They can take a number of
difference forms and they are normally based on longitudinal sections. In the construction
of a road, railway, large diameter underground pipeline, having set out the proposed
centre line on the ground, levels are taken at regular intervals both along it and at right
angles to it to obtain the longitudinal and cross sections. This is shown on figure 2.0

CH1
Longitudinal section
CH2

Cross sections CH3

CH4

Centerline
CH5

Figure 2.0

When preparing the longitudinal section, the vertical alignment is designed and the
formation levels along the centerline are calculated. A typical longitudinal section
showing the formation level is shown in figure 2.1.
Each cross section (CS) is drawn and area between the existing and proposed levels is
calculated. Figure 2.1 shows one typical cross section.

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existing 100.00 110.00 100.00

chainage
1

3
Longitudinal section

Cross section chainage 2

Figure 2.1

Both the longitudinal section and the cross sections are usually drawn with their
horizontal and vertical scales at difference values.
As with the grid system method, the cross-sections are comprises of total cut/fill section,
partial cut and fill as per discussed in grid system method.

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Center Line

Area fill

Area cut

Figure 2.2

Basic concept of calculating volume (Simplified method):

Calculate average area of the triangular area of cut and fill of first section and second
section multiple to the distance between first section and second section.

Volume Formula

Cut area average= [(cut area section1) + (cut area section2)]/2

Cut Volume = cut area average*distance between section

Fill area average= [(fill area section1) + (fill area section2)]/2

Fill Volume = fill area average*distance between section

Total volume = cut volume + fill volume.

When the cross section is irregular (figure 2.3), it will be difficult to calculate the area of
section in fill or cut. Cross coordinate method can be used for calculating the section area.
In order to apply this method, a coordinate system; which has its origin at the intersection
of the formation level and the centerline is used. Offset distances (X) to the right are
taken as positive and to left of the centerline are taken negative. Heights(Y) above the
formation level are considered to be positive and those below the formation level area
considered being negative. Position of point to be clockwise or anti clockwise.

Point n=1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1
X x1 x2 x3 x4 x5 x6 x7 x1
Y y1 y2 y3 y4 y5 y6 y7 y1

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Cross coordinate formula

Area=1/2[(x1*y2+x2*y3+x3*y4+x4*y5+x5*y6+x6*y7+x7*y1)-
(y1*x2+y2*x3+y3*x4+y4*x5+y5*x6+y6*x7+y1*x1)]

Center line

6
4
3
2
5
Y5
1
7
X5
Figure 2.3

Indirect contouring
In this method, the plotted spot heights from surveyor will not be at exact contour values
and it is necessary to locate points between them on the plan that do have exact contour
values. This method called interpolation and it can be carried out either mathematically or
graphically.
The assumption is made when undertaking interpolation that the surface of the ground
slopes uniformly between the spot heights. Hence, careful positioning of spot heights in
the field is essential if accurate contours are to be produced.

Mathematical interpolation
The height difference between each spot height is calculated and used with the horizontal
distance between them to calculate the position on the line joining the spot heights at
which the required contour is located.
Refer to figure 3.1, in which the positions of the 30m contour are to be located between
spot heights A and B of reduced level 25m and 32m respectively. By proportion method:

(30-25)/x=(32-25)/10 => x=7.14m

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B,32m
30m

A,25 Section view

H1 H2

X
10m

A
10m Plan view

X
25m
B
30m 32m

Figure 3.1

Horizontal distance x are scaled along line AB on plan to fix the positions of the 30m
contour. When all the exact contour positions have been plotted, they are joined by
smooth curves.
The principle of indirect contouring will be used for gird system method and cross
section method. It is for establish the proposed levels and existing levels on every node of
the grid system and cross section method.

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Procedure of earthwork design (Example housing

development)
1. Study project layout
2. Study project survey drawing in conjunction with project layout
3. Propose levels.
4. Compute volume of cut and fill
5. Balancing Cut and fill volume.

Study project layout

You have to locate location of building in project. Surrounding items to project such as
buildings, roads, river around project site, because there are important in designing your
earthwork levels. There are your control levels for your project. You cannot change the
levels of them because there are the existing items.
Therefore, your proposed levels will based on these control levels.

Study survey drawing in conjunction with project layout

What is the topographic of site? Is project is located on flat area, hilly, valley. Every case
will has difference approach. As for example on hilly area, there will be a number of wall
or slope. If wall is required, it may be RC retaining wall. It will increase on the cost of
construction.

Propose design levels.

Read the survey drawing for existing levels. You have to note down boundary condition
levels because they are control levels. Get some ideal of judging on proposed levels. For
example, existing levels in project are 10m, 11m, 11.5m, 12m, 10.5m and 11.2m. You
can propose new level of 11m that can take on average level of existing levels (depend on
case) = (10+11+11.5+12+10.5+11.2)/6=11.03m. Based on this 11m level, write down to
a strategic location and change it accordingly toward boundary levels.

Compute volume of cut and fill.

After write down all the proposed levels, you have to perform preliminary volume
computation based on earthwork method. Recalculate when necessary.

Balancing cut and fill volume.

Referring to the result of computation, you have to check whether it meets, the
requirement of balancing of cut and fill volume (+-10%). If result does not meet, you
have to change proposed levels and recalculate the cut and fill volume until it meets your
volume balancing requirement.

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When you want to reduce cut volume from what you calculated, you have to reduce your
design proposed levels. Where else, you want to reduce fill volume, you have to increase

Computer Software
With the rapid growth of IT technology, there is a number of computer software available
in the market. Most of the engineering software is costly, it is not worth to buy it to use in
small development project. Somehow, software is complicated to use. It needs time for
learning and required very technical person to operate. It may need few days of training.
No doubt, it can produce a good graphical output result.

Based on the theory provided, you can create a simple application by using spreadsheet
application such as Microsoft office Excel.

Example: Grid system method, you can build one to use as per diagram shown (Figure
4.1).

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Figure 4.1

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Things that need to consider in earthwork design.

1. Minimize use of retaining wall. Use slope instead of retaining wall because
building retaining wall is costly (Figure 5.1). If need to build retaining wall, try to
use low retaining wall such as 1.2m height. When there is a need of building
height retaining wall say 3.6m height, try to distribute it along the project site to
say 3number of 1.2m retaining wall instead of 1 number of 3.6m (Figure 5.1). For
resident of house will not prefer their house has a high retaining wall either at
front, back or sides.

Using slope
High retaining wall

Using split retaining wall

Figure 5.1

2. Proposed cut slope gradient is 1:1 and fill slope gradient is 1:1.5, 1:2 or more. It is
depend on the local authorities requirement (Figure 5.2).

x
y
Figure 5.2

3. Try to start proposed levels from boundary control levels because there are your
control levels. You cannot change it.

4. You have to consider maximum drop allow in building platform level to road
level. One main criteria of proposing platform level is platform level must higher
than road level. No one will prefer theirs property platform level is lower than
road level. Maximum drop of building platform to road level will difference from
each designer. My preference is around 150mm. Anyway, you have to consider
the distance of ramp to building before decide the drop value. I will allow more
drops at rear of building platform to road level, i.e. 1200mm (Figure 5.3)

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5. Maximum drop of split platform. i.e. building platform next to each others(side by
side). My preference is 300mm to 600mm drop (Figure 5.3)

6. Maximum gradient of road allowed in design. This also affects you proposed
levels. It has to refer to your local authorities requirement. My preference is
maximum 10%.

7. Somehow, you have to balance up the item 2, 3,4 and 5 by trial and error method

8. Checking on other infrastructure requirement. It will control on the selection of

proposed levels. Infrastructures that may affect your design are sewer works,
drainage works, water works etc. As for example, a project site is located at near
seaside. Normally it will be flat area; you cannot propose levels that directly suit
to flat area because when you design drainage system, you will find that rain
water cannot flow out from project site. One of the options is to raise up your
project platform levels in order to achieve gravity flow of rainfall. It comes to end
that your site is fill area. Another example is design water works, if you find out
that water pressure is low; in order to achieve high pressure beside propose a
pump station, you can reduce platform levels for better water pressure. As a result,
decision of platform levels is much affected by these infrastructure works.

9. Do not design you site with lower level at say in center of site, because it will
affect other infrastructure works such as drainage and sewer system. You need
pump to operate because they cannot flow out by gravity flow. Using pump will
increase cost of project.

10. Final earthwork volume must be around 10% of cut or fill (it depends on designer
preference). My preference is 10% cut because it can be easily disposed off if
compare to importing earth to site.

11. Try to use practicality value such as 150mm, 300mm interval. As for example;
100.15, 100.30, 100.45 etc. Do not try to use accurate value such as 123.11mm.
As for example propose 100.12311 level is not recommended because during
earthwork construction; the value as mention is difficult to achieve.

12. When using grid system method, the accuracy of volume computation depends on
the horizontal and vertical dimensions setting. When you set your setting to
smaller setting say 5m(horizontal)x5m(vertical), you will have to do more
computation on the levels estimation (existing levels or proposed levels). It is
good practice to make some preliminary judgment on survey layout plan before
go to dimension settings. It means that you have to visualize the topography of the
project site. If site is flat area, then your dimension setting can be larger say
100mx100m. Where else the site is on hilly area, your dimension setting needs to
be smaller say 5mx5m. In flat area, all levels are almost similar. Whether you are
using 5mx5m or 100x100m setting, the earthwork quantities computation is

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almost similar. Somehow for hilly area, result on the 5mx5m and 100mx100m is
far difference. As a result, you have to make some judgment on the grid setting
before proceed to computation. Anyway, you still can set it to one standard grid
setting (say 5mx5m) for all earthwork projects. However, you are spending more
time on the earthwork quantities computation of the flat area.
The dimension-setting concept applies to cross section method, where the control
dimension setting is the distance between sections. You can use closer distance
setting for hilly area and larger distance setting for flat area.

Building platform
drop<=600 maximum front
mm drop<=150mm maximum rear
drop<=1200mm
Cross section Longitudinal section

Recommended drop value

Figure 5.3

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Please recommend this ebook to your friend when you find that this ebook is
useful and interesting.
Comments for this ebook, kindly email to scchee@civilstructural.com.my

Glossary of terms
1. Earthwork: The amount of earth involved in removing and filling of an area.
2. Cut volume: The amount of earth to be removed from site.
3. Fill volume: The amount of earth to be imported into site for filling purpose.
4. Proposed level: New level to be constructed.
5. Existing level: Original level of ground
6. Contour: A line joining points of the same height above or below a datum. These
are shown so that the relief or topography of an area can be interpreted, a factor
greatly used in civil engineer design and construction.

Written by:
Chee Shai Choon
(Bsc (Hon) Eng)

Need to know more about author, kindly visit to web site

www.civilstructural.com.my. The website provides a wealth of informative
articles, tips, resources and products on everything you will ever need to
know about civil and structural engineering.

Reference:
A hand book of Civil Engineering 2nd Revised & Enlarged Edition by P.N.Khanna.
Surveying for Engineers 3rd Edition by J.Uren and W.F.Price.
Ilmu Ukur by Tan Yu Wai.

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