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Land Clearing and Building Site Preparation Cost

In this guide

Tree removal
Labor
Enhancements
Additional Considerations

How much does it cost to clear the land and prepare your building site?

Land clearing is the process of removing vegetation and other debris from a plot of land, usually to prepare a building site. It’s also done for other purposes: for fire safety, to restore views, to enable mobility, to prepare the land for farming, etc. In each case, the procedure is different. For example, clearing for fire safety removes dry brush and any other vegetation that is at risk of catching and spreading fire. Clearing to restore views and enable mobility is usually less extensive than normal land clearing, since only some of the vegetation may need to be removed. Clearing a plot to become a pasture or farmland can involve just removing trees and shrubbery, or clearing it down entirely to the soil to prepare for new planting.

Building site preparation is one of the most common needs for land clearing. In this situation, the land must be made ready to build upon, which typically requires being cleared down to the soil and even sometimes regraded. Factors affecting the cost include the size of the plot being cleared, the density of vegetation, the machinery used, and labor needs. In this guide, we focus on the average cost of land clearing for building site preparation.

Cost breakdown

The price your contractor charges you may be based on acreage or square footage, as well as the land type. Most charge per sq. ft. Keep in mind that local rates vary - some regions may be more expensive than others.

Acreage

  • Flat to slightly sloped, light to medium vegetation: $200-$2,000 for 1 acre
  • Sloped or hilly, and/or heavy vegetation: $3,000-$6,000 per acre

Square footage

  • Flat to slightly sloped, light to medium vegetation: $3-$6 per sq. ft.
  • Sloped or hilly, and/or heavy vegetation: $15 or more per sq. ft.

Because steeply sloped or hilly land will need regrading, expect prices for its clearing to be at the higher end of the spectrum, costing more than merely heavily grassed terrain.

Tree removal

Usually, tree removal will be included in the cost of your land clearing package. But if not, typical prices are as follows:

  • Small tree: $200
  • Medium tree: $700
  • Large tree: $1500
  • Stump removal: $65-$100

Labor

Clearing generally takes 1 day (8 hours) to cover 2-3 acres, with 4 acres per day maximum. Labor costs are usually included in the price of your land clearing package.

Hourly

Based on average package prices, the typical rate for land clearing comes out to $110-$245 per hour. However, most contractors will not charge hourly rates. They will charge based on acreage or square footage.

Equipment

Equipment and machinery costs are usually included in your package price. But if your contractor doesn’t include them, expect a fee of $160-$230. Extensive clearing and grading may require machinery like backhoes or excavators. The average cost is $60-$150 per hour to rent both the machinery and the services of a qualified operator.

Enhancement and improvement costs

Grading

Regrading or resloping the land is usually included in the price charged by site preparation contractors. But if you’ve only paid for land clearing, then you will have to add it to your total cost. The average price of regrading comes out to $0.47-$2.28 per sq. ft.

Wood waste

You can save money on your land clearing project with the way you choose to dispose of your wood debris. Some lumber companies will remove felled trees and branches for free, while some will even pay you for it. Prices paid vary by region and the current timber market. We recommend getting multiple bids on your wood before choosing a buyer.

Having felled trees and branches made into mulch costs $50-$100 per tree. This will minimize your leftover waste and provide you with useful landscaping material for gardens.

If you want to keep your felled trees for firewood, on the other hand, using a log splitting service can cost $35-$100 per tree. You may need to have limbs removed first, which costs $50-$75 per tree.

Additional considerations and costs

Permits

Permits may be required before you can begin clearing. Average fees are $100-$200. Fees depend on your city, county, or state. Your local authorities may also prohibit the removal of certain trees, or place limits on how many you can have cleared.

Location

Your location can have an affect on your total cost. If land must be cleared in a remote location far from your contractor’s typical service area, they may charge you a fee for travel time. Fees usually range from $50 to $200.

Asbestos removal

If asbestos needs to be removed from your property during the site preparation process, count on paying $200-$400 per hour for an asbestos removal service, plus an inspection fee of $500.

Keeping trees

You should consider requesting some trees to be kept so that you can preserve the attractiveness of your yard. Keeping some trees also helps prevent erosion.

Before clearing and building

Before you invest the time and money in clearing your land and preparing the site for building, you should have your building layout planned. This includes the orientation of the house, as well as the location of the septic tank, driveway, swimming pool, and any other features and utilities. Having a clear idea of where these things fit in the layout will help you decide what parts of the land must be cleared and graded, and what parts can be left alone.

Your future home’s planned orientation is especially important, as the vegetation present (or not present) on the land will affect the view from windows, as well as the amount of sunlight (and thus warmth) that falls upon your house at certain times of the day.

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Cost to clear the land and prepare your building site varies greatly by region (and even by zip code). To get free estimates from local contractors, please indicate yours.

Labor cost by city and zip code

Compared to national average
Ann Arbor, MI
+13%
Athens, GA
-9%
Atlanta, GA
+24%
Bedminster, PA
-7%
Bowie, MD
+16%
Boxborough, MA
+41%
Bronx, NY
+32%
Charleston, SC
-1%
Charlotte, NC
+6%
Chicago, IL
+40%
Cincinnati, OH
+6%
Columbus, OH
+5%
Cordele, GA
-41%
Covington, LA
+10%
Dallas, TX
+10%
Dayton, OH
-7%
Deltona, FL
-23%
Duluth, GA
+16%
Eatonton, GA
-35%
Fenton, MO
+14%
Fort Lauderdale, FL
+2%
Fort Myers, FL
-7%
Fort Worth, TX
+6%
Fremont, OH
-22%
Goleta, CA
+5%
Goochland, VA
+3%
Greenville, SC
-12%
Houston, TX
+24%
Huntsville, AL
-17%
Indianapolis, IN
+6%
Industry, PA
-1%
Kingman, AZ
-35%
Kingwood, WV
-17%
Lake City, FL
-38%
Lake Orion, MI
+32%
Lancaster, SC
-29%
Little Rock, AR
0%
Los Angeles, CA
+11%
Memphis, TN
+11%
Miami, FL
+1%
Midland, TX
-15%
Monticello, NY
-22%
Murfreesboro, TN
-7%
Naples, TX
-46%
Nashville, TN
+21%
New York, NY
+77%
Ocala, FL
-25%
Oklahoma City, OK
-12%
Orlando, FL
+2%
Palm Bay, FL
-16%
Labor cost in your zip code
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Methodology and sources