In residential or commercial construction projects, suppliers measure different types of construction material in cubic yards. It may be the volume of concrete for slab/ foundation or mulch for the garden.
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What is a cubic yard?
A cubic yard is a measurement unit for volume. If you visualize, one cubic yard means a cube with one yard each of length, breadth (width), and height (thickness/depth).
One yard is equal to 3 feet or 36 inches. Calculating cubic yards is as simple as multiplying all the dimensions. But ensure to convert all the measurements to the same unit.
Remember, one cubic yard = 1 yard long, 1 yard wide, and 1 yard deep.
Why Cubic yards?
In the construction industry, manufacturers deal in the bulk material. For the sake of standardization, they measure the material volume in cubic yards.
Also, round off the final calculated volume into whole yards as big suppliers provide material in total yards and not fractions.
For instance, if you need 4.84 cubic yards (Yd3), you need to place an order for five cubic yards. Common material measured in cubic yards includes concrete, sand, dirt, compost, mulch, topsoil, gravel, rock, cement, etc.
Start by measuring the area in feet/inches: length and breadth followed by its depth, i.e., the thickness of concrete or required topsoil height. People measure the depth in inches for convenience and better accuracy.
Convert your measurements to feet
The next step is to standardize and convert all your measurements to feet.
1. If you have measured in a mix of feet and inches, convert the inch part into feet by dividing it by 12 and add it to feet. E.g. 5 feet 6 inches = 5 feet + 6/12 feet = 5.5 feet
2. If you have measured only in inches, divide it by 12 to get the measurement in feet. E.g. 78 inches = 78/12 feet = 6.5 feet
3. If you measure in exact feet, there is no need to convert
Calculate Cubic yards
1. Find the area. Use the formula length x breadth. E.g. 15.5 feet x 6 feet = 93.0 square feet
2. Find the volume in square feet. Multiply the above area with depth. Remember to use feet in all your calculations so far. E.g., The volume for 6 inches (0.5 feet) of concrete for the above area of 93 square feet will be 93 feet x 0.5 feet = 46.5 cubic feet
3. Find cubic yards by dividing above volume in cubic feet by the number 27. E.g. 46.5 cubic feet = 46.5 / 27 cubic yards = 1.72 cubic yards.
The Magic Behind it!
Why did we divide by 27? You already know that there are 3 feet in one yard. Hence one cubic yard means 27 cubic feet (3 ft x 3 ft x 3 ft). Dividing by 27 will convert cubic feet into cubic yards.
Let us take one more example.
Let us say your construction contractor wants you to order 6-inch mulch for your garden. You spoke to the supplier, and he says that the price of mulch is $x per cubic yard. Now you can estimate the material to be ordered and the payment to be made as follows.
You quickly measured the lawn dimensions as 30 feet long and 10 feet wide. You can now find out that the lawn area is 300 square feet (30 feet x 10 feet).
The volume of mulch is 300 square feet x depth = 300 x 0.5 feet = 150 cubic feet. Divide the figure by 27 to get the final volume in cubic yards. 150 / 27 = 5.55 cubic yards. Now you can order 5.6 or 6 cubic yards of mulch.
To be on the safer side, you may place the order in positive tolerance of 10%. If there is any minor mistake in measurements, the material will not get short, and you may not have to order more material, incurring additional freight costs. It is imperative when ordering material like concrete, sand, cement, or gravel.
What if the area is irregular or circular?
The above calculations help when the area is either square or rectangular. But in real life, things are a bit complex. You may be dealing with circular lawns, borders, triangular areas, trapezoids, or their combinations.
If you have a large area, you can split the same into rectangles and add the volume of each one of them to reach a final figure.
Luckily, the concept here remains the same, only the formula changes as per the area concerned. We have already learned to calculate cubic yards for a square or rectangular area. Let us see how to calculate cubic yards for other shapes.
First of all, calculate the total area and inner area separately. Deduct the inner area from the total area to get the border area. The rest of the steps here are the same. Multiply the result by the depth and then divide by 27. The formula and example are as follows:
Inner area = length x width. Say 20 feet x 10 feet = 200 square feet
Total area = outer length x outer width. Say 30 feet x 20 feet = 600 square feet
Border Area = outer area – Inner area. 600 square feet – 200 square feet = 400 square feet
Volume in square feet = border area x depth = 400 x 0.5 feet = 200 cubic feet
Border Volume in square yards = volume in square feet / 27. Hence 200 / 27 = 7.41 cubic yards.
Other types of area
Calculate the areas as follows. Multiply it by depth in feet and divide by 27 to get volume in cubic yards.
Circular area = Pi x r x r where Pi = 22/7 or 3.14 and r is the radius where radius = diameter/2.
Circular path = Outer area – Inner area of circles
Trapezium = ((Sum of parallel sides) / 2) x h
Cost Per Cubic yard
Finally, if you want to calculate the material’s price to be purchased, multiply the price per cubic yard by the volume. You will get the hang of the calculation if you practice it a little.
It will become your second nature, and you can even estimate the volume and price mentally after a while.