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How to backfill a trench & settle dirt

Updated February 21, 2017

If you have dug a trench to repair a pipe, install outdoor lighting or for some other project, you must eventually refill it with soil. Although most people simply shovel the dirt back into the trench, this often results in low spots where the soil settles. Instead, it is important to settle the dirt as you fill the trench in, which prevents it from sinking and settling later.

Begin moving the soil that you removed from the trench back into it, using a shovel. As you fill in the trench, spread the soil in an even layer until it reaches 6 inches high. If the original soil is no longer available, use a topsoil that is native to your region.

Place the flat end of a hand tamper tool on top of the soil in the trench. Pick up the tamper and hit the surface of the soil with it using firm pressure to pack the soil down. Repeat the process over the length of the trench until all of the soil is compacted.

Shovel more soil into the trench until you have another 6-inch layer and then pack it down using the hand tamper. Continue the process of adding 6 inches of soil and compacting them until the trench is completely filled in.

Tip

In most cases, a homeowner will need nothing more than a hand tamper to level out and settle dirt in a backfilled trench. However, for larger trenching projects, a motorised leveller can be used to finish the job once the trench has been filled in. These are available for rental at most hardware stores.

Warning

If there is a pipe in the trench, use the hand tamper to compact the top of the soil since the soil compactor machine may damage the pipe. Do not fill in the trench when the ground is frozen or muddy.

Things You'll Need

  • Topsoil (optional)
  • Shovel
  • Hand tamper
  • Soil compactor
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About the Author

Kimberly Johnson is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in various online publications including eHow, Suite101 and Examiner. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and began writing professionally in 2001.