How to Calculate Cubic Yards

Man Standing Next to a Dumpster Using a Power Saw to Cut Piece of Wood

What Is a Cubic Yard?

A cubic yard is a unit of volume equivalent to a cube with a length, width and height of 1 yard. One yard is equal to 3 feet, or 36 inches, so 1 cubic yard is equal to 27 cubic feet — 3 feet long, 3 feet wide and 3 feet high.

To get an idea of how big a cubic yard is, a standard washing machine is about the size of 1 cubic yard.

Dumpsters are similar in shape to long cubes, so dumpster volume is calculated in cubic yards — not to be confused with regular yards, which measure a two-dimensional area. Cubic yards measure three-dimensional volume, such as a pile of debris. Knowing how to calculate cubic yards and estimate the amount of debris you have will help you choose the right container size for your project.

How Much Is a Cubic Yard?

Wondering how to measure cubic yards? It’s surprisingly simple.

Woman Holding Wheelbarrow Filled With Dirt Next to Rectangular Graphic

Measure the Area

First, measure the area in feet. To convert inches to feet, divide the number of inches by 12. Measure the length, width and height (or depth) of your debris. Use a tape measure for this purpose. For larger areas, a measuring wheel may be useful.

Cube Graphic With Length, Width and Height Labelled

Calculate the Volume

Next, multiply the length, width and height measurements. Divide this number by 27. This will give you the volume in cubic yards. For how to calculate cubic yards using the graphic above as an example, the steps would be:

  • First, convert inches to feet: 12 inches ÷ 12 = 1 foot
  • Then, multiply length x width x height: 9 x 3 x 1 = 27
  • Divide the answer by 27: 27 ÷ 27 = 1 cubic yard

You can also easily calculate cubic yardage by converting all three dimensions of your material into yards and multiplying them. For example, if you dig up a flower bed that is 9 feet long, 3 feet wide and 12 inches deep, you will have one cubic yard of dirt. This is how it breaks down:

  • 3 feet equals 1 yard, so 9 feet equals 3 total yards in length.
  • The width of 3 feet equals 1 yard.
  • The height/depth is 12 inches (1 foot), which equals one-third of a yard.

Multiplying the three dimensions — length, width and height/depth — gives you the total cubic yardage of your debris. In this example, 3 yards x 1 yard x 1/3 yard = 1 cubic yard of dirt.

Rectangular Graphic Showing Volume Measurement of 9 Feet by 3 Feet by 12 Inches

How Big Is a Cubic Yard?

Once you’ve figured out how to measure cubic yards, it may still be difficult to envision how much is a cubic yard. Dumpsters with varying dimensions can hold the same amount of volume. Some may be long, some may be tall and some may be short — but they may all hold the same number of cubic yards inside. It can help to picture cubic yards as wheelbarrow loads, trash bags or pickup truck loads.

Examples of Dimensions for 15 Cubic Yard Dumpsters

Here’s how they break down, approximately, for several of our most common dumpster sizes.

Dumpster Size

33-Gallon Trash Bags

Wheelbarrow Loads

Pickup Truck Loads

10 cubic yard dumpster

50 to 70

80 to 100


12 cubic yard dumpster

65 to 85

98 to 118


15 cubic yard dumpster

80 to 100

125 to 145


20 cubic yard dumpster

110 to 130

170 to 190


30 cubic yard dumpster

170 to 190

260 to 280


40 cubic yard dumpster

230 to 250

350 to 370


How Much a Cubic Yard Weighs by Debris Type

Besides volume, the weight of your debris is an important factor in choosing the right dumpster size. Each dumpster has a set weight limit, which is different from its volume capacity. Cubic yards are a measure of volume, not a measure of weight.

So, depending on what you’re throwing away, two full 10 cubic yard dumpsters could have significantly different weights. Our weight calculator is helpful for determining the weight of your specific debris types. Here are the approximate weights of 1 cubic yard of common materials.

1 Cubic Yard of Material

Weight in Pounds

Household debris

150 to 300

Scrap wood





600 to 1,000, depending on moisture content

Scrap metal





2,300 to 3,200



Gravel or Rock






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How to Choose the Right Size Dumpster for Your Debris

Now that you know the answer to “What is a cubic yard?,” choosing the right size dumpster is a breeze. Consider both the volume and weight of your materials, as well as the typical dumpster dimensions that follow:

10 cubic yard dumpster — 14' long x 7.5' wide x 3.5' high
12 cubic yard dumpster — 14’ long x 7.5’ wide x 4’ high
15 cubic yard dumpster — 16’ long x 7.5’ wide x 4.5’ tall
20 cubic yard dumpster — 22' long x 7.5' wide x 4.5' high
30 cubic yard dumpster — 22' long x 7.5' wide x 6' high
40 cubic yard dumpster — 22' long x 7.5' wide x 8' high

Getting rid of furniture, household junk or other items not covered here?

Text Reading Dumpsters & How Much They Hold

Our roll off dumpster size chart has even more information to help you compare dumpster sizes, visualize how much they hold and choose the right size bin for your project.

Slightly Transparent Blue Dumpster on Blue Background Covered in Squares

Find out more details on choosing the right dumpster rental for your cleanup. Plus, see our range of dumpster rental sizes and how much they can hold.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many cubic feet are in a cubic yard?

How do I convert square feet to cubic yards?

What’s the difference between a yard and a cubic yard?

How many cubic yards can you fit in a pickup truck?

How many cubic yards can you fit in a wheelbarrow?