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.
Wondering how to measure cubic yards? It’s surprisingly simple.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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. Here’s how they break down, approximately, for several of our most common dumpster sizes.
33-Gallon Trash Bags
Pickup Truck Loads
50 to 70
80 to 100
65 to 85
98 to 118
80 to 100
125 to 145
110 to 130
170 to 190
170 to 190
260 to 280
230 to 250
350 to 370
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
150 to 300
600 to 1,000, depending on moisture content
2,300 to 3,200
Gravel or Rock
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
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.
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.
There are 27 cubic feet in 1 cubic yard.
To convert square feet to cubic yards, you need to convert area to volume. To do this, multiply the square footage by the height or depth of the area in feet. This will give you cubic feet. To find out cubic yards, divide this number by 27.
A yard measures a two-dimensional area while a cubic yard measures three-dimensional volume, or how much a space can hold.
A standard full-size pickup truck can hold about 2 to 3 cubic yards, depending on material.
A typical wheelbarrow holds 2 to 3 cubic feet, depending on its size. This means you can fit about 1/14 to 1/9 of a cubic yard in a wheelbarrow.