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Reclaiming Builder's Sand (and even making a nice garden in its place)

Need builder's sand but can't be bothered hiring a trailer and buying it? You're not alone! Due to labour being more expensive than builder's sand, when a house or similar structure is built, often surplus builder's sand is used because it's easier and therefore cheaper for the contractor. Much to your advantage if you need some. If you really look, you can find it:

  • Next to your house or similar structure, even up to 2 m away from the footings (may have to dig down)

  • Where a pool or similar structure has been removed

  • Where brick paving has been removed

  • Natural soil underneath the topsoil (may be lower quality, depends on your geology). May have to dig down 500-1000 mm for this

Safety first! Hand dig carefully unless you are absolutely sure about electrical cables, pipes (especially gas) etc. Damaging black poly garden reticulation pipe is worth avoiding but it's relatively easy to fix with tape or just cut and join.

In our case, the house is paved all the way around so excess building pad not a practical option to reclaim. However, an old pool was removed, leaving a nice 100 mm thick pad of builder's sand exposed. The top bit was degraded from leaves falling from it. It is almost always the case you will need to scrape off the stuff you don't want first. If it's dry and the yellow stuff is strong, you could probably even use a broom. The steps will be exceedingly similar no matter where you are getting the sand from.

First, remove loose stuff off the top - in my case, leaves and bark.

Raking leaves and bark in a garden
Raking up the tree's contribution

Then, scrape off the soil you don't want with a shovel. If the soil is dry, consider using a broom. The drawbacks of it being dry is it will be dusty - use a face mask - and more annoying to shovel into a wheelbarrow. Consider a square bucket or similar. If you have no use for this and you have surplus soil (e.g. elsewhere), it may have to go to landfill as inert waste. If someone wants it, great, but look at ads on Facebook Marketplace for people trying to get rid of soil and here in Mandurah there were lots.

Scraping off contaminated builder's sand
Grey soil - no good for putting structures on. Avoiding damaging that poly pipe watering the garden

Once you're down to the good stuff, use a shovel - be careful not to get the soil underneath. Go across with the shovel blade at a very gentle angle and notice the bottom of the layer may be uneven. A little bit of mixing with the soil underneath should be OK, depending on what you are using the soil for. Consider increasing the thickness where you are putting it if necessary.

If you are desperate, use a hand trowel. Square buckets are incredibly useful, like this one that was for wetting agent granules.

Scooping up builder's sand with a hand trowel
If you're desperate, it's worth it!

Not keen on leaving a hole in the ground? Then put some garden soil in there! I had a pile of soil I had been keeping for this very purpose. Mixing compost and the soil that was on top can also do the job, though you might need either lots of compost or some extra sand from elsewhere.

Here, the mango tree has nice soil to spread its roots into. You can even put some pavers in to make stepping stones - these do not require the more rigorous approach of a main thoroughfare.

If access is restricted, like with this old pool, it may be easier to repeat the steps in this blog post for small (maybe 1 m2) areas at a time. You can then use a cart to move the soil around without the pavers getting in the way. I still needed to transfer from the cart to a wheelbarrow by shovel and bucket, a ramp was not going to work because of the mango tree. You may be luckier.

Good luck and happy digging! 😃

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David Clouston
David Clouston
Jun 03

Nice to see the pool finished! 🙂

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