Sod is real grass that is purchased in rolls that have the appearance of a pre-grown grass "mat". You can install sod yourself, but there is an advantage to hiring a professional as they have special equipment to lay the sod more evenly and reduce the look of seams.
Based on over 4,000 homeowners, the average cost to install sod is $1,717, including labor and materials. This will vary depending on where you live and what quality sod you order. The average cost of having sod installed on a 2,000 square foot yard is:
Economy Grade: $1,854.55
High Grade: $4,027.39
The costs above assume a fairly flat, rectangular yard and include sod, labor, materials, and equipment. There are other factors that can affect this figure.
Area to Cover
The largest single factor in the cost of installing sod is the size of the area you need to cover. The larger the square footage, the more sod you will need and the more labor will be involved in laying it.
Most sod installers will charge by the square foot. If your yard is of an irregular shape, the installer should measure the area before giving you an estimate. Curves, small hills, and other such terrain features can affect the measurements of the area. An installer may charge more for installing sod in a backyard if there is limited access. Limited access can include things such as:
Less than 7’ wide passage from front to back
How far back the backyard is set (often a problem on large houses)
How easy it is to get to the backyard (long driveway, stairs, etc.)
Lay of the Land
If your property is on a steep slope, if there are a number of rocks and trees, or if the soil is highly compacted and needs to be roto-tilled prior to sod installation, there may be additional costs in the installation.
Steep slopes require different techniques for prepping and for laying the sod. A lot of gas-powered equipment relies on gravity to feed fuel into the system, and if the equipment is at an odd angle, fuel may not be able to get to the system. This means the task will have to be done by hand, which will take quite a bit longer. Also, the sod rolls will have to be staked in place to keep them from slipping.
Tree roots are the bane of rototillers. Roots can run close to the surface where a rototiller could cut them. This can kill a young tree. A large tree could have roots so thick that the roto-tiller can’t cut through them.
Large, decorative rocks are another obstacle to a tiller. They have to be moved, if possible, or the ground around them has to be tilled by hand if the sod is to go right up to them. But if you have rocky soil with numerous smaller, yet problematic, rocks just below the upper layers, they can hamper the installer’s ability to smooth the ground to receive the sod.
Sod is priced by the square foot and is most often sold in rolls. However, all sod is not created equal. You will pay more per square foot for higher quality sod.
The average cost of sod bought from a home improvement store depends on the grade. The grade is the overall health and strength of the root system. Low grade sod might take a little extra care on the homeowner’s part, and it might be a little more prone to common diseases than higher grade sods. The overall average cost per square foot is:
Economy Grade: $0.30
Midgrade: $ 0.50
High Grade: $0.80
The four most common species of grass used for sod are Zoysia, Bermuda, St. Augustine, and Fescue. How much each type costs depends on where you live. The species you want may not be too common where you live and will cost more to transport if it’s available at all.
A native of the Far East, Zoysia does well in climates that replicate places like Japan and the Philippines. Zoysia is slow-growing, which means you won’t have to mow it as often. However, this also means it will be slow to bounce back from damage.
The average cost per square foot is:
Economy Grade: $0.40
High Grade: $0.59
Bermuda grass comes from the Mideast. Some people see it as a weed while others love it as a lawn. Whether it’s a weed or a lawn depends on whether or not you want it growing. It is a fast-growing and very invasive grass. Its root system is about 6 feet deep, so it will be very hard to get rid of if you change your mind, but this deep root system makes it very drought tolerant.
The average cost per square foot is:
Economy Grade: $0.37
High Grade: $0.83
St. Augustine is drought and salt tolerant and handles heat quite well. It’s a fast-growing grass that will need frequent mowing, but it can suffer if it’s cut too low. It doesn’t handle foot traffic well. It grows best in warm, coastal areas and can handle shade, but it doesn’t do well where temperatures get below 10 degrees Fahrenheit. It has a rich, green color that makes it very popular in spite of its shortcomings, though.
The average cost per square foot is:
Economy Grade: $0.32
High Grade: $0.71
Fescue is one of the most popular grass species. It has about 500 subspecies, the most famous of which is Kentucky 31, which helped recover the land devastated by the Dust Bowl. Fescue is found all around the world and although the shorter varieties don’t handle heavy foot traffic well, taller varieties do and they can stay green all year round with proper maintenance. Fescue is considered low maintenance and clippings can be left on the grass to serve as nutrients.
The average cost per square foot is:
Economy Grade: $0.27
High Grade: $0.67
Sod is most often sold by the pallet. One pallet normally covers square 450 feet.
It is possible to buy your own sod and have someone else install it. This may affect any guarantees the installer might offer, so be sure to discuss it. It is beneficial to you, however, because you have direct control over what kind of sod and what quality will be installed.
Your yard may have an unusual or complex layout. If you’re buying the sod but are going to have a professional install it, the professional will often be the one to do the measuring. They will normally add a little extra to account for difficulties, around 5% to 10%.
Many landscapers will charge you a price per square foot that includes both installation and sod. The biggest advantage of hiring a professional is the end result. A professional team can hide seams, make the ground properly level, work with extreme slopes and handle things like curvy lawn borders and irregularly-shaped lawns. Other advantages include:
Equipment: A team will already have the necessary equipment. A DIY sod replacement will require you to purchase or rent equipment.
Time: It takes one day to prep the yard -- removing the old lawn, weeding, leveling, grading -- and then another lugging rolls of sod around to where they need to be -- cutting, watering, correcting, filling in imperfections. It can be done in a weekend, but if you have to go to work on Monday, you will probably still be quite sore and exhausted.
Design: What kind of lawn do you want? What species of grass should you buy? How much shade does your yard get? A professional will know what sort of sod does well in what climates and under what conditions.
You may decide that laying sod is simple enough that you will save money by doing it yourself. But keep in mind that to do a great job laying sod you should have a rototiller and a lawn roller to help prepare the soil and lay the sod evenly and flatly. If you need to rent this equipment you may have saved money or broken even by hiring a pro. In addition, if you do not know how to use the equipment, you may regret that you decided to do it yourself after all!
Here is a list of what you’ll need if you plan to install the sod yourself:
A spade or shovel for sod removal in small areas. $10-$20
A sod cutter for larger areas. Rent: $80/day plus avg. $150 deposit
A roto-tiller. Purchase: $130-$350, rent $50/ half-day, $80/ full day plus avg. $125 deposit
A home soil test kit will help determine what kind of compost to get. $12-$15
Compost/fertilizer. About $10 per 1,000 square feet
Fertilizer spreader. About $50
A hand tamper. About $35
The sod itself. Remember to include 5% to 10% overage. $0.30 to $0.80 per square foot
A sod-cutting knife. This can be any sturdy, smooth-edged blade. Do not use a serrated edge! $4 - $20
Over seed (optional) $50
Lawn roller to smooth out the sod and eliminate air pockets. (The sod must touch the ground to establish the roots! $120-$150
The total cost, not including your time, is around roughly $2,000.
Installing your own sod also has its drawbacks. Unless you are a professional installer yourself, you increase your chance for making costly mistakes. It can take a lot longer to do it yourself as opposed to having an experienced crew, and if anything goes wrong, you are responsible for it.
Labor – While you may save money, you are taking on a lot of hard labor. A 2x5 foot roll of sod weighs about 35 pounds. Lifting and carrying that much weight might not seem so bad the first couple of rolls, but it will begin to wear on you quickly.
Experience – Not all sod suppliers are alike. Some are known for providing good sod while others have a reputation for not taking care of the sod in their inventory or of selling sod that contains weeds. A good contractor usually knows where to get the best sod for the best price. They also know what sod does well in certain areas and conditions. For example, you may have your heart set on a short Fescue, but a contractor may notice that you have very active children and a playful dog, so he may recommend a Bermuda instead for its ability to bounce back from traffic damage.
Responsibility – If you install your sod improperly and it doesn’t take, or if seams are painfully visible, you have no recourse other than to buy more sod and try again. This is also true if you’ve bought a sod that just doesn’t do well in your area. Laying out the rolls correctly, especially on a steep slope, is critical to keep them from slipping or separating from one another.
Liability – A good contractor will have insurance in case someone gets hurt on the job. Since some power equipment is normally used, the chance for injuries increases. If you’re doing the job yourself and get hurt, or if one of your helpful friends or neighbors gets hurt, you are responsible for any and all medical bills. You will also be responsible for any damage you might do your own property.
Time – As well as being labor-intensive, installing your own sod can be time-intensive as well. Depending on the size and complications of your yard, the prepping alone can take all day. Once the sod gets delivered it needs to get installed promptly and then watered to about an inch within 30 minutes of installation. This step is easier with a professional crew.
The big advantage of DIY is the cost. It can cut your cost by around half of what it would cost to use a professional. Although a professional can sometimes get sod at a reduced cost, there are still labor charges, transportation charges, and other factors that affect the cost.
Choice – Not all installers install all types of sod. You may decide you want a type of grass that isn’t commonly available in your area. Hiring a contractor would cost you significantly more if they even are willing to order that type. By doing it yourself, you can drive to where you need to (or rent a truck and drive it yourself) to get exactly the kind of sod you want.
Scheduling – You do the job on your own schedule. If you’ve taken out your old lawn and an emergency comes up, you are free to drop everything and take care of it. You don’t have to re-schedule the contractor; you only have to deal with a partial yard for as long as it takes to handle the emergency. The only caveat is that sod can’t wait after it gets delivered, but if you can protect your yard, you don’t have to have the sod delivered right away.
Knowing the crew – Even though contractors are professionals with professional crews, some people simply aren’t comfortable with having strangers around their house for a couple of days even if they’re fully licensed and bonded. You might hire some friends or neighbors to help out, people whom you know and who might be willing to help you out in exchange for a barbecue after the job is done.
Control – Even when you hire a contractor, you have a good degree of control. However, by doing it yourself, no matter what happens it’s all based on your say-so. Any modifications you want to make in the middle of the job are yours to make. There’s no negotiating -- you simply design your changes and go for it. For example, if you suddenly decide that installing an irrigation system is a good idea, you don’t have to stop work and figure out the details with the contractor. All you have to do is design and install the system.
An installer will have to prep your yard before it can accept sod. There are a few steps to this:
Removal of old lawn – The old lawn has to come out. You cannot lay sod on top of an existing lawn. This normally requires the use of a special tool called a sod-cutter that cuts away the lawn to the top of the root. A very small area might be done with a shovel.
Weeding – Weeds are obstinate things and once the old lawn has been removed, weeds must be pulled out by the roots and all by hand. If this isn’t done, the weeds will use the new sod as a handy source of nutrients. This will allow them to take over your newly installed lawn in no time.
Rototill – Tilling the soil loosens the dirt and allows the sod to establish roots. Tilling should be 4 to 6 inches deep.
Tamping – The area will need to be tamped down smoothly. This is done by hand as power tampers are heavy and compact the soil too tightly.
Fertilizers or composts – Fertilizers or composts should be of an appropriate type for the lawn and should be spread and raked in evenly. Your soil might have to be tested to determine what kind of compost will be needed. The area should slope away from any buildings and provide adequate drainage.
Watering – Before the sod arrives, the prepared area should be watered two or three times to encourage the soil to “settle”. During this time some areas may sink or form holes. These need to be filled in to keep the area level.
After all this has been done, your yard is ready to receive the new sod. The cost for professional preparing of your yard is around $500 if that’s all you’re hiring for.
Having an irrigation system is very helpful to maintaining your sod. If you already have an in-ground sprinkler system, be sure the installer knows about it and where the lines are. If you decide to have one installed, some sod installers can also install irrigation systems while others will have people they routinely work with for such things.
Installing an irrigation system in the average yard can cost around $1,000 for a simple system if done on a bare yard (no lawn). If you plan to have one put in, the time to do it is before the sod goes on. Installing one in an existing yard can cost $1,300 for the system alone.
While tree roots and hidden rocks can cause unexpected delays, they are minor compared to the weather. A sudden rain can wreak havoc on your prepped yard. Your carefully tamped and fertilized or composted site can quickly turn into a mud pit. If you can’t cover it with a tarp, you may need to re-compost and re-tamp before installing the new sod.
Temperature is another aspect of nature that can delay your yard. Fertilizing when the weather is too hot can actually burn the grass. Installing sod during cold weather can hamper the roots from establishing themselves. Mild, clear weather is ideal for installing new sod and will help keep you from having to buy more sod to replace the damaged sections.
Once sod is installed, it has only a few weeks to wait before it can be walked on, usually 4 or 5. A seed lawn, while less expensive, usually has a waiting time of months before it’s established well enough to walk on. Whether you do it yourself or hire a professional, installing a sod lawn gives you a lush, green lawn quickly that, with a little care and maintenance, can equal and even exceed most seeded lawns.