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Surface Area of Common Solids

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Search | Updated September 19th, 2006

In this section, you will learn how to calculate the surface area of common solids to include definition of surface area, prisms, cylinders, pyramids, cones, and spheres. You will be invited to try our quizmasters at the end of each lesson.

Definition of Surface Area

Within our area section, we had to provide a definition for the meaning of area. That definition rested upon the square -- particularly a unit square. A unit Square can be 1" x 1" or 1 yd x 1 yd or 1 ft x 1 ft or a square by some other unit.

Unit Square
We saw the area of a figure was nothing more than the sum of all unit squares of a figure. For the surface area of a solid, there is a similar definition, but it applies to the exterior surfaces of the solid. The definition of surface area is the sum of all unit squares that fit on the exterior of a solid.

Surface Area of Prisms

SA = 2(lw + hl + hw)

General Prism
This is the best figure to begin with when investigating surface area. It is the most simple figure of all the solids. It is also a figure most people have personal experience due to either wrapping or opening gifts. All the surfaces of a prism are rectangular. This makes calculating the areas of these surfaces very easy to do. The area of rectangles have been discussed in another section, which is available for review before proceeding, if necessary. As the diagram below indicates, there are six surfaces to a rectangular prism.

There is a front, back, top, bottom, left, and right to every rectangular prism. The surface are of a prism is nothing more than the sum of all the areas of these rectangles.

Using the labeling of the general prism diagram above, a formula can be created for dealing with the surface area of prisms. Let's calculate the area of each surface.

Prism Surface Area Formula Top Front Back Left Right Total : lw : hl : hl : hw : hw : lw + lw + hl + hl + hw + hw : 2lw + 2hl + 2hw : 2(lw + hl + hw)
Example 1: Given l = 4 yds, w = 2 yds, and h = 5 yds, the surface area would be SA = 2[(4 yds)(2 yds) + (5 yds)(4 yds) + (5 yds)(2 yds)]= 2(8 yds2 + 20 yds2 + 10 yds2) = 2(38 yds2) = 76 yds2. Example 2: Given l = 6 mm, w = 9 mm, and h = 8 mm, the surface area would be SA = 2[(6 mm)(9 mm) + (8 mm)(6 mm) + (8 mm)(9 mm)]= 2(54 mm2 + 48 mm2 + 72 mm2) = 2(174 mm2) = 348 mm2.

Bottom : lw

Surface Area of Cylinders

Quizmaster: Surface Area of Prisms

SA = 2r 2 + 2rh

General Cylinder
A cylinder has a total of three surfaces: a top, bottom, and middle. The top and bottom, which are circles, are easy to visualize. The area of a circle is r2. So, the area of two circles would be r2 + r2 = 2r2. The third surface, the lateral surface area, is less easy to visualize for the purposes of calculating its area, especially since it does not appear to be in a shape that fits a known area like a triangle or parallelogram. The surface being referred to is the curved wall of the cylinder. We can manipulate the curved wall of a cylinder to produce a recognizable shape. Imagine starting with a cylinder, like a typical can, and then cutting the can up its wall. From the bottom to the top of the can, a cut is made. See the dashed segment in step one of the diagram to the right. Now, from the newly cut edge, the cylinder wall will be spread open. Almost like opening double doors to a fancy home, the walls spread apart. See step two of the same diagram. When the cylinder's wall is completely open, it takes the form a very recognizable, basic shape. It is a rectangle. Fortunately, the area of a rectangle is easy to calculate. But we need to go back to the original cylinder for a moment before we calculate the rectangle's area. The top of the original cylinder is a circle. We know that the distance around a circle is called its circumference, C = 2r. The circumference has been marked in red. When the cylinder wall is completely open, we see that the circumference of the circle becomes the length of the final rectangle. The dimensions of the rectangle are

the circumference, C = 2r, and the height of the cylinder, h. So, the area of the rectangle is A = l x w = C x h = 2r x h = 2rh. Finally, if we put all the three surfaces together, we can arrive at the formula for the complete surface area of a cylinder. The top, the bottom, and the walls of the cylinder (the lateral surface area) determine the total surface area. Those values are r2 + r2 + 2rh = 2r2 + 2rh. Sometimes this expression is written as 2r(r + h) in certain geometry texts. [Can you see how 2r2 + 2rh = 2r(r + h) by the distributive property?] Example 1: If r = 6 ft and h = 4 ft, then the surface area would be SA = 2(3.14)(6 ft)2 + 2(3.14)(6 ft)(4 ft) = 2(3.14)(36 ft2) + 2(3.14)(24 ft2) = 226.08 ft2 + 150.72 ft2 = 376.8 ft2. Example 2: If r = 5 cm and h = 2 cm, then the surface area would be SA = 2(3.14)(5 cm)2 + 2(3.14)(5 cm)(2 cm) = 2(3.14)(25 cm2) + 2(3.14)(10 cm2) = 157 cm2 + 62.8 cm2 = 219.8 cm2.

Surface Area of Square Pyramids

Quizmaster: Surface Area of Cylinders

SA = s 2 + 2sl

General Pyramid
Pyramids that have a square base have a total of five surfaces. To determine the shapes of those surfaces, we will start with a pyramid from step one below. If we cut along the lateral edges of the pyramid, we can allow the figure to flatten out in step two below. From step two, the individual figures are easily identified as a square and four triangles.

We can use the area formulas for a rectangle and a triangle to determine the complete formula for the surface area of the pyramid. The square (or base of the solid) has an area that can be calculated by multiplying its length times its width. Since those dimensions are equal, the area is s x s = s2. Now we need to calculate the area of the remaining surfaces. The remaining surfaces happen to form the lateral surface area of the pyramid, which are triangles. The area formula for a triangle is its base times its height divided by two. In the case of one of the triangles above it would be s x l 2. However, there are four triangles. This would make the total lateral surface area equal to four times the area of one triangle, or 4 x s x l 2. Upon simplifying the expression, we get 2sl. The total surface area of the pyramid is equal to the area of the base plus its lateral surface area or s2 + 2sl. So, given the base length of the pyramid, s, and its slant height, l, the total surface area is not a difficult computation. Yet, when dimensions are provided for a pyramid, one is rarely provided with the slant height, l. Instead, the height of the pyramid is given. This is an important difference, as one is always larger than the other. Not knowing the slant height makes calculating its value the first goal for finding the lateral area of a pyramid. The diagram to the right will provide insight into finding a relationship for calculating the slant height. A right triangle, which rests internally within the pyramid, has been highlighted. The hypotenuse (longest side) is the slant height of the pyramid, l. This is the length we need to know in order to calculate the surface area of the pyramid. The height of the pyramid is a leg of the right triangle. The base of the right triangle is half the length of the base edge of the pyramid, s. At this point, we would use The Pythagorean Theorem to calculate the slant height.

Pythagoras said leg2 + leg2 = hypotenuse2. In the case of our right triangle, we would get (1/2 s)2 + h2 = l2. Solving for the slant height would then depend on our ability to use the Pythagorean Theorem. To review the process, there is an outline of the steps that need to be taken: I. Determine the height, h, and base edge, s, of a given pyramid. Make sure their values are in the same unit measure (feet, centimeters, ...). Use The Pythagorean Theorem to calculate the slant height, l, of the pyramid. Calculate the area of the base, s2. Calculate the lateral surface area, 2sl. Calculate the total surface area by adding the base area to the lateral area, s2 + 2sl. Report the final surface area value using square units.



Here are two examples that demonstrate how to calculate the total surface area of a pyramid. Example 1: Given: s = 8 m and h = 3 m. First we calculate the slant height using The Pythagorean Theorem and half the base length. 32 + 42 = l2 ==> 9 + 16 = l2 ==> 25 = l2, or l = 5 m. The surface area would then require use of the formula SA = (8 m)2 + 2(8 m)(5 m) = 64 m2 + 80 m2 = 144 m2. Example 2: Given: s = 7 in and h = 6 in. First we calculate the slant height using The Pythagorean Theorem and half the base length. (3.5)2 + 62 = l2 ==> 12.25 + 36 = l2 ==> 48.25 = l2, or l = 6.95 in. The surface area would then require use of the formula SA = (7 in)2 + 2(7 in)(6.95 in) = 49 in2 + 97.3 in2 = 146.3 in2.

Surface Area of Cones

Quizmaster: Surface Area of Pyramids

SA = r 2 + rl

General Cone
Example 1: Given r = 4 m and h = 3 m. First we must calculate the slant height using The Pythagorean Theorem. (4 m)2 + (3 m)2 = l2 ==> 16 m2 + 9 m2 = l2 ==> 25 m2 = l2, or l = 5 m. The surface area would then require use of the formula SA = ()(4 m)2 + ()(4 m)(5 m) = (16 m2)() + (20 m2)() = 36 m2 (in terms of ) or

113.0 m2. Example 2: Given r = 7 in and h = 10 in. First we must calculate the slant height using The Pythagorean Theorem. (7 in)2 + (10 in)2 = l2 ==> 49 in2 + 100 in2 = l2 ==> 149 in2 = l2, or l = 12.21 in. The surface area would then require use of the formula SA = ()(7 in)2 + ()(7 in)(12.21 in) = (49 in2)() + (85.47 in2)() = 134.47() in2 = 422.2 in2.

Surface Area of Spheres

Quizmaster: Surface Area of Cones

SA = 4r 2

General Sphere
Example 1: Given r = 3 ft. The surface area requires the use of the formula SA = 4()(3 ft)2 = 4()(9 ft2) = 36 ft2 (in terms of ) or 113.0 ft2. Example 2: Given diameter = 20 m or r = 10 m. The surface area requires the use of the formula SA = 4()(10 m)2 = 4()(100 m2) = 400 m2 (in terms of ) or 1256 m2.

After reading the lessons, try our quizmasters. MATHguide has developed numerous testing and checking programs to solidify these skills:

Quizmaster: Surface Area of Spheres

Surface Area of Prisms Surface Area of Cylinders Surface Area of Pyramids Surface Area of Cones Surface Area of Spheres

How Old Are John and Julia?

Date: 05/17/2001 at 22:36:16 From: Deepa Subject: Age word problem Julia is as old as John will be when Julia is twice as old as John was when Julia's age was half the sum of their present ages. John is as old as Julia was when John was half the age he will be 10 years from now. How old are John and Julia? Date: 05/18/2001 at 15:41:44 From: Doctor Jaffee Subject: Re: Age word problem Hi Deepa, I had a lot of fun working on this problem. Here is what I did. First, let x = John's present age and y = Julia's present age. x + 10 = John's age in 10 years x + 10 ------ = 1/2 of John's age in 10 years 2 Now, it would be helpful to know when John was (x + 10)/2. Well, I am 56 years old and if I want to know when was I 20, I just subtract 56 - 20 and find that I was 20, 36 years ago. x + 10 So, x - ------ will tell us how many years ago John was (x + 10)/2. 2 How old was Julie then? Well, if I want to know how old my 42-year-old brother was 36 years ago, I just subtract 42 - 36 and learn that he was 6. x + 10 So, Julie's age must have been y - (x - -------). But, if that is what 2 John's age is right now, we have: x = x + 10 y - ( x - ------ ) 2

I went through this same reasoning process with the rest of the information in the problem and came up with another equation in two variables. Then I solved the system of equations. Give it a try and if you want to check your answer, write back. If you are having difficulties, let me know what you have done so far and I'll help you out.

Good luck. - Doctor Jaffee, The Math Forum Date: 05/18/2001 at 16:01:05 From: Doctor Rick Subject: Re: Age word problem Hi, Deepa. I see that Dr. Jaffee answered you before I could, but I have a different approach, and you never know which might work better for you. Here is how I tackle age problems like this, which involve more than one point in time. First, I define variables for the ages of each person NOW: x = Julia's age in years now y = John's age in years now There are other things we don't know at the outset: we don't know how far in the future or past the other times are. I therefore define a variable for each time in the problem other than the present (the word "when" is usually a signal that you need another variable): r = number of years in the future when Julia is twice as old s = number of years in the past when Julia's age was half the sum t = number of years in the past when John was half the age Now you can write equations, breaking the problem down clause by clause: Julia is as old as John will be ["r" years from now]: x = y + r ["r" years from now,] Julia is twice as old as John was ["s" years ago]: x + r = 2(y - s) ["s" years ago,] Julia's age was half the sum of their present ages: x - s = (1/2)(x + y) That takes care of the first sentence of the problem. The second sentence is easier, because it only involves two times: now, and "t" years ago. (There are really three times mentioned, but one is a known time in the future, 10 years from now, so we don't need to introduce a variable for that time.) I'll let you write two equations for that sentence. Now you have 5 unknowns and 5 equations, so all that's left is to solve them! It's possible, as Dr. Jaffee shows, to write just two equations in the two unknowns x and y right off the bat. I'm not embarrassed, though, to introduce as many variables as I need at the beginning. Those extra

variables can be eliminated quickly enough once you start solving, and they give me confidence that I really understand what those convoluted sentences are saying! (We'd never talk like that in real life, would we?) - Doctor Rick, The Math Forum Date: 05/19/2001 at 00:28:51 From: Deepa Thirugnanam Subject: Re: Age word problem Hello Dr. Rick, Thanks for coming down to my level to explain the age word problem (John and Julia...) I was really very confused. Now I am clear. I am very grateful to you and Dr. Jaffee. Bye, Deepa Date: 05/19/2001 at 00:28:51 From: Deepa Thirugnanam Subject: Re: Age word problem Hello Dr. Jaffee, It's Deepa. Thanks a lot for giving me a clear procedure to solve the problem. I got the solution. Julia's age is 40 and John's age is 30. Is that right? Bye, Deepa Date: 05/21/2001 at 16:17:17 From: Doctor Jaffee Subject: Re: Age word problem Hi Deepa, Yes, your solution is completely accurate. I'm glad that I was able to help you. I noticed that Dr. Rick also sent you a very good response. I think I learned a little from his method, also. Thanks for writing to Ask Dr. Math. - Doctor Jaffee, The Math Forum

How Old are Ben and Kris?

Date: 10/17/1999 at 17:44:56 From: Emily Subject: Age word problems I have been given several word problems on age like: A man is 13 times as old as his son is. In 10 years he will be 3 times as old as his son will be. How old are they now? The book does show how to solve that particular problem, but gives a new twist on the problems they solve! Here's one. Please give me a step-by-step on how to solve: Five years ago Ben was 2/3 as old as Kris. Ten years from now he will be 5/6 as old as Kris. How old are they now? Thanks. Date: 11/28/1999 at 10:21:29 From: Doctor Aileen Subject: Re: Age word problems Hi Emily, One way to solve this problem is to write a system of equations with two variables. Let x be Kris' age now and y be Ben's age. Then x - 5 is how old Kris was 5 years ago. Since Ben was two thirds of Kris' age 5 years ago, then 2/3*(Kris' age five years ago) = Ben's age five years ago. Therefore 2/3*(x - 5) = y - 5 The problem also tells you that in 10 years from the present time Ben's age will be 5/6 Kris' age. In other words 5/6 * (Kris' age in 10 years) = Ben's age in 10 years or: 5/6 * (x + 10) = y + 10 You need to find an x and y that will be true for both equations. To do this you need to solve for the variables one at a time. By subtracting the second equation from the first you can formulate a third equation that has only one variable. 2/3*(x-5) = y - 5 5/6*(x+10) = y + 10 -------------------------------(2/3*(x-5) - 5/6*(x+10) = -15 The equations can be either subtracted or added, whatever works to eliminate one variable. Now you can find the value of this variable. After doing so you can

substitute it back into one of the original equations. Setting up the equations is the most important aspect of the problem. Once you have the proper equations it is simply a matter of solving. Also, if you are uncomfortable with the method of eliminating a variable, you can try graphing both equations. The intersection point represents the x and y values that satisfy both equations. I hope this helps. - Doctor Aileen, The Math Forum Date: 1/20/2002 at 13:01:58 From: Judy Ann Brown Subject: Re: Age word problems Here's the same problem done in two more ways: Five years ago Ben was 2/3 as old as Kris. Ten years from now he will be 5/6 as old as Kris. How old are they now? We can set up a chart: Ben Kris 5 years ago (2/3)x x now (2/3)x + 5 x + 5 in ten years (2/3)x + 15 x + 15

From the problem we know that Ben's age in 10 years = 5/6 Kris' age in 10 years (2/3)x + 15 = 5/6(x + 15) 4x + 90 = 5x + 75 15 = x If we know that Kris was 15 five years ago, he is now 20. Ben was 2/3(15) or 10 five years ago, so he is now 15. In ten years Ben will be 25 and Kris will be 30. There is also an elementary guess-and-check approach to solving this problem that does not use variables. Five years ago Kris had to be an age that was a multiple of 3. The 2/3 for Ben's age tells me so. Let's make a chart and guess: Let's start with 3, because that is the youngest Kris could have been 5 years ago. GUESS 1: Kris is 3 Ben Kris 5 years ago 2 3 now 7 8 in ten years 17 (more than 5/6 of 18, so 3 is too little) 18 (we multiplied both sides by 6 to get rid of the fractions)

GUESS 2: Kris is 30 Ben Kris 5 years ago 20 30 now 25 35 in ten years 35 (less than 5/6 of 45, so 30 is too much) 45

I can also tell that Kris' age in ten years must be a multiple of 6. But that's only going to happen if I start out with an odd number for his age, because I will have to add 15, and the only way to get an even number when one of the addends is odd is to have the second addend also odd. GUESS 3: Kris is 21 Ben Kris 5 years ago 14 21 now 19 26 in ten years 29 (less than 5/6 of 36, so 21 is too much) 36

I know that I'm getting close in my guesswork, but I need a smaller number for Kris' age, and it must be an odd multiple of 3. I choose 15. GUESS 4: Kris is 15 Ben Kris 5 years ago 10 15 now 15 20 in ten years 25 (this is exactly 5/6 of 30) 30

I know I have a correct solution. But what was the question? How old are they now...? Ben is 15, and Kris is 20.

Age and Money

Date: Tue, 13 Dec 1994 18:38:36 AST Comments: NB*net - New Brunswick's Regional Network 1-800-561-4459 From: Richard Seguin Subject: Grade 9 (Richard Seguin) Could you help me solve this. I am a grade 9 student. 1> Frank is eight years older than his sister. In three years he will be twice as old as she is. How old are they now? 2> Karen is twice as old as Lori. Three years from now the sum of their ages will be 42. How old is Karen? 3> Dave has six times as much money as Fred, and bill has three times as much money as Fred. Together they have 550.00. How much does each have? 4> To find the length of a certain rectangle you must triple the width and

add 5m. If the perimeter of the rectangle is 74m, find the dimensions. I hope you can help me solve these. I had no luck! Richard Date: Wed, 14 Dec 1994 09:53:08 -0500 (EST) From: Dr. Sydney Subject: Re: Grade 9 (Richard Seguin) Dear Richard, Thanks for writing Dr. Math. These word problems can get a little confusing, but usually things work out if you assign all of your unknowns a letter name and write the information down in an equation. Let's try the first one... 1) The first thing to figure out is what you are trying to figure out. In the first problem, we want to know Frank's age and his sister's age. The next thing to do is assign letters to unknowns. Let's call Frank's current age f, and let's call Frank's sister's current age s. Now let's translate what the sentences in the problem say to mathematical equations. a) "Frank is 8 years older than his sister." This means if we add 8 to Frank's sister's age we would get Frank's age, right? So, we have: s + 8 = f b) "In three years he will be twice as old as she is." In three years, Frank will be three years older than he is now, so he'll be f+3 years old. Similarly, his sister will be s+3 years old. At that time, he will be twice as old as she is, so if we were to multiply Frank's sister's age in three years by 2, we would get Frank's age in three years. So, we have: 2 (s + 3) = f + 3 So, now we have a systems of equations -- 2 equations, 2 unknowns. Simplify these and solve: 2s + 6 = f + 3 So, f = 2s + 3

Substituting this in the first equation, we get: s + 8 = 2s + 3 Simplify to get: s = 5

If s = 5, then what must f be? Plug into either equation to get: f = 13. So, Frank's sister's age is 5 and Frank's age is 13. You can always check your answer by seeing if your answer makes sense in the problem. Check that Frank is 8 years older than his sister: 13 is 8 more than 5, so this does make sense. Now check that in three years he will be twice as old as she is. In three years they will be 16 and 8 years old. 16 is 2 times 8, so this works. So, we did everything right. Did that make sense to you? I bet now you can do some more of these problems. Mainly they involve translating the sentences into math equations. If you have any more problems or are confused by anything I said, please feel free to write back.

A problem with one variable: How old is Al?

Many single-variable algebra word problems have to do with the relations between different people's ages. For example: Al's father is 45. He is 15 years older than twice Al's age. How old is Al? We can begin by assigning a variable to what we're asked to find. Here this is Al's age, so let Al's age = x. We also know from the information given in the problem that 45 is 15 more than twice Al's age. How can we translate this from words into mathematical symbols? What is twice Al's age? Well, Al's age is x, so twice Al's age is 2x, and 15 more than twice Al's age is 15 + 2x. That equals 45, right? Now we have an equation in terms of one variable that we can solve for x: 45 = 15 + 2x. original statement of the problem: 45 = 15 + 2x subtract 15 from each side: 30 = 2x divide both sides by 2: 15 = x Since x is Al's age and x = 15, this means that Al is 15 years old. It's always a good idea to check our answer: twice Al's age is 2 x 15: 30 15 more than 30 is 15 + 30: 45 This should be the age of Al's father, and it is.

Solving a problem using one or two variables: How old is Karen?

We can solve this problem using either one or two variables: Karen is twice as old as Lori. Three years from now, the sum of their ages will be 42. How old is Karen?

One-variable solution: We'll let Lori's age be x. We can set up a chart:

Karen Lori now 2x x in 3 years 2x + 3 x + 3 = = = = 42 42 36 12

The sum of their ages in 3 years will be 42, so we have:

(2x + 3) + (x + 3) 3x + 6 3x x

If Lori is 12, Karen is 24; in three years they will be 15 and 27, and the sum of their ages will be 42. Two-variable solution: If we want to use two variables to express the given information, we will need two equations to solve for these variables. Here's an example: Start by assigning variables. We want to find Karen's age, so let's call that K. But we need a variable for Lori's age too, so we will call her age L. We know that Karen is twice as old as Lori. Another way of saying this is that Karen's age is 2 times Lori's age. This gives us our first equation: K = 2L. We also know that: a. in three years the sum of Karen's and Lori's ages will be 42; b. in three years, Karen's age will be 3 more than it is now, or K + 3; c. the same is true of Lori's age: in three years; it will be L + 3. Since the sum of the girls' ages in three years is 42, we have our second equation: K + 3 + L + 3 = 42. simplify by adding the numbers: K + L + 6 = 42 subtract 6 from each side: K + L = 36 Now we have two equations in two variables: 1. K = 2L 2. K + L = 36 Since Equation 1 provides an expression for K in terms of L that needs no simplification, we can plug the value for K in Equation 1 into the value for K in Equation 2: 2L + L = 36.

add like terms: 3L = 36 divide both sides by 3: L = 12 Now we know that Lori is 12 years old, which makes Karen's age easy to find. All we need to do is plug L = 12 into either Equation 1 or Equation 2 and solve for K: Equation 1 Equation 2 K = 2L K + L = 36 K = 2 x 12 K + 12 = 36 K = 24 K = 24 As we can see, Karen is 24 years old. It doesn't matter which equation we use, since the the value for Karen's age must be the same in both cases. Again, it's always a good idea to check our answer. a. Karen is supposed to be twice as old as Lori. Karen is 24; Lori is 12. Is 24 twice 12? Yes. b. In three years, the sum of Karen's and Lori's ages should be 42. In 3 years, Karen will be 24 + 3 = 27 years old. In 3 years, Lori will be 12 + 3 = 15 years old. Is the sum of 27 and 15 equal to 42? Yes. We can see that we have found the correct answer.