Vacuum Excavation

Vacuum Excavation is non-mechanical, non-destructive way of safely exposing buried utilities.
Vacuum Excavation is non-mechanical, non-destructive way of safely exposing buried utilities.

What is Vacuum Excavation?

Vacuum excavation is digging by using a vacuum to break apart material with high-pressure water or air. This method of excavation is commonly referred to as “Soft Dig” and accepted as being safer than hand digging within the tolerance zone around underground facilities.

This process allows for workers on site to stay safe on the surface. This practice can eliminate accidental line damage and trench cave-ins. This is the method of identifying the accurate depth of a utility.

With vacuum excavation, companies have an alternative to hand digging and a safer way to expose utilities with both hydro and air vacuum excavation.

Hydro Vacuum Excavation – Safe Digging

Hydro Vacuum Excavation is the process of safely uncovering underground utilities utilizing high-pressure water along with high-speed vacuum. Hydro Excavation is faster than air excavation and is considered the most efficient type of vacuum excavation. Hydro Excavation does not allow for the re-use of the spoil material for refilling the hole.

Hydro vacuum excavation uses water to loosen the soil and dig a hole. The use of water helps reduce the soil’s holding strength thus helping to break the soil and suction them easily. The method applies a vacuum mechanism to remove wet and muddy excavated material. When excavating frozen ground, hot water can be used to thaw the frozen ground and dig through. The vacuum lifts the loose soil from the site and carries the debris into the tank.

Below are the top four reasons to use hydro excavation at your site:

  1. Less invasive in nature when compared to other traditional methods of excavating
  2. Higher precision, leading to lesser disposal of materials and accordingly less restoration
  3. Uses less manpower when compared to conventional digging
  4. Dirt is stored in the debris tank keeping the area clean which leads to minimal disruption in traffic and less damage to power lines

Hydro vacuum excavation is most ideal in plumbing situations dealing with sewers and pipelines underground. By digging through the soil without damaging the existing underground lines, this ensures that the work is completed faster and accurately. The use of hydro excavation also allows your utilities to stay intact without worrying about puncturing a pipe, which could result in a massive repair and excessive cost. This is a benefit to the consumer and the excavation company.

Air Vacuum Excavation – How it helps infrastructure

Air Vacuum Excavation is the process of using compressed air to disturb the earth’s soil which is then vacuumed up into a debris tank. Air excavation is used to safely expose underground utilities and allows backfill with the dry material.

The Vac-Tron Air 573/873 & 1273 SDT have an attached air compressor with air flow: 150 cfm; air pressure: 170 psi; air hose length 50’ and 1” diameter. Vac-Tron’s AIR Series also can be purchased with the patented Remote Debris Tank which is designed for dry potholing. The remote debris tank allows the operator to collect the dry material and when the pothole is complete, the tank can be positioned over the hole and the dry material is dumped back in the hole.

As mentioned prior, air vacuum excavation helps loosen dirt and soil through the use of compressed air and then sucking the material up into a tank. This process has several advantages to hand digging; below are the top 8 benefits to vacuum excavation and exposing a utility.

  • Safely verify condition, type, diameter, and depth of buried utilities
  • Use the dry debris to refill the hole
  • Less disruption and cleaner work site
  • Eliminate the need for hand digging or other abrasive excavation
  • Increases digging efficiency for projects & highly cost effective
  • Great for utilities that are buried deep underground or in a congested area

Air Excavation Procedure Overview

  • Confirm the crew has safety gear on and the area is prepared for digging
  • Begin initial break up of soil (dirt, clay, other materials) with air pressure
  • Start digging with vacuum and remove soil as the air pressure continues to loosen soil
  • Check status of hole and utilities exposed, identify
  • Excavated soil is returned from excavator storage tanks for minimal disruption


LP Series Hydro Excavator in use
Vacuum tests can also be very effective for companies because this will help the workers in the planning stage of a project; information is obtained that can be used in the design and planning of the proper way to excavate the site.

Some advantages to using a vacuum test for utility verification are as follows:

  1. Reduces the surprises and associated costs and delays at the construction stage when latent subsurface conditions are encountered
  2. Utilities in conflict with the proposed new installation can be moved and placed in service before construction begins

This gives the client peace of mind with an accurate estimation on the cost and rules out the opportunity for damage to occur.

There are several jobs that air vacuum excavation works properly and effectively on including but not limited to: underground utility verification or daylighting, remote excavation, valve box and catch basin cleaning, utility line service terminations, and clearing environmental boring holes.

Damage prevention is a main goal of many company utilities including keeping cost down, so wouldn’t you want to try a method that does both? Let us show you how a Vac-Tron Vacuum Excavator will make your job site safer and more efficient. Request an on-site demo below.

Request an On-Site Demonstration

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